¿Hispanic or Latino?
One of the most popular debates and one of the least likely to be solved - ¿Hispanic or Latino?
The Spanish have a fine tradition of labels. In the old days, the 1500s, status was determined by where you were born and where your ancestors were born. Those at the highest level were the peninsulares because they were born in Spain. Right behind them were the criollos Criollos had pure Spanish ancestry but were born in the Americas. Today, much like the subjects of Queen Isabella in 1492, Hispanics/Latinos can be of "pure" Spanish blood, or various combinations of American Indian, African, Asian and European.
If you're trying to figure out how to refer to a group of people, the one thing most Hispanics/Latinos agree one is that they prefer to be called by their immediate ethnic group. So if you're referring to Mexican-Americans, use that phrase instead of Hispanic or Latino.
Both Hispanic and Latino carry certain historical weights. The aspects that are good to some people are horrible to another. Here's a look at the pros and cons.
Hispanic is a term selected by the government after Hispanics lobbied successful to have the government acknowledge that they were a group impacted by prejudiced laws and social systems. It allowed for the government to track the needs of spanish-speaking people around the country as civil rights laws were being created and enforced.
Latino is seen as a term that originated within the community. The government created the other term, so it is considered more formal and imposing. The Latino label will often be used in more social and comfortable situations.
Hispanic, since it is a government-endorsed term, will likely be used by formal institutions, especially if they are connected with the government in some way. This includes schools, non-profits, Congress and political speeches. In addition, since writing style is standardized in the media; Hispanic is more likely to be seen in the news.
Latino, since it is not a government term, will often be used by grassroots organizations, heritage groups and other community-based initiatives. Sometimes it is used to create a more community-oriented environment. Newspapers that serve an area with a high Latino population often start to use Latino. This could show an actual connection to the community, an attempt to connect with the community or a simple attachment to a new buzzword.
Hispanic is more likely to be used by conservative politicians. Since Cuban-Americans dominate Hispanic Conservatism, some connotations are weighted by their popularity in the Miami community. For instance, Hispanic is seen as more inclusive because some view Latino as a direct reference to European blood. So, there are some people who would say a mestizo person isn't Latino, but a pure Spanish person is. They see Hispanic as more inclusive.
Latino is more likely to be used by liberal politicians. It is likely meant to connect to the "grassroots" attitude that Democrats like to portray.
Hispanic generally means "Spanish like" or "affected by Spanish". The more frequent connotation, especially by the government, is "Spanish speaking".
Latino is viewed as being a broad reference to Latin languages or people. While people hold this view, you're not likely to hear an Italian-American or Franco-American referred to as Latino. You might, however, hear Brazilians referred to as Latino because of the shared Iberian heritage.
Hispanic is often seen as a direct reference to Spain. Because of this, it is sometimes rejected or embraced. Some still view Spain as the mother country while others reject it as a colonial master.
Latino is sometimes viewed as a direct reference to Latin countries, embracing France, Italy, Portugal and other countries. It is also viewed as a reference to Latin America (Latinoamericano). So, depending on how you view it, Latino calls on the old prejudices of peninsulares and criollos. It either holds the Americas or Europe in higher regard.
The history of the Americas is one of conquest. Those who have a closer identity to non-European roots often reject having European labels once again put on them. For those who don't have any European blood, it seems even more ridiculous to them that they should have a European label.
Hispanic is rejected by some because it focuses too much on Spain. Others embrace it for the same reason.
Latino is rejected by those who see it as a European reference. Others embrace it because it's so broad and they see richness in the diversity it brings.
Hispanic has heavy connotations favoring Spain. As a legal term, it refers to anyone from a Spanish-speaking country or heritage. This includes over 18 nations, but excludes the Portuguese and others.
Latino is very general. That is a problem for some and a justification for others. While it might technically include French and Italian people, it seldom takes that form in every day life. It also tends to be American-centric, favoring Latinoamericano. So it might include too many Europeans at times, but is often seen as excluding Spain from Latin America
* Iberians: Many community events, civil rights actions, social events, web sites and language discussions include Spanish and Portuguese. Spain and Portugal share the Iberian Peninsula and Brasil shares South America with many Spanish speaking nations. As such, there has always been strong cultural and social relationship between Portuguese and Spanish speaking nations. Iberians are more likely to be included under Latino, because of the weight Hispanic carries for Spain. Another option, which may be more accurate in many situations, is Iberoamericano or variations like Ibero and Iberian.
* Italians are the Latins: A common complaint from some Italians and Italian-Americans is that Italy is the closest to the original Latin culture. There are several problems with this complaint.
1) Using the idea of "closest" isn't far from saying "more pure" when the intent is to have someone stop sharing a label than can be inclusive.
2) I've heard no objections if Italians want to start sharing the phrase.
3) The Latin word for Latin people is not Latino. If someone is shooting for "closest to Latin", then Latinus is available.
* Don't label people: The last 500 years have been based on labeling people. Those labels had a huge impact on entire cultures, civilizations and the people who are alive today. It affects our culture today. Until the impact of the original labels disappears, we have to use them to address the original problem. Ignoring the problems certainly won't solve them.
* The labels aren't accurate: I agree! However, if you're reading this page, it's because you looked for a certain word. If we're going to have an umbrella interest covering many nations, we have to know what to call it so we can find each other.
* Will I offend someone? Some day. If you're on the topic of race relations, pressure is likely to rise at some point. You're not likely to find someone who is deeply offended and hurt by your choice between Hispanic and Latino. You may, however, meet those who reject both labels. They have the right to choose their identity, just as you do. Ask what they believe the appropriate label is and why (so you'll learn), apologize for not knowing that reasoning (if you care to) and continue the conversation.
I tend to favor Latino over Hispanic. I do have a problem when the government defines people. Having dark skin, sharp cheekbones and kinky hair, I also have a problem with the Euro centric quality of the labels. However, I have come to stop thinking of the label as a European bloodline, and simply look at it as language. The languages are European in their roots and borrowed from our African, Indian and Asian influences. I use the terms interchangeably, favoring Hispanic when referring to government initiative or Spain, and favoring Latino when referring to the Americas and specific non-European groups.
--by Richard L Vázquez--