The term Hispanic has been the source of several misunderstandings and debates in the US. It was first used officially by the U.S. government in the 1970 Census to refer to "a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race." However, many people felt that the term was artificially imposed and started to campaign against its use. Some started to favor the term Latino because of its alleged openness towards any people from Latin America. Since the 2000 Census the identifier has changed from "Hispanic" to "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino"
The adoption of the term Latino by the US Census Bureau in 2000 and its subsequent media widespread brought about several controversies and disagreements, specifically in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Regarding it as an arbitrary generic term, many Latin American scholars, journalists and organizations have objected against the mass media use of the word "Latino", pointing out that such ethnonyms are optional and should be used only to describe people involved in the practices, ideologies and identity politics of their supporters. They argue that if Hispanic is an imposed official term, so is Latino (perhaps from latinoamericano, "Latin American"), since it was the French who imposed the name Latin America (French Amérique latine) on the Spanish, French, and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere, during their support of the Second Mexican Empire,
In the US, the terms "Latino" and "Hispanic" are officially voluntary, self-designated classifications. Yet the mass media has helped propagate them irrespective of this fact. The rapid widespread of "Latino" in the US has been possible due to the policies of certain newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and other California-based media during the 1990s.
Essentially, politicians, the media, and marketers find it convenient to deal with the different U.S. Spanish-speaking people under one umbrella. However, many people with Spanish surnames contest the term "Latino".
Michael Grande - 7/5/2005
The words Latino and Hispanic have been so carelessly thrown around, used to label individuals, taken advantage of by some of the popular media (ie: Latin Grammy's, AOL Latino, and the Hispanic Heritage Awards), and even used by some unknowing people as a tool to define their heritage. Yet do we really know what these words mean?
There are over 25 countries where Spanish is either the official, or a commonly spoken language (including areas of the world that people don't often associate with Spanish, like Andorra or the Philippines), and Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. Additionally there are myriad regional dialects; some examples are the original Castilian Spanish of Spain (directly descended from the Latin language), Argentinean Spanish with its distinctive Italian flair, and Mexican Spanish with its characteristic blend of indigenous (Native American) words.
There is no typical skin color for Spanish speakers - they range from the lightest whites to Mediterranean breeds, from those of Indian (Native Central/South American and Caribbean) heritage to black. All of the Spanish-speaking countries have their own unique peoples and their own distinctive cultures and they cannot be broadly and irresponsibly categorized into a Latino grouping. It is entirely imprecise to use such broad, vague, inaccurate terminology to categorize people based upon their language (whatever dialect it may be). Oddly enough, the term Latino(a) is never (or rarely) used in the USA to refer to Western Europeans such as Spaniards and Italians, when in fact the original Latin cultures lie within Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Andorra, and France. Furthermore, when students arrive at college or pick up a book on European history, they will find that the term Latin, when used to refer to a monolithic culture, will speak of the Ancient Roman society, which is contrary to the ambiguous terminology employed by American media.
The term Latin America first came into use in the late 1860's and was used to describe the French presence in Mexico. This term was later shortened to refer to people from Latin American countries; thus solidifying the American misperception of the term. I have many Spanish-speaking friends, all of whom hail from different countries. My ex-college Professor is from Argentina and has almost nothing culturally in common with my friend from Mexico. As a matter of fact they too hate the use of the term Latino; they demand to be referred to according to their country of heritage, and rightly so!
Furthermore, the terms Latino and Hispanic have been irresponsibly used as a minority labeling system. I find this to be even more reckless because any and all racism boils down to that which it always has: color. Another of my friends hails from Chile and has red hair and blue eyes, but according to popular media, a job application, or a government form, she is Latina or Hispanic, two terms that she earnestly hates because they pay no credence to her unique culture. Somehow I don't think she was the minority prototype that they were looking for, but possibly that's because the terminology is so rampantly and incorrectly used. Racism is despicable in any form, but if these silly questions are still going to be asked on government forms and job applications then they should address that which is truly in question: race. Anyone who hails from Central/South America or the Caribbean who is dark-skinned is likely to be either in part or fully of Indian heritage. Instead of making tons of superfluous categories on forms, why not just leave two boxes: Native American (North/Central/South/Caribbean) and African American? The other day I heard someone say, "Did you know that Latinos constitute the second largest minority population in America?" I thought to myself, "This is ridiculous." Nobody needs to be forced into an inappropriate minority mentality; how has American cultural ignorance become so pervasive? Who are the minorities? The indigenous (native) population or the mestizo (mixed) population? Who exactly does this refer to? It's so confusing. I am 100% Italian American. I speak both Spanish and Italian fluently. Since Italy is the patriarch of the Latin Culture, am I a minority too? This has become a very perplexing issue indeed.
In Western Europe the term Latin(o)(a) is commonly used to refer the cultures of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania, and France. Additionally Europeans are shocked at how the term is used in America and who the term has been used to label. The term Latino(a) refers to the Latin culture, a culture that originally flourished in Italy during Roman times. It was during that time that the Romans spread the Latin language throughout Western Europe; the language then morphed into the modern Romance Languages such as Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. In essence, the Italians are the original Latinos, and the only people who should be termed Latino(a) are those whose ancestry stems from Western Europe or those who have strong cultural ties to Latin Culture. Why would someone so irresponsibly refer to an indigenous Mexican as Latino when he has his own ancient, Pre-Columbian Heritage, ie: Aztec, or Mayan? Why would someone use the term to refer to someone of indigenous Peruvian heritage when he has his own Incan heritage? Why would someone label an indigenous-blooded Puerto Rican as Latino when his bloodline lies with the Borinquen Indians? People need to wake up and get educated on this issue. How many North Americans would like to be referred to as Norths or Anglos based upon our geographical location or our mother tongue? I for one, would not! The spread of such inaccurate terminology only helps to perpetuate myths that prevail in our society. Cultural ignorance seems to be a popular phenomenon in the U.S.A. Americans do not have the right to irresponsibly use terminology that attempts to alter history. We have the resources to become culturally educated; let's use them and begin to express our heritage by country, not vague, media and commerce friendly generalities.
If indeed we chose to speak of Latinos, using such a generalist quip, a quick reference term for all those who trace their roots to Latin America., then we should include the maternal Latin countries in that group: Italy, Spain, Portugal, even France. There is a pervasive Latin cultural flow that began in those countries and spread to Latin America. Latinos would't be Latinoamericanos without the Europeans.
Since the word Hispanic originally came from Spain as an adjective for linguistic purposes and is derived from the Roman name for their prized province Hispania, I guess we should look at England's Roman name: Britannia.It appears then, according to Hispanic rhetoric that all speakers of English, regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, or geography should be called Britannic. So from India to America I guess I should now present the list of BRITANNICS¦. I think you'll begin to see for yourself just how silly the modern-day, American usage of the words Hispanic and Latino has become.
The English-speaking Countries:
- Antigua & Barbuda
- Cayman Islands
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Kingdom
- United States
* Chart from: http://www.aneki.com/english.html