May 6th, 2011
Why Choose Latino Over Hispanic?

I’m as Hispanic as the Latino next door – so whether I’m one or the other is a matter of definition. That said, it’s hard to  pinpoint one meaning that everyone can agree on. Whenever I’m asked if I’m Latino, Chicano, Hispanic, Mexican-American or whatever I say yes. And then I’ll hold the silence that follows.

When I’m in a more practical mood I’ll ask for definitions of each, and depending on the definition I’ll choose the one that fits me the best. Mostly though, I choose to not get involved in a discussion that never ends. It ranks, for me, equal to the discussion of the differences between men and women – like watching my Beagle chase his tail (some women might argue that if he were a she he’d know better than to chase his own tail).

The point is that you are what you define yourself to be, and when it comes to Latino versus Hispanic cada cabeza es un mundo. At News Taco the easy consensus was Latino.

First, for practical reasons: We have to chose one or the other, it makes no sense to make random use of both.

We will, when the situation applies, use the term Hispanic when it’s part of a quote. If someone we’re quoting says Hispanic, we’re not going to change it to Latino.

Second, because we’re kinda’ nonconformists.  I was a young reporter in the early 1980’s when the government and the marketers started calling us Hispanic – one to group us into a pile of their definition and the other to fabricate a market that could be sold and sold to. No one ever asked, and I can see how impractical that would have been. A decision was made somewhere and I woke up one day to find I was Hispanic.

Since then there’s been a slew of push-back arguments against the term: Hispanic implies being from Spain, and we’re not; I don’t like being defined by a term that has the word “panic” in it; it’s an imposed definition; what does it mean anyway?

Latino seems to fit better, and it has nothing to do with a dead language – I’ll repeat that, it has nothing to do with a dead language. It does have to do with a region of the world that geography convention calls Latin America. And here’s the nuance: Latin America begins at the border between the United States and Mexico, but the Latin American culture starts in the southwestern US.

I once heard someone say that Mexico was not Latin America, and I almost choked on my Cheetos. It was the watershed moment when I decided that I would no longer get involved in that question. And here I am, writing about it.

So I prefer the term Latino, because it fits my idea of who I am, a member of the vast, varied, huge, rich, growing and wondrous Latin American culture.  But I’m also American; part of the wonderful American fabric as well, equally at home in both. The government and the marketers would have me say I’m Hispanic because it’s easier for them if I do that. So if asked , are you Hispanic,  I say “sure.” It’s not a matter of contention for me as I know it is for many people. I just can’t get excited over it. Hispanic doesn’t fit well with me, Latino does, and that’s that.

When we came together to form News Taco I found kindred spirits who felt the same, so it was a non-issue. We use the term Latino because we feel that it defines us better than other terms. We could say Mexican, or variations thereof: of Mexican descent, Mexican-American, etc…, but that would exclude people from many other nationalities and ancestries. We could say American, but that  would only increase the confusion – we’re not talking about all Americans, only a swath of the American family that can trace it’s roots to Latin America. So we choose Latino, although I like to think it chose me.

A non-Latino once asked why I felt so special because I was Hispanic. I said it wasn’t my idea. Whoever created this world thought me up as an American male, of Mexican ancestry, living in South Texas. If you have a problem with that, you need to take it up with the one who conjured me. And by the way, I’m Latino.

Follow Victor Landa on Twitter: @vlanda

6 thoughts on “Why Choose Latino Over Hispanic?

  1. Hispanic does not mean that you are from Spain, but rather that your language is Spanish. Latino(a) is used to include people from countries like Brazil. I go either way, but prefer Hispanic since that’s my native language.

  2. Well I must say your article is funny. I personally can go
    by either Latino or Hispanic, but since I am the founder and publisher for
    Popular Hispanics I’ll use Hispanic, but not offended by using Latino, in fact
    I use both when referring to our rich cultures. I’m sure that there are maps
    from the old world that have the Hispania label on them so it depends how far
    you want to go back, in the Caribbean you have Hispaniola site of the first
    colonies in the New World. So rock on my Latino friend, this Hispanic dude has
    to go to work :)

  3. I often wonder what to call my son. My hubby is 1st generation Mexican (born and raised in Veracruz) and I’m white American. People say my son is “Chicano”, but then I have been told that he’s not REALLY Chicano, because Chicano is TWO Hispanic/Latino people who have a baby..not a Gringa and a Mexican. Then they say he’s Mexican-American..well, true..hubby is Mexican and I’m American..but that seems so vague cause again he could be born of 2 Latino/Hispanic parents. Others say he’s “biracial” but I don’t see that because I consider hubby Anglo, and he put ‘white” on his census form but of “hispanic” descent. Others say “multi-cultural” which I like..because we ARE from two different cultures..but we really live and celebrate his. After a lot of thinking one night I came up with the perfect solution..and description of my sweet Guero/Mexican-American/Chicano/Latino/Multi-Cultural son ..something my Dad said when my biracial twins were little and someone approached them and said “What ARE they?!!” looking to pigeon hole them into one race or culture or another..He simply smiled he biggest proudes grandadiest smile and said how I will now always describe my son when curious people ask.. “Why, PRECIOUS of course!”

    • That’s an interesting story @434c4e759c610c3162a3bf19634d4e29:disqus . Thanks for sharing. I think, ultimately, what you call yourself is your own preference, we’ll have to conform for official reasons, but there’s really no other good reason. :)

      • I agree..I hate it when someone tries to “figure out” what all my kids are. They identify themselves as one thing or another, but when it comes right down to it they all agree they are of once race/culture the human/Christian one. That pretty much satisfies the rest of the world just needs to get over it..

  4. I to do not like to conform. And the term Hispanic – which is “man made and imposed, does not fit me. I never could find Hispanic on the map. The closes I could come to it was on an old world map and it was a place called Hispanola. which is today two countries Dominican Republic and Haiti. However, I also have trouble with the term Latino. As you stated, Latinos come form Latin America, both South and Central. But I was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents, (that is another issue some refer to those of us born in NYC as a Nuyorican). The term Latino, while many of us from the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Cuba and Dominican Republic) use it, we use it in pretty much the same way you use the term Hispanic. To avoid conflict or debate and so that those calling us Hispanic feel better. They feel better because at least they can put a label on us, you know how they like labels, Red Man = Native Americans, Black Man = African American, Yellow Man = Oriental, White Man = Caucasian, Hispanic = Everyone with a Spainish sirname.

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