Latino or Hispanic: What's in a Label?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Latino and Hispanic: they're terms that a lot of Americans are asked to choose between when identifying themselves on the census, in official paperwork, and in everyday conversation. But according to a new poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, most adults of Latin American descent prefer not to use either. Instead, the respondents said they preferred to identify themselves by their country of origin.

But there's more to the story than just that. And a lot of it depends on where in the United States you happen to live. Jill Replogle is a reporter for KPBS San Diego’s Fronteras Desk. Her new piece for Fronteras is called "'Latino Or 'Hispanic:' What's In A Name?" Gustavo Arellano is the editor of OC Weekly. He also writes the column ¡Ask a Mexican! and is the author of the new book "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America."


Gustavo Arellano and Jill Replogle

Produced by:

Ben Gottlieb and Kristen Meinzer

Comments [13]

DS from West of the Hudson

I think Gustavo Arellano was complaining WAY too much in this segment. He said the media should just talk to hispanics/latinos, but he himself mentioned earlier in the piece, as others did, that people in these groups for the most part don't identify themselves by either of those terms, but rather by their country of origin.

Perhaps Mr. Arellano would like to help the media by spelling out all the nationalities he feels the media should talk to-- Mexican, Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Guatemalan, etc.? And maybe he could also tell what percentage of hispanics from each country the media should to (say, 52% of the people should be Mexican, 35% PR, etc.)

P.S. Speaking of such terms, I also am not satisfied with (and don't use) "African American," because in a place as diverse as NYC, many blacks I encounter aren't from Africa but from Haiti, Surinam, etc. In addition, some of these people are recent immigrants from other countries, and wouldn't consider themselves "Americans" any more than they would "African."

Apr. 20 2012 12:01 AM
Lorna M from Boston, MA

My sister and I joke that we are members of the D.I.R. "Daughters of the Industrial Revolution" (as opposed to the D.A.R.)For membership you don't have to prove your family came over on the Mayflower, but instead that you can't actually trace your ancestry back more tha two generations! :) Our mixed ethnic heritage includes English, French Canadian, Danish, and Jewish of unknown European ancestry. the last one was unknown even to our Grandfather who, abandoned at the age of two weeks andwas placed on the Orphan Trains at the age of 5, never knew in his lifetime that he was of Jewish ancestry and was raised as a "German Catholic". We only found this out long after his death by researching the orphanage records.

Apr. 19 2012 06:23 PM
Granpa Danl from New York, NY

Hispanola is where Chris Columbus first landed. His best friend was eventually Bartolome de las Casas, a conquistidor who became a dominican brother/priest, who became the first bishop there. Read about him and how he wrote to the King of Spain pleading for the care of indigenous people.

Apr. 19 2012 11:09 AM
Danilda Encarnacion from Hyde Park, MA

I am SO glad you asked!!!!!

I have STRUGGLED all my life to define this same thing. Question #9 on the 2010 Census asks the race question and gives us 14 multiple choices to select from as well as a blank field for "Some Other Race". I remember leaving it blank because I couldn't indentify with any of the 14 and was shocked that my race was considered something other as if I came from outer space! Maybe I did...

My parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic on the island of Hspañola,(where I think the word hispanic derives from), neighbort to Haiti, in the Caribbean. That makes me a 1st generation Dominican-American; not to mention that I am also a "DominicanYork". How I feel though is very different. Genetically I am a combination White/Spaniard and African/Taino, in other words Mulatto. That option is not on the census. There isn't even a "Hispanic" or "Latino/a" option. What does that mean, that I don't count?!?!

America, as a continent is 2/3 Spanish speaking, as part of the majority, we have yet to be recognized as a specific race becuase of the significant differences in our ethnicity and cultures.

As I type I am hearing the interview with Brian Sykes, and feel that we should probably do DNA testing to determine how much "milk got in the coffee" to determine exactaly who we are.

I have a lot more to say that won't fit here, pleaase call me! 917-771-1023.
WGBH Talk Radio is my new found love!!!

Wow good thesis material...

