The Blog

Defining My Terms

You may not know this, but there is an ongoing debate over which term (Hispanic or Latino) accurately identifies people whose ancestors come from somewhere south of modern-day Texas.
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From the very first post, I'm likely to piss somebody off. This is because I'm wading into the whole "Hispanic" vs. "Latino" lexicon fistfight. You may not know this, particularly if you are of the Anglo persuasion, but there is an ongoing debate over which term accurately identifies people whose ancestors come from somewhere south of modern-day Texas.

This area encompasses over twenty countries spread around Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Add to this fact that many of these countries have multiple cultures with diverse customs and even different languages, and it quickly becomes clear that coming up with one word to identify all these people is like calling everything you put in your mouth "food."

But in America, at least, we have narrowed the choices down to "Latino" or "Hispanic." Each comes loaded with political baggage. Say "Latino" to a brown-skinned person, and you might receive a snappish "I don't speak Latin!" in response. Refer to someone as "Hispanic" and you could hear that the word refers to Spain, the country that "raped my ancestors" or "subjugated the Aztecs" or some other historical atrocity that constitutes a fresh wound to people who have taken too many poli-sci classes.

Special note: the word "Spanish" applies only to a native of Spain or to the language. We tend to hate it when we're called "Spanish."

To add to the confusion, many people want their home country to be a reference point. This is particularly big with the Dominicans, the Cubans, and the Puerto Ricans. And self-described Chicanos are likely to seethe with hot-blooded rage (now there's a stereotype!) if they are called anything other than their preferred term.

But I simply do not have the patience or computer memory to start every post with "speaking of Ecuadorians and Bolivians and Guatemalans and Quechua speakers and Garifuna immigrants..."

So I've decided to use the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" to encompass the whole damn ethnic pie. And I will use the words interchangeably. I do this because I think both words are perfectly legit, and there's no need for a lucha over them. I also do this for the sake of linguistic variety in these posts. Along those lines, I will probably also sprinkle in the terms "brown scourge," "swarthy dudes," "hot little tamales," and "God's gift to the Western hemisphere," depending on context.

Therefore, don't look too deeply into my word choice. The politics of my posts will be clear enough without getting into the hidden subtext of terms I picked just because I was tired and began cutting and pasting at random.

Now that we have that settled, I should mention that regardless of the word I chose, there's likely to be some debate over what person/group/socioeconomic entity I'm referring to. After all, who constitutes a Latino is often up for grabs. For example, a half-Anglo blogger in the Midwest (that would be me) is probably not whom pollsters are referring to when they laud the monolithic "Hispanic community."

But that's another post.