The terms Latin, Hispanic, and Latinx are often used interchangeably to describe a group that makes up about 18 percent of the American population. Although it is now common to use generic terms to classify those with ties to more than 20 Latin American countries, these words have not always fostered a sense of community among the people they are supposed to. to describe.
Before activists, media and government officials worked to consolidate these identities into one, they were seen as separate. Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, for example, lived in different parts of the country and had their own distinct political and cultural identities.
Yet since there are people from Latin American countries living in the United States, there are words to describe them. Some have fallen out of favor, while others have moved on. And many of them have such a complicated history as trying to unify multiple nationalities under one banner.
“ Hispanic ” helps unify communities, agenda
The first time the federal government used the word Hispanic in a census was in 1980. The appearance of the term was due to decades of lobbying. “It took the debates of the 1970s, the protests of the late 1960s to bring us to 1980,” explains G. Cristina Mora, professor of sociology at UC Berkeley and author of Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and the Media Built a New American.
Prior to 1980, people of Latin American origin were counted as Spanish-speaking, of Spanish origin, or white in the census. The latter frustrated Mexican-American activists because they had no data to prove that their communities needed resources for programs such as skills training. La Raza National Council, known today as UnidosUS, lobbied the Census Bureau to change the way it categorized Latinos and uniting Puerto Ricans and Mexicans to “build a Hispanic agenda” .
“In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as people at the Census Bureau and bureaucrats in the Nixon administration thought about what this new group was going to call, Hispanic became a term people probably thought. well known because it was related to HispanoMora says. “But Hispanic was helpful because he seemed more American.”
Hispanic refers to those in Spain and other Spanish speaking countries, which excludes Brazilians. Grace Flores-Hughes, who worked as a secretary in what was then known as the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, said she coined the term. However, as Mora explains, it is possible that Hispanic was used before.
While 1980 marked an important milestone, this pan-ethnic term only really gained momentum around the 1990s. By then there had been two rounds of censuses and the media, particularly Univision and Telemundo. , had helped to unite these communities.
“It wasn’t just activists and not just bureaucrats,” says Mora. “It was some people like Telemundo, Univision, who had a huge interest in connecting their audiences across the country and having those audiences across the country see themselves as a single market.
‘Latino’ as an alternative to ‘Hispanic’
While Hispanic may have some utility, the term has been criticized for pointing out Spain, which colonized much of Latin America. Some have proposed “Latino” as an alternative. This term refers to those in Latin America, meaning it includes Brazil but not Spain.
The word existed long before the 1960s. But Ramón A. Gutiérrez, professor emeritus of United States history at the University of Chicago, Preston & Sterling Morton, explains that it was previously a word in Spanish that came from Latin America, which the Colombian writer José María Torres Caicedo helped popularize.
“Latino is the abbreviation of Latin American, “he says.” And this is the result of what happened between 1808 and 1821, as the countries of Latin America became independent. ”
In the second half of the 19th century, the abbreviated words “Hispano“and”latinoWere in use in California among Spanish speakers, but eventually other terms replaced them. By 1920, they had “practically disappeared,” writes Gutiérrez.
The term Latino gradually reappeared in English, appearing in books and even in a 1970 White House journal entry by Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson. In another early example, a March 17, 1973 issue of the Black Panther Party newspaper described a program developed by an “action group of blacks, latinos and whites.” In 2000, Latino was part of the census, with the question: “Is this person Spanish / Hispanic / Latin American?”
Although Latino has de-emphasized the connection with Spain, some still rejected the term as it attempted to lump several distinct cultures into one. For example, a popular bumper sticker stating, “Don’t call me Hispanic, I’m Cuban!” circulated in Miami in the early 1990s, according to Mora. In many cases, those who did not want to identify as Hispanic or Latin American chose nationality.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, only one in five respondents described themselves as Hispanic or Latino. Meanwhile, 54 percent used “their family’s Hispanic term (such as Mexican, Salvadoran Cuban) to identify” and 23 percent used “American” most often.
Some Mexican Americans are adopting the “ Chicano ”
For some Mexicans who avoided Latinos and Hispanics, that meant turning to the word “Chicano.”
There are a few theories about the origins of Chicano, including that of mexican (pronounced meshicano), a word that some “groups of Nahuas (native speakers of Nahuatl) have begun to call their language,” writes David Bowles, author and professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Another possibility is that Chicano is the result of hypocorism. “He’s basically using baby talk,” Bowles says. “If you think of nicknames, of Spanish nicknames, if you’re Ignacio, your name is ‘Nacho’. Graciela, your name is “Chela”. It is possible that it could be some kind of hypocorism behind the change of Mexican at Chicano – kind of a playful thing.
One of the first mentions of Chicano in the print media is in a newspaper in Spanish. La Crónica in 1911, where it was used as an insult against “less educated” Mexican Americans and recent immigrants. But by the 1960s, the word had changed. Although not all Mexican or Mexican Americans use the term, it gained ground, including among Mexican Americans who fought for civil rights.
“Because the word was in regular use around that time,” Bowles says, “it was sort of that way of scavenging the insult and using it for a Latinx political identity.”
The term “ Latinx ” appears as a gender-neutral term
Spanish is a gendered language. If there is a group made up of women, they can be described as “ellas”. If there is a group of men and women, the masculine is the default (ellos instead of ellas). The word “Latino” follows this convention, labeling names as either male or female. For those stepping out of the gender binary, this word fails to represent them, this is where gender neutral “Latinx” comes in.
Much like the other words used to describe those of Latin American origin, Latinx has faced a certain setback – arguments that are difficult to make at the Real Academia Española, the institution charged with maintaining the consistency of the Spanish language, saying it’s useless. Some have even argued that non-Latino whites got the word out on Latinos.
Bowles argues against this notion. “White people didn’t invent Latinx,” he says. “They were queer Latinx people… They were the ones who used the word. Our small community subgroup created this. It was created by English-speaking American Latinxes for use in English conversations. “
Although it is not known when or how it started, it is mainly related to the early 2000s, it is believed to have appeared on Google Trends in 2004. There are a few possibilities as to how the word originated. One theory is that the Latin American protests inspired the word. From the 1970s to the 1990s, as feminists protested, they eliminated words ending in “OS” to “visually … reject the notion that the default is masculine,” Bowles says. It could also have been a nod to the use of X during the civil rights movement in the United States.
Although the Pew Research Center found in August 2020 that only 3% of Latinos use Latinx, it is a term that gained traction through the 2010s and into 2020, reframing in TV shows and politics.