Ever filled out an application and come to the ethnicity part where you have to check the box that says “Latino or Hispanic”?
Ever have various people ask you whether you were or referred to you as either “Latino” or “Hispanic”?
If you said “Yes” you are not the only one. As young Puerto Rican man I have encountered both terms together or separate, and I have never given it much attention. That is until my constant encounter with applications and my experience within classrooms stirred my interest to uncovering why in America the two terms are ascribed to a particular ethnic group.
In the United States of America, there are an estimated 53 million Hispanics or Latinos living in the country. This estimation makes up about 20% percent of the population and it is a number that is continuing to rise. And due to this rising number the U.S Federal Government has ascribed these terms to classify the group that contains people whose origins may be pulled from more than the 20 countries that make up Latin America.
According to the Pew Research Center, when it comes to the use of the two terms members of the Latino or Hispanic category use them interchangeably and one reason why they choose to use both terms is because most do not know why they have choose in the first place.
While the center reports that most Latinos/Hispanics uses the terms interchangeably, their report shows that among the groups there appears to be a preference for one of the terms over the other.
The Pew Research Center notes that, “half (50%) [of Latinos or Hispanics] say they have no preference for either term. But among those who do have a preference, ‘Hispanic’ is preferred over ‘Latino’ by a ratio of about 2-1,”
In Texas “46% prefer the term Hispanic, while just 8% say they prefer the term ‘Latino’—roughly a 6-to-1 ratio,” and it seems that there is also a shared preference in California where 30% prefer Hispanic over Latino. In Florida 31% choose to identify as Hispanic. In both states 17% choose to identify as Latino. The pattern viewed in both states appeared in New York and other states that are highly populated with Latinos/Hispanics.
While most prefer one term over the other and others simple refer to either one, do you know what they mean?
Well, according to the definition of Hispanic it relates to people “ relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, especially those of Latin America”. Meanwhile, Latino is defined as “a person of Latin American origin or descent” where Spanish isn’t the official language, in countries like Brazil.
Simple right…but that doesn’t answer why WE as a group may not really understand the difference. Well, that may be because in America the difference in distinction was lost.
When the U.S. Government began using these terms that gave some distinction to the large Latin American population that was growing in the states, they used the terms as a synonym to each other. For example, as mentioned earlier, when you come across an application and have to select the box which states “Latino or Hispanic” it tells the individual that the terms mean the same thing.
Another interesting reason behind the confusion of whether it is Latino or Hispanic may be generational.
In a study published in 2011, the Journal of Labor Economy found that more than a quarter of parents of third-generation children with Mexican origins do not refer to their children as Latino. On the matter of bi-racial children—when the child is of Hispanic or Latino origin and of another race—the use of the terms ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’ to identify them become even less used due to child being of mixed raced.
While there is nothing offensive about either ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic’, what appears to be the problem with the terms is that those who use them do not know what they mean. As someone who has Latino as opposed to Hispanic, it was interesting to learn I was using the wrong term.
My decision to use Latino over Hispanic is based upon a mutual understanding felt by most that Latino was not merely an identifier but a concept that connects Latin American people living in the United States together, creates a mutual understanding as a group of people who may face certain discrimination and incidents only experienced by us.
Despite my error in the use of the terms, it did not matter since they are considered interchangeable to the US government. Much like the term ‘Asian’ is used to identify any person from Asia, yet the term is too general a word to identify whether someone is from China or from India. So, this realization shows that while this country may contain people from numerous cultural backgrounds they are not all being identified but group together under one term.
As the world becomes more connected, and the generations to come become more diverse due to our interactions maybe the use of such identifiers will not be necessary due to the mixture of cultures. But for now if you are using a term to identify who are, do you know if it really identifies you?