By Dolores Delgado-Campbell
Hispanic Heritage Month begins in the U.S. on September 15 of each year and celebrates several of the independence struggles in Latin America from 1810- through the 1820’s.
More about the history further down this post, but what about this complex and at times confusing term Hispanic?
Hispanic or Latino, refers to people in the U.S. from Puerto Rican, South or Central American, as well as the indigenous people of the once dominant Spanish empire in the Americas. The majority of these people do not call themselves Hispanic.
The divisions and contentions over the terms Hispanic, Latino, Mexican Americans, Chicanos and others have complex historical antecedents. We are not going to resolve them here- although we will suggest a operational “solution”.
On the 2010 Census form, people of Spanish, Hispanic and/or Latino origin could identify themselves as Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or "another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin." According to this Census, 50.5 million people or 16% of the population are of Hispanic or Latino origin. The 2010 Census listed 33 Million Mexican-origin residents (64.9 % of all Latinos); Puerto Ricans within the U.S .numbered 4.7 million (9.2 %); Cuban Americans 1.9 million ( 3.7 %); Salvadorans 1.8 million (3.6 %); Dominicans 1.5 million (3 %); Guatemalans 1.1 million (2.2 %); Colombians 972,000 (1.9 %); Hondurans 731,000 (1.4%); Ecuadorans 665,000 (1.3 %); and Peruvians 609,000 (1.2%). Each of these groups have their own identity and historical experiences.
The development of the term Hispanic was promoted by the Nixon administration to describe the collective of the variety of people descendants from Latin America. Choosing this term, however, had significant political connotations and results. In general, the use of Hispanic promotes the idea of a broad, inclusive Spanish influence. At the same time it tends to ignore the very vast ethnic and cultural influences of the millions of indigenous people in the Americas.
Some people prefer Hispanic; some would rather use other terms including Latino (which has its own problems). In general Hispanic is freely used east of the Mississippi and less so west. (Except East Texas uses the term). West of the Mississippi terms such as Mexican and Mexican American are more often used. From the 1960- 1990’s, Chicano was used to indicate a particularly politically conscious person of Mexican American heritage. And, by the way, Northern New Mexico and southern Colorado have their own histories and usages not described here.
In the East, the descendants of Latin America were predominantly Puerto Rican, then Cuban, and later Dominican- each with their own histories. In the 1970’s refugees from Chile came in significant numbers, and in the 80’s came Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and others.
Currently Florida has a major new population of Venezolanos and Columbians- as does the New York region. And since the 2000’s Mexican immigrants have spread far beyond the Southwest to Chicago, Atlanta, the Midwest, New York, and much of the nation.
In addition to geographic differences there are tentative class differences important to those of us on the left. You will find Hispanic Republican Clubs, seldom Latino Republican clubs. You will find Hispanic Chambers of Commerce- we have never heard of a Chicano Chamber of commerce. In the East you will have Hispanic Legislative caucuses, and Hispanic Republican caucuses, in the California you will find a Latino Democratic Caucus.
On Sept.10, 2014 one major organization, the National Council de la Raza issued a statement saying this…
Today Latino leaders from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda stood together at NCLR Headquarters to express disappointment in President Obama's immigration delay. His decision has certainly made our job of mobilizing Latino voters harder, but as our President and CEO, Janet Murguía said today, "We are discouraged, but we are not defeated and we must go to the polls to vote in November!"
You can see in this statement how Hispanic and Latino are used interchangeably by persons advocating before the government.
For many on the Left and in progressive movements the term Latino came to be used to substitute for the Nixonian preferred Hispanic term in the 1980’s and 1990’s to describe the collection of diverse groups. Millions of El Salvadorans, and thousands of Nicaraguans, as well as Hondurans and Guatemalans poured into the U.S. as a result of U.S. affiliated wars in the region. Thus, it was no longer accurate to describe the population of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Chicago as Mexican, they were in fact diverse -Latinos. And, the above is but a brief introduction to the issues.
So, what is a person seeking to interact within these communities to do? Relax. Listen to what people say about themselves. You will hear a diversity of terms, first generation immigrants tend to use their native country- ie. I am Bolivian, or Argentinian, while second and third generation people use the more universal terms Hispanic or Latino. Persons who speak only English tend to use Hispanic more while bilinguals tend to use Latino or other terms. Note: not all Latinos are immigrants, some come from families that were here long before the U.S. claimed the west – such as co author Delgado-Campbell.
Identities are constructed by the individual defining and interpreting their own experiences and their interactions with others. A person becomes Hispanic, Chicano, or Latino, or White, or Asian American. We learn and accept an identity. And, for some people their identity is potentially changing. A Pew Hispanic Center study released in April 2012, argues that most members of this ethnic group don’t care which you call them. But, of those that do care, “Hispanic” is preferred over “Latino” by more than a two-to-one margin—33 percent versus 14 percent.
The same study revealed significant regional differences as described above and it did not explore class nor political differences.
Pew also concludes “When it comes to describing their identity, most Hispanics prefer their family’s country of origin over pan-ethnic terms.”
We hope that this detail assists readers to go out and talk with your neighbors.
One caution. Please don’t tell people how to define themselves. They can do that for themselves. It is particularly not the role of Whites or Anglos to define other peoples’ identities. Listen and learn.
In a book Duane wrote in 2004 and 2010, he chose to use Latino rather than Hispanic, except when a person called himself Hispanic. New York author and newsman Juan Gonzalez in Harvest of Empire says, “ I believe needless time has been spent by Latino intellectuals in this country debating whether the term “Hispanic” or “Latino best describes us. Neither is totally accurate but both are acceptable, and I use the terms interchangeably in this book.”
Oh. And about the history we promised.
Spain ruled most of Latin America from 1521 until 1820. The movements of independence from Spanish rule began most notably on Sept. 15, 1810 in Dolores , Mexico with the Grito de Dolores when Fr, Miguel Hidalgo declared Mexico’s independence from Spain.
The war of independence in Mexico lasted until 1821. This challenge to Spanish power in Mexico led to the collapse of Spanish power in the Americas with independence struggles winning in Chile, Columbia, Venezuela , Ecuador and Peru among others. Five Latin American countries; Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua celebrate the anniversaries of their independence on Sept. 15.
After 1810 the independence movements went through several stages. Many of the leaders were imprisoned or executed by forces loyal to Spain including Fr, Hildalgo.
A notable leader in South America was Simon Bolivar who organized and fought for over a decade to liberate the area now part of Chile, Columbia, Venezuela and Peru. By 1820, many of the leaders went beyond a demand for independence and took more radical positions, including the abolition of slavery.
So, lets go out and celebrate Latino Heritage Month.
Dolores Delgado Campbell is a DSA member and professor of women’s history and Mexican American history at American River College in Sacramento, California. She is a Chicana, and was the Co-Chair of DSA’s Latino Commission from 1982-2004.
Do not call her a Hispanic.
Duane Campbell is a professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, a union activist, and chair of Sacramento DSA.