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Home Resources Anti-Oppression Race Hispanic vs. Latino
Hispanic vs. Latino PDF Print E-mail
It is difficult to make assumptions about Latinos since they represent a mix of racial and ethnic lines from 22 different countries of origin. This specific population has unique demographic characteristics and degrees of acculturation in addition to differences in history and cultural background. The terms Hispanic or Latino, used by many to classify the culture continues to be a source of contention because the former implies a connection to ancient Spain and its language while the latter represents a nationality, that of Latin America. The category term of Hispanic was first used in the l980 Census and caused uproar among Latinos in the Southwest, Chicago and New York but accepted in Texas, and Florida. Originally the term Latino was considered but it sounded too closely to the Ladino, the ancient language of the Spanish Jews who exiled in the 15th century. Several terms were used throughout the decades, such as Spanish speaking, Latin American, Hispanic, but today, with the influx of Latino superstars and superheroes; the most popular term is Latino.

There are various reasons Latinos prefer this term over Hispanic but if given a choice, many would still choose their country of origin, such as Puerto Rican, Mexican, Chicano, NewYorican, Colombian, Brazilian etc. One thing is for certain, Latinos come in different colors and don?t all speak Spanish. There is no such thing as a Black Puerto Rican or a White Puerto Rican, just Puerto Rican. Furthermore, Brazilians are Brazile?os and they speak Portuguese and can be considered Latinos but not Hispanic. Interesting enough, Filipinos were colonized by Spain and speak Spanish, yet they are categorized as Asian Americans in the Census. Linguistically, the term Latino has gender, following the Spanish rules while the term Hispanic follows the English rules. It is said that those who prefer the term Hispanic are usually middle class, educated in the United States and tend to oppose affirmative action and bilingual education. To be politically correct, it is best to use both terms, i.e. Latino/Hispanic. Including the term Latino is a way of respecting the contributions of our native people in Latin America. Likewise, the true Hispanics, those who have resided in New Mexico, Texas and Florida for generations (since the Spanish settlers) should also be included for they experienced specific barriers because of their ethnicity.

Political Binds ? A Historical Perspective

The term Latino is better suited to the people residing in the United States because their country of origin in Latin America fell victim to the Monroe Doctrine, a policy declaring all former colonies belonging to European countries were now under their influence (Hayes-Bautista, 1987). The term also expresses the oppressive treatment felt by many Latin Americans who fell victims to the conquest by Spain?s colonialism and subsequent capitalistic conquest by the United States. Most Anglo-Americans have refused to acknowledge the grave adversity inflicted on the Mexican American people as the result of the War on Mexico (1846-1848). In a decade marked by Manifest Destiny (a Puritan ethic justifying God?s mission for the U.S. to spread democracy), territorial expansion and capitalistic development seized the public?s imagination. Mexico, plagued with financial and political chaos, became an easy target for the United States? quest for wealth. California and the Southwest were the lands desired, but they were officially part of the Mexican Empire. In a war forced upon Mexico, the victorious United States compelled its Southern neighbor to cede California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in l848. Valid land grants to Mexicans living in those areas were to be honored. But the promise proved to be an empty one. Many fled back to Mexico for fear of terrorism while others became victims of excessive taxes, beatings, civil rights discrimination and lynching (Acu?a, l981).

According to historian Rodolfo Acu?a, descendants of the original New Mexican settlers preferred to describe themselves as Hispanos in order to survive economically and to disassociate themselves from the newly arrived Mexican aliens. Newsweek portrayed this similar sentiment in the Midwest and South where many new immigrants are flocking towns like Dalton, Georgia and Storm Lake, Iowa for work. Apparently many Mexican Americans whose ancestors came to these towns to work on the railroads are incensed with being mistaken for the new immigrant population who also come to this country to work and survive (Newsweek, September 18, 2000).

As with Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba became booty prizes for the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War of l898. Puerto Ricans, who originally fought to gain independence from Spain with this war, found themselves a colonial possession of the United States with the Treaty of Paris. Today, the U.S. has absolute power over Puerto Rico?s political process, and although Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship, they are denied political and civil rights if they chose to stay on the island. Likewise, Cubans fought valiantly for their independence but became a protectorate and dependent of the United States for thirty-five years (Shorris, 1992).


From 1820 to 1860, the three racial categories were White, Negro and Other. Due to the influx of immigrants into the country during the early 20th Century, many health and government agencies began collecting data according to the place of birth. In California, for example, death statistics were classified as ?White? and ?Mexican? in 1916. Nationality became a racial classification during the 1930s Census when the term ?Mexican? was added to denote persons born in Mexico or had parents born in Mexico, along with the other categories such as, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Negro and White. Ten years later, Mexicans were to be listed as White and the three major categories for the 1950 Census were White, Black or Other. 1960 Census takers were instructed to record people from Puerto Rico, Mexico or other persons of Latin descent as White, unless they were visibly either Indian or Negro. By the 1970 Census, people who were Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American were categorized under the new classification of Spanish Origin (Hayes-Bautista, 1987).

