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Indegenous Population: Where Do They Fit?

By Mari D. González

It is becoming more and more common to encounter indigenous people from Latin America in the U.S. who speak their indigenous languages and do not speak Spanish, yet they are learning English. They are mostly young men from Southern Mexico or Central America.

Last month, I interpreted for two young men in their early twenties for a recorded statement related to a car accident. Both were from Guatemala. The youngest seemed very shy. Although he understood most of the questions I asked in Spanish, he needed further interpretation from his cousin who was fluent in Spanish and three other indigenous languages from Guatemala.

According to scholars (Elliot, Adams, & Sockalingam, 1999) indigenous people in the Americas should not be “counted” as Latinos. From their comprehensive study on cultural groups in the U.S. in the communications field, they conclude that,

Latino is used to refer to people with a lineage or cultural heritage related to Latin America, but should not be used to refer to the millions of Native Americans in the region. [Furthermore] members of indigenous groups in Mexico… object to being referred as ‘Mexicans’ (Multicultural Toolkit Summary, Hispanic American Communication Patterns,  3).