Hispanic-Latino naming dispute

The Hispanic/Latino naming dispute refers to the ongoing disagreements over the use of the ethnonyms Hispanic and Latino to refer to the inhabitants of the United States who are of Latin American or Spanish origin, i.e. Hispanic and Latino Americans, a vast group. The usage of both terms has changed and adapted itself to a wide range of geographical and historical influences. Both Hispanic and Latino denote people of Latin American or Spanish descent living in the U.S.,[1][2] so that "Outside the United States, we don't speak of Latinos; we speak of Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and so forth."[3][4][5]


Usage of Hispanic

The term Hispanic has been the source of several misunderstandings and debates in the US. It was first used officially by the U.S. government in the 1970 Census to refer to "a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race."[6] However, many people felt that the term was artificially imposed and started to campaign against its use. Some started to favor the term Latino because of its alleged openness towards any people from Latin America. Since the 2000 Census the identifier has changed from "Hispanic" to "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino".[7]

Origin of the term Latino

The adoption of the term Latino by the US Census Bureau in 2000[8] and its subsequent media widespread brought about several controversies and disagreements, specifically in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Regarding it as an arbitrary generic term, many Latin American scholars, journalists and organizations have objected against the mass media use of the word "Latino", pointing out that such ethnonyms are optional and should be used only to describe people involved in the practices, ideologies and identity politics of their supporters.[9][10][11][12] They argue that if Hispanic is an imposed official term, so is Latino (perhaps from latinoamericano, "Latin American"),[13] since it was the French who imposed the name Latin America (French Amérique latine) on the Spanish, French, and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere, during their support of the Second Mexican Empire.[14]

Criticism from the media

In the US, the terms "Latino" and "Hispanic" are officially voluntary, self-designated classifications.[15][16][17][18][19] Yet the mass media has helped propagate them irrespective of this fact. The rapid widespread of "Latino" in the US has been possible due to the policies of certain newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and other California-based media during the 1990s. The use of the term as a label has been the target of journalists like Raoul Lowery who have heavily attacked it, denouncing it as a misleading and simplistic way of tagging a group as diverse as Latin Americans:

"For years I have campaigned against the Los Angeles Times-imposed word, "Latino", in describing the country's fastest growing ethnic "Group," those with Spanish-surnames, those who speak Spanish, et al. The LA Times set its feet in concrete and the use of the word "Latino" and nothing has cracked the concrete since. Worst of all, other newspapers have followed the Times' lead and news coverage, accuracy and the community have suffered."[20]

Lowery argues that, according to the statistics of the Census Bureau, most middle-class people with Latin-American background living in the United States reject the term.[21] He traces back the polarization of the word to the Los Angeles Times columnist Frank del Olmo who regarded the term Hispanic as "ugly and imprecise".[22] He writes:

"The third reason Del Olmo objected to the word "Hispanic" and championed the word "Latino" was that "Chicano" had been roundly rejected by all Mexican Americans but the most radical, blue collar, less educated, under-class people of Mexican-origin. Del Olmo pushed "Latino" as a substitute for the rejected "Chicano." Unfortunately, he was in a position to push this substitution into the language of the "Newspaper of Record" in the West. Other papers and broadcast stations took up the word because it was the "style" of the LA Times. Frank Del Olmo single-handedly branded millions of people.[23]

Latino, Hispanic or national identity

The Latino/Hispanic naming dispute is a phenomenon that has its roots mainly in California and other neighboring states.[24] Before the adoption of the ethnonym "Hispanic or Latino" by the United States Government the term Hispanic was commonly used for statistics ends. However, many people didn't feel satisfied with the term and started campaigns promoting the use of Latino as a new ethnonym. The Office of Management and Budget has stated that the new term should be, indeed, "Hispanic or Latino" because the usage of the terms differs – "Hispanics is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion".[25]

