Latino versus Hispanic? Qué??

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It's confusing, y'all.


What is the difference between Latino and Hispanic? Why would anyone care to clarify?

To be honest, these two terms elicit different reactions depending on the age or country of the people involved. Let me tell you, they care. I'll tell you why I care and why you should care if you didn't before.

With COVID slowing down the global-roll as it were, things such as these nuances in culture are being highlighted in particular against the backdrop of the murder of George Floyd, the insurrection at the White House, and the fury of Asian hate. A gradual raising of a sense of consciousness in people outside of their own bubbles. Who knew it would take a global pandemic to give space to all the different ways human beings mistreat and undermine one another, why we do what we do, and how it is not acceptable? This very paragraph barely scrapes the surface of the social injustices felt by African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other people of color this year (centuries, really). Voices are being lifted in ways never felt, nor heard before, including a mounting awareness as to the gender pay gap, as I wrote about in America's Pay Gap Issue with Women of Color. The numbers continue to mount in the millions of women who have left the workforce and returned to the role of dominant caretaker, whether they want to or not.

All of this is an important backdrop as to why you should care if you didn't before, because these ignored nuances uphold the highly empowered white person's system of microaggression, bias, and racism. As a person of color (POC), I too have to work hard at disemboweling my often unrealized participation in this system. Growing up in Canada didn't make me immune to the global power dynamics that benefit white/light-skinned Anglo or European folks, or the history, geography, or economics written by their points of view. As a POC that sometimes passes as white, I bear a different burden in being self-aware to benefits that come my way where they wouldn't for a fellow Latina two shades darker.

I came across an article in HipLatina that ironically touches on these themes by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Rosalia and 10 Other Celebs People Think Are Latinx But Aren't. I point this out because colorism, ethnicity, and Latinidad, is confusing not only to non-Latinos, but additionally insulting in the way it is felt keenly within the community. So much so that there needed to be an article about it (click the last link above)-- and a moment in praise of the online magazine Remezcla for doing so. There must continue to be articles, truthfully, as there is a tendency to bury these important issues amongst the Spanish speaking community because many Latinos who don't identify as white and Latino, feel Latinidad refers mainly to light-skinned, Spanish-speaking Latino men. Before we go too far down this particular rabbit hole, let's take a step back and define our main terms.

Who, or what, is a Latino? To paraphrase Wikipedia, those Latin or romance-language-based Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese speakers who currently occupy the Central and South Americas, including Mexico and the Caribbean, excluding Spain and Portugal, and as such identify mostly as "Americans". That's right, Latino is a "loan word" from "American Spanish," according to Wiki (the site also readily notes that there are plenty of arguments as to the origins and uses of the word. I told you it was complicated). Some people exclude the French Caribbean and some not, although technically they are romance-language-based countries in the same region. Significantly, those like my dad who emigrated from Ecuador to Canada, and decades later to the United States, abhor the use of Latino or Hispanic, full stop. He and many others like him fresh-off-the-boat (derogatively speaking), seriously trip out, feel affronted and scandalized. "What is that??" he would grumble when faced with such choices on a self-identification list. To squash memories of these incidences into a few sentences: "I am 'other', por supuesto! Soy ecuatoriano, not some stupid idea cómo que 'Hispanic'!" "What is Hispanic?? The people from Las Hispañiolas??" He would always tell me to check the "other" box whenever asked, telling me not to kowtow to made up or lazy ways to identify different people and cultures into one homogenous group.

We see the Latino solidification with the American government as "Main Influencer" grouping together 20 plus of all those pesky, differing countries and territories for convenience. Outside of the United States, Spanish speakers from these same countries refer to themselves… from their own countries... places rich with varying indigenous languages, history, food, and culture. The groupings occur mostly here, in the U.S. It's like saying all English speakers speak the same and are all "English." You know that there are people from England clutching their pearls at the thought of this suggestion. English speakers easily break it down to those myriad of differences found in England versus Ireland, or Great Britain, Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand... You don't see the U.S. census broken down like that, do you?

As you can see, from the beginning, Latino is a hot-button topic. Let's move on to Hispanic which doesn't fare much better. Plenty of arguments regarding origination, meaning, and usage, mostly hyped within the United States ( ...again. The astute will have noticed the pattern as to why this has happened). In essence, Hispanic does include Spain! Huzzah for Spain, although most Spaniards are happy to be included in the European grouping rather than slumming with those "others who've bastardized their holy language", a sentiment I personally have heard shared and eyerolled by many Central and South Americans. Hispanic, most argue, refers to only Spanish speaking countries. Portugal is just lonely really, and only part of Europe.

To illustrate, Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz are Spaniards, Hispanic, but not Latinos. Frida Kahlo, Salma Hayek, Shakira, Renata Flores, Ricky Martin, Cardi B, and Marc Anthony are Latinos and Hispanic. Jennifer Esposito, Giancarlo Esposito, and Ariana Grande are neither--their heritages are not based in any Spanish-speaking culture. They have Italian roots, or Black and Italian in Giancarlo's case.

Historian, Educator, and Professor of Chicano studies, Rodolfo Acuña, sums it up in his book U.S. Latino Issues:

"When and why the Latino identity came about is a more involved story. 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. They claim it is misleading because no Latino or Hispanic nationality exists since no Latino state exists, so generalizing the term Latino slights the various national identities included under the umbrella."

The crazy part is how the marketing has worked. These terms are now normalized... but have remained to somehow disturb us only in the United States.


© Isabel Alvear, April 2021

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