The term Hispanic
During the 1970s, the federal government, namely the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), under Richard Nixon?s leadership, needed to find another classification to account for the tremendous increase of Latino population and the word Hispanic was born. The term includes persons from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuban, Central and South America or other Spanish culture or origin regardless whether they are Indian, Black, or White. The government assembled a committee, among them a couple of Spanish-speaking individuals, who discussed this issue for six months. Unfortunately, the decision to use ?Hispanic? as an identifier was made under false assumption about the history, culture and geography of this specific population. According to Grace Flores-Hughes, the lead member of this committee, the term Latino was scrapped because of the similarity to Ladino (a language spoken by descendants of the exiled Spanish Jews). Additionally, Latino sounded too masculine, whereby women would be excluded, and if taken literally, it would include Italians, Portuguese, and French. Some who prefer to be called Hispanic feel that since ?we all speak Spanish? the term Hispanic would serve as the best identifier. Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a noted historian, refutes that analysis in the following way. First, many dictionaries define the term ?Latin? as belonging to Mediterranean Europe while the term ?Latino? implies the connection to Latin America. Secondly, the rules of the Spanish grammar utilizes the masculine ending when lumping both sexes in a category but the term ?Latino? is sex neutral. Finally, there is a misconception that Spanish is the language spoken by all when in reality, people in Brazil (part of South America) speak Portuguese. Furthermore, many of the people from Central and South America are Indians and speak a different dialect (p. 61-67).

Why Latino?
The reason the term ?Latino? is the best identifier is simply political. Latinos do not share a language, culture or race. The only commonality among all the Latinos is their nationality, one that has experienced the effects of the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. In a QuePasa.com survey, some of the complaints against the term Hispanic stem from the fact that this is a government label especially during the Nixon Era. Many prefer to name themselves using a Spanish word rather than an Anglo-generated one. All other classifications have the distinction to be referred by their nationality or roots, such as African American, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander but the term Hispanic is totally inconsistent. There is a misconception that the Spanish settled half of the lower United States when in reality, the indigenous people inhabited the area and intermarried with the Spaniards after the colonialism.

In ?Why Hispanic,? historian Antonio Bernal describes how the Caribbean colonies developed a rich African-Spanish mixture, the Pacific Island colonies developed a rich Asian-Spanish mixture, and the mainland Americans developed a rich Indigenous-Spanish mixture. ?This mestizaje was racial and cultural. The actual Spanish population was always in the minority. ?It is hard to believe that people consider Mexicans ?Hispanic?. One need only walk around the Aztec capital (Mexico is not a Spanish word) to see people today in the big city wearing native clothes, braids and huaraches as a matter of course? (Bernal, 1983).

Unfortunately, many who say, ?Mexicans are Spanish? are exposing their lack of awareness as to the history of Mexico and its relationship to the United States. They are products of the U.S. public schools system that has systematically rejected the fact that North America was an Indian continent. Bernal further explains, ?Mexicans are heavily intermarried with Germans, Jews, Arabs and Africans. Some Mexican last names; Herzog, Betancourt, Leduc, Caen, Haro, Awad, Mansour, Eherenberg, Ripstein,Von Bertab, Poniatowska and Yampolska. There are millions of indigenous last names. In Yucat?n we find, among many others, Pech, Balam, Canch?, Canek, and in other parts, such names as Suboqui, Ocomol, Xaxni, Nucamendi, Equihua, Cuautle, Coyote, Chimal, Xiu (who count 46 generations to date), Teopantitla and Jolote, are common. The Moctezumas, are direct descendants of the Emperor, with papers to prove it. There is not a Hispanic in the lot.? (Enciclopedia de M?xico, Secretaria de Educaci?n Publica, Ciudad de Mexico, 1987)

The people of the U.S. pride themselves to be called ?Americans? since that is their nationality. They do not wish to be called "British" because of their ancestry nor do they call themselves English for the language they speak. Likewise, Filipinos are considered Asian, not "Hispanic", yet Spain colonized them and they speak the language. The only reason Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central and South Americans are called Hispanic is because of lack of knowledge of our history and our legacy. We do not share a language, culture, religion, or political view but as Latinos-we are all from Latin America-the commodity of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine.

Work Cited

Acu?a, R. (1981). Occupied America. New York: Harper & Row
Bernal, A. (1983). "Why Hispanic" Internet report sent October 12, 2000.
Campo-Flores, A. "Brown against Brown" Newsweek. September 18, 2000. p. 49-51.
Hayes-Bautista, D, and Chapa, J. (1986). "Latino Terminology: Conceptual Bases for Standardized Terminology." American Journal of Public Health.
January 1987. Vol. 77. No. 1.
Shorris, E. (1992). Latinos. New York: Hearst Corporation.


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