In spite of this, the debates regarding the proper name of the perceived homogeneous population of US citizens with Latin American or Spanish background still abound and are even more acute. In order to find out to what extent people agree or disagree with either term many polls have been conducted.[26][27] According to a poll of December 2000 by Hispanic Trends, 65 percent of the registered voters preferred the word "Hispanic" while 30 percent chose to identify themselves as "Latino"[28] Daniel David Arreola, in his book Hispanic spaces, Latino places: community and cultural diversity in contemporary America points out that many Latin Americans feel more comfortable identifying themselves with their country of origin:

What most of us know and what the results from the 1992 Latino National Political survey demonstrate is a preference for place of origin or national identity in what we call ourselves. Face-to-face interviews of 2,817 people were conducted in 1989 and 1990. Some 57 percent to 86 percent of Mexicans and Puerto Rican—whether born in Mexico or born in the United States, whether born in the island or in the mainland—preferred to call themselves Mexican or Puerto Ricans rather than panethnic names like Hispanic or Latino.[29]

Similar conclusions are found in David Reimers' Other Immigrants: The Global Origins of the American People:

"The Pew Hispanic Center and the Henry J. Kaiser Family foundation found in a 2002 study that 53 percent of "Hispanics" or "Latinos" do not use either term and call themselves Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Mexicanos, Dominicans, Dominican Americans, or some other nationality or ethnic group. Those making a choice of the two terms had a slight preference for "Hispanic" over "Latino"."[30][31]

Academic opinion and the social sciences

One of the major arguments of people who object against either term is not only the perceived stereotypical overtones they carry but the unjust and unfair labelling of people who don't even belong to the practices and ideologies of such identities.[32] This is true of many indigenous peoples such as the wixarikas and the lacandoness who still practise their own religious rituals without syncretism with Catholic elements. Journalist Juan Villegas writes:

"The word 'Latino' may be loaded with negative connotations when used by non-Latinos in American culture because of its association with the sign 'Latin' which may imply a stereotyped character partially imposed by Hollywood. Latino is a sign that needs to be contextualized. It may bring some groups together, but it also may contribute to depoliticize a movement and to stereotype a diversity of social groups and cultures.[33]

Others such as Catherine Alexandra Carter or Rodolfo Acuña address the issue from a more global and political perspective, stressing the importance of terms like Latino or Hispanic for the marketing industry and for statistical ends:

"The terms 'Hispanic' and 'Latino', although first created for the purpose of lumping together a diverse group of people and making them more economically marketable, have grown into something far more significant. Over time the legitimacy and accuracy of these terms have come to influence not only the functioning of the marketing industry, but the organization and structure of many other aspects of life".[34]

"When and why the Latino identity came about is a more involved story. Essentially, politicians, the media, and marketers find it convenient to deal with the different U.S. Spanish-speaking people under one umbrella. However, many people with Spanish surnames contest the term "Latino". They claim it is misleading because no Latino or Hispanic nationality exists since no Latino state exists, so generalizing the term "Latino" slights the various national identities included under the umbrella.[35]

