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Last year, I wrote a paper for school on the meaning of the terms Latino and Hispanic according to the people being categorized. Aside from the literature review, I interviewed eight self-identified Latinos or Hispanics and these were my findings.
Since its inception by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 1977, the term Hispanic has been both controversial and accepted by different circles to categorize people with ancestry in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries of the Western hemisphere. Some argue that choosing one label over the other is a matter of assimilation while others choose a label to state pride of having developed an agreeable ethnic identity. Several authors (Martin, 2005; Acuña, 2000; Gonzales, 1999; Rodriguez, 2007) acknowledge the political implications behind the choice of a specific label. Martin (2005) in particular proposes to analyze the term Latino in the context of “reinterpretation” of an existing name that has sprung from political movements dating back to the 1960’s (p. 397). Other researchers (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005; Rodriguez, 2007; Davila, 2001) recognize a different and significant dynamic – the capitalizing of the consumer power through the use of the label Hispanic which is representative of a common linguistic indicator.
The term Hispanic is inaccurate because is not perceived by the receivers as representative of their “broader culture” and because it implies that “all” Latino/Hispanic speak Spanish. The term Hispanic does however speak of the Spanish colonization from which the Spanish language was instituted. Yet, not all people who live in Latin America speak Spanish such as the many Indigenous people across the continent. The term Hispanic however, is seen as convenient through the use of census data to make the case for the allocation of funds that support language-based social service programs and for marketers and advertisers to sell Spanish media programs by arguing that if not all, the majority of Hispanics prefer to speak Spanish.
Individuals who are more aware of the labels’ socio-politics argue that neither the term Hispanic nor Latino applies to them because they want to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes more commonly attached to Mexican immigrants and people of Mexican descent who have dealt with a second colonization by historically being categorized as second-class group since the time their first-class citizenship rights were stripped off them in the nineteen century when the U.S. west border moved further south.
Californians in contrast to New Mexicans prefer using the term Latino(a) when given the choice between Latino(a) and Hispanic. For more educated Californians, “Latino” is the new Chicano in that it evokes their indigenous roots, a shared history of struggle and the colonization of the people in Latin American countries. Latino as a term is self-appropriated; it comes from the people which might have been the legacy from the Chicano movement. It is not surprising that Latinos in California are more aware of the political connotation of the term Latino because Chicano studies departments are at many state universities in the Southwestern United States, particularly in California.