Hispanic, Latino, or None of the Above?

August 19, 2013 § 4 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

A few weeks ago I saw a poll by the Gallup polling agency stating that most people from Latin America couldn’t care less whether they get called “Hispanic” or “Latino.” The survey indicated that most of them identify primarily by their country of origin rather than by one of these terms. Of those surveyed, 70 percent answered that it didn’t matter; about 10 percent preferred “Latino” and 19 percent opted for “Hispanic.” Men cared less than woman and young people didn’t pay much attention to these labels. The study went on to conclude that the terms were really interchangeable and therefore politicians and social scientists could select either one of these two terms.  The results of the poll, and specially the conclusions, worried me as I know that these two terms don’t mean the same.

Hispanic.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives its origin from the Latin hispanicus: From Hispania Iberian Peninsula, Spain, indicates that it was first used in 1584, and defines “Hispanic” as a noun and an adjective of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain or of Spain and Portugal. A second meaning is as a noun or an adjective of or relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the United States “…especially: one of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin.”   

The Oxford dictionary gives the same origin, and defines it as an adjective relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, especially those of Central and South America; relating to Spanish-speaking people or their culture, especially in the United States. It also defines it as a noun that indicates a Spanish-speaking person, especially one of Latin American descent living in the U.S.

The Real Academia Española de la Lengua dictionary defines “hispano,” in Spanish, as “español” (Spanish) Adjective relating to something or someone of Hispania, Hispano-American nations, or the population of Hispanic-American origin, living in the United States.

Maria Moliner’s Diccionario de uso del español defines the term “hispano” as an adjective relating to old Hispania or the Spanish cultura, specifically to those Spanish-speakers living in the United States.

Finally, the Urban Dictionary states that Hispanic is an ancient adjective and noun that was mainstreamed as a political label in the United States in the early 1970’s. The purpose for the introduction of such an ancient adjective by the Nixon administration was ostensibly to create a political label solely for the purpose of applying the constitutional anti-discrimination standard of “strict scrutiny” to anyone who was labeled Hispanic. The label had the immediate effect of linking the entire population of the 19 nations that comprise Latin America, as well as, distinguishing the “Hispanic” colonial heritage of Latin American Countries from the “Anglo Saxon” colonial heritage of the United States.

Before the colonization of the Americas, a person had to be solely from Hispania-Spain and Portugal together- in order to be called Hispanic. Today, Hispania has 21 progenies: two in Europe (Spain and Portugal), and nineteen in the Americas (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela)

The dictionary leaves out Equatorial Guinea and continues:

“But there is more to think about: America is a country where one would not consider mislabeling a Scotsman an Irishman, for such would be an insult to the Scotsman, and vice versa; where one would not describe Canadian culture as being the same as Australian culture because such would be an insult to Canadians and vice versa.”

Latino.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary traces its origin to American Spanish, probably short for Latin American (latinoamericano) and gives as the date when it was first used 1946. It defines it as a noun for a native or inhabitant of Latin America, or a person of Latin American origin living in the United States.

The Oxford dictionary gives its origin from Latin American Spanish, and defines it as a noun chiefly North American relating to a Latin American inhabitant of the United States or a person of Latin American or Spanish-speaking descent.

The Real Academia Española de la Lengua dictionary defines “latino,” in Spanish, as an adjective that describes a person from Lazio (Italy) or relating to the Latin language, the cities ruled according to Latin Law, to the Western Church, and to the people from Europe and the Americas who speak a language that comes from Latin.   

Maria Moliner’s Diccionario de uso del español defines the term “latino” from the Latin “Latinus” as an adjective and noun applied to the people and things from Lazio, to the people who speak a language that comes from Latin, and to the Western Church.

The Urban Dictionary states that Latino is an ethnicity of people who have origins in one or more of the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

From the definitions above we clearly notice that “Hispanic” and “Latino” are two very different concepts that encompass two different groups of individuals and cultures. You cannot refer to a Brazilian as Hispanic, and you cannot include the original people of the Americas in the Latino concept. Many of them don’t even speak a Romance language. They continue to speak Náhuatl, Quiché, Mixtec, Zapotec, Huichol, and many other languages native to the Americas.

In the United States Latino is often used interchangeably with the word “Hispanic”, although they are not the same. The term “Hispanic” refers to a person from any Spanish-speaking country, whereas “Latino” refers to a person from a country in Latin America.  A Latino can be of any race. For example, an Argentine can be Caucasian, and a Dominican can be Black. But they are both Latino.

In the US the word Latino is misused to name only people from Latin America. The Latin America was a term first created to mean “the part of America ruled by Latino countries, Spain and Portugal” in opposition to the Anglo-Saxon America, ruled by the British (now Eastern United States). In this sense, some parts of the United States are part of the Latin America because they were ruled by Spain and France at some point: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and portions of other States. I also wonder why they ignored French-Canada as it is not Anglo-Saxon. They speak French!

Latino is a person who speaks a romance language: French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Aragonese, Aranese, Aromanian, Arpitan, Asturian, Auvergnat, Calo, Catalan, Corsican, Dolomite, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Extremaduran, Fala, Franco-Provençal, Friulan, Galician, Gascon, Istro-Rumanian, Ladino, Languedocien, Leonese, Ligurian, Limousin, Lombard, Megleno-Rumanian, Mirandese, Mozarabic, Neapolitan, Occitan, Piedmontese, Romansh, Sardinian, Shuadit, Sicilian, Venetian, Walloon, and Zarphatic; or those whose cultural heritage comes from any country that speaks any of those languages.  Therefore, the term Latino is inappropriate and wrongly misused as it excludes many and includes some it shouldn’t.

The term Hispanic was an attempt to label a racial group created by the U.S. government to put all people who descend from Spanish speaking countries into one meaningless group. Hispanic is NOT a racial group. They can be white, black, Native-American, Asian, or any combination of these peoples. Hispanic countries are just as racially diverse as the United States, thus this term has no real meaning.

Next time you see one of those polls take your time and try to educate all people as to the absurdity of those terms and the way they are mishandled by the establishment.  Please share your thoughts with the rest of us.

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§ 4 Responses to Hispanic, Latino, or None of the Above?

  • marzolian says:

    Tony, it’s rather a shame that our society uses any labels in the first place. But sometimes they are useful in part to achieve a greater good (see this article about Gus Garcia, who played a crucial role in achieving equal rights for Mexican-Americans:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tonydiaz/the-senator-the-desperate_b_3596366.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

    If most of the people to whom these words refer don’t have a problem, then: what is the concern?

  • Odile says:

    Tony, I beg to differ somewhat with your analysis. No French speaking person, whether geographically in Europe or Latin America would ever refer to him/herself as a Latino. We speak a Latin-derived language but Latino from a French perspective is a Spanish/Portuguese speaking person from the Americas.

  • Nelida K. says:

    None of the above, Tony, obviously. Labels are odious, especially when they are used to discriminate or disparage. But, if you do have to specify nationality of a citizen or a group, why then not simply use the name of the geopolitical area, or the country, they come from, and be done with the politicking. For instance, what is wrong with indicating South American, or Central American, or Peruvian, Argentinean etc.? And leave out the race question out entirely; in our day and age. we should have moved on and away from it… Thanks for the article, it voiced one of my pet peeves!

  • Jacira says:

    Regarding the word “Hispanic”, you state, “Today, Hispania has 21 progenies: two in Europe (Spain and Portugal), and nineteen in the Americas …”

    ¿Y Chile?

    “The dictionary leaves out Equatorial Guinea and continues: …”
    Seems the dictionary forgot about Chile too! That would make it 20 in the Américas…

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