See also

Hispanic Flag.png Latino and Hispanic American portal

External links


  1. ^ The concept of “Latino” is an American concept.
  2. ^ Being Latino is an American identity.
  3. ^ The very term Latino has meaning only in reference to the U.S. experience. Outside the United States, we don't speak of Latinos; we speak of Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and so forth. Latinos are made in the USA. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, Mariela Páez, Latinos: Remaking America (University of California Press, 2008) ISBN 0-520-25827-4, p. 4.
  4. ^ Latino & Hispanic? It’s Time to Rethink these Terms!.
  5. ^ Hispanic magazine, December 2000.
  6. ^ OMB, Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity (1997).
  7. ^ Census.gov Aruthur R. Crese, Audrey Dianne Schmidley and Roberto R. Ramirez. Identification of Hispanic Ethnicity in Census 2000: Analysis of Data Quality for the Question on Hispanic Origin, Population Division Working Paper No. 75, U.S. Census Bureau, July 27, 2004 [Revised July 9, 2008].
  8. ^ Fisher, Celia B. and Lerner, Richard M. Encyclopedia of Applied Developmental Science SAGE, 2004, ISBN 0-7619-2820-0, p. 634.
  9. ^ Latinos/Hispanics...What Next! Some Reflections on the Politics of Identity in the US.
  10. ^ José de la Isla – The Rise of Hispanic Political Power.
  11. ^ "Latino" refers only to immigrants from Latin America (itself an offensive term to some indigenous people of that area). Larissa A. Grunig, Linda Childers Hon, Elizabeth Lance Toth, Women in Public Relations: How Gender Influences Practice, (Routledge, 2004) ISBN 0-8058-5493-2, p. 166.
  12. ^ Los Angeles Times – Look beyond the 'Latino' label.
  13. ^ Latino | Define Latino at Dictionary.com. Accessed May 27, 2010.
  14. ^ The New York Times – Latino? Hispanic? Quechua? No, American Take Your Pick.
  15. ^ For the U.S. government and others, Hispanic or Latino identity is voluntary, as in the United States Census, and in some market research.
  16. ^ “Latino” is a self-designated term by members of different subgroups.
  17. ^ Spanish/Hispanic/Latino is a self-designated classification.
  18. ^ 'Latino' is a self-chosen word which has come to refer to American- born peoples of Spanish/Portuguese and/or American-Indian descent.
  19. ^ Latino is a self-identifying ethno-racial category.
  20. ^ Raoul Lowery Contreras, A Hispanic View: American Politics and the Politics of Immigration, i Universe, 2002 ISBN 0-595-25691-0, p. 7.
  21. ^ Ibid. p. 3.
  22. ^ Ibid. p. 7.
  23. ^ ibid.
  24. ^ Ibid.
  25. ^ Office of Management and Budget. "Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. Federal Register Notice October 30, 1997". http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg/1997standards.html. Retrieved 2008-01-11. "Terminology for Hispanics.--OMB does not accept the recommendation to retain the single term "Hispanic." Instead, OMB has decided that the term should be "Hispanic or Latino." Because regional usage of the terms differs – Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion – this change may contribute to improved response rates."  (Boldface in the original.)
  26. ^ Review: Other Immigrants: The Global Origins of the American People – A poll in 2000 revealed that 'Latinos' and 'Latinas' use neither term to describe themselves.
  27. ^ In Texas, a Pew Hispanic Center poll found that 45% of Latinos prefer the term Hispanic and 8% prefer Latino. Note this leaves 47% of Latinos in Texas who prefer neither term.
  28. ^ Arreola, Daniel David, Hispanic spaces, Latino places: community and cultural diversity in contemporary America, (University of Texas Press, 2004), ISBN 0-292-70562-X.
  29. ^ Ibid.
  30. ^ Reimers, David M., Other immigrants: the global origins of the American people, NYU Press, 2005 ISBN 0-8147-7535-7, p. 8.
  31. ^ Usability for Latinos: We asked participants to specify their identities in the form of an open-ended question. Participants were free to write responses in Spanish or English. Of the participants, 50% called themselves “Mexican,” 36% called themselves “Mexican-American,” and the remaining identified themselves as “Latino/a.” While nobody objected to the term “Latino” as a description of ethnicity, and all participants felt it was an appropriate description, the majority of participants associated themselves with Mexico rather than the term of Latino. Filippsapienza.com
  32. ^ Gary McDonogh, Robert Gregg, Cindy H. Wong, Cindy Wong, Encyclopedia of contemporary American culture, Taylor & Francis, 2001, ISBN 0-415-16161-4, p. 416.
  33. ^ Diana Taylor, Juan Villegas Morales, Juan Villegas, Negotiating performance: gender, sexuality, and theatricality in Latin/o America, Duke University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8223-1515-7, p. 314.
  34. ^ Catherine Alexandra Carter, 'Changing Views of Identity in the Face of Globalization Among Hispanic Communities in Diaspora', Illinois State University p. 14 ILSTU.edu
  35. ^ Acuña, Rodolfo, U.S. Latino issues, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003 ISBN 0-313-32211-2.

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