Apr. 19 2012 10:43 AM

I'm suprised that your experts didn't seem very informed on these terms. What they were informed about, however, was the fact that most people are confused. The term Latino comes from Latin America or America Latina. It refers to all tri-continental Americans who speak a Romance language as a mother language. That includes Francophone countries like Haiti and Saint Martinique as well as Portuguese and Spanish speaking countries. People who come from any of these countries are Latino. Hispanic specifically refers to Spanish speakers only, and usually to Spanish speakers in the Americas but occasionally also to people from Spain. I like that one of your experts admitted that Hispanic and Latino are NOT a race. You can be ANY race and be Hispanic or Latino. Typically hispanics and latinos are what we would call Black, Caucasian or Native American. The "stereotypical" latino/hispanic is mixed with ALL three in different proportions. Most Latinos tend to identify more with their countries of origin becaues of nationalistic tendencies and an inclination to that country's vernacular and cultural intricacies.

Apr. 19 2012 10:37 AM

Increasinlgy this country has more people of mixed heritage like myself, and I cannot classify myself as just of one statistical category or the other when I'm a mixure both ethnically and culturally. It should be important to start considering that aspect of our nation to have proper stastistics. In the end I do not want to be pigeonholed into one category.

Apr. 19 2012 10:02 AM
Maggie from Massachusetts

I feel strange having to check "white". My family has Irish, French Canadian, Scottish, Welsh and probably Native American ancestry. "White" just doesn't say it all.

Apr. 19 2012 09:49 AM
tim kinsella

I work with Deaf people. They are offended by the term "hearing impaired", and prefer to be called Deaf (capitalized to refer to culturally Deaf users of American Sign Language) or hard of hearing

Apr. 19 2012 09:46 AM
Jay from Miami

I am Haitian American and like to be called that. I either check black or other and fill out Haitian American whenever possible. All of my friends are from another country or their parents/grandparents are from another country. I do not know people who have 4+ generations of being in the US. I think they really need to change how they allow us to identify ourselves. I am also bothered how blacks are immediately identified as African Americas meanwhile not all Hispanics are Mexican and not all Asians are Chinese etc. President Obama is what this country is more becoming, a multiracial person, he should be doing something that changes how we identify ourselves. Here in Miami I mostly see people with back grounds from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Something needs to be done at least in diverse cities.

Apr. 19 2012 09:42 AM
Chandrika from Pittsburgh, PA

I am originally from St. Maarten Living in Pittsburgh. I consider myself a black (West Indian), Althought when filling out forms the majority only list one "black" category, "African-American". I do not consider myself the later, If the document is in Paper form I scratch out African-American and write Black.

Apr. 19 2012 09:39 AM
Sherryl N Weston MA, LCSW from Denver, Colorado

Too many of us throw racial and ethnic terminology into the same pot. The former is a powerful socially constructed word that speaks to one's genetically determined appearance and the other speaks to "location" or what is from the place the group in question originated. This is what creates confusion. Because of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, African American, Haitian, Dominican, Cuban, Brazilian folks ARE of the same group, with Ancesters "dropped off at different ports". The enslavers and colonizers made us culturally different from each other. So the hierarchy and exacted on blacks by selves and each other is a feature of internalized oppression that causes us great shame and harm.

Apr. 19 2012 09:39 AM
A Foreigner from Brooklyn

Not native to the US, I call myself North African-American, just to play with the words Americans use with such seeming ease while still being very accurate. I have been tempted to also use "omniracial" since "multiracial" (and "biracial") have some very specific meanings that do NOT mean simply a mix of any two or more races. On the whole, Americans seem preoccupied with the idea that if they could just get labels right, this would be helpful for the business of government. I have my doubts about the basic idea behind this reasoning.

Apr. 19 2012 09:09 AM
HamdenRice from New York

What do we now call a "regular" African American, now that the African American community is so diverse -- with African and West Indian immigrants and their descendants, Afro-Latin people from South America and the Caribbean and a president who is a descendant of Kenyans and white Americans? In academic circles, the term Afro-American is often reserved for an African American descended from slaves in the US South, as in Afro American literature or Afro American history. I sometimes chuckle at the term my college roommate used as he tried to describe us compared to the more exotic black people we were meeting -- he called us "Joe Typical Negroes."

Apr. 19 2012 07:22 AM

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