LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Here in the United States September is Hispanic Heritage month, and I like to talk about what it means to be Hispanic or Latino in America. This subject is something that growing up in Mexico City I never really thought much about.
In Mexico when it comes to identifying yourself in official government forms like the passport they don’t ask you whether you are Hispanic or not, they just ask what kind of skin shade or tone do you have. So it was either tez blanca or tez morena meaning white tone or brown tone or shade, none of these Hispanic, or white non- Hispanic classifications.
Unlike America, Mexico is a very homogeneous country, and they don’t collect census data on ethnicity. But according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook Mexico is composed of mestizo (Amerindian-Spanish) 62%, predominantly Amerindian 21%, Amerindian 7%, other 10% (mostly European). You will never see forms asking you whether you are Latino or Hispanic, in Mexico that is irrelevant.
However, here in the United States it is important being that our country is very diverse. So which is it? Hispanic or Latino? What are we? What does it mean to be Latino? Or, Hispanic in America? – The answer to this question depends on who you ask. The two words are most of the time used interchangeably. So which word to use? Ever since I started college at USC I have been asking myself this question, and here we are many years later still trying to figure this out.
I did a little research online and I think I finally found a definition that I can settle with, and of all places I found it in The Tennessean, this paper is part of the USA Today Network and their Education reporter Jason Gonzales explained it very well when he said that “for those of For those of Spanish or Latin American origin, the terms describe a shared experience in the United States and by their definition includes a broad category of people with different cultures and heritage. Both words are to be celebrated because they represent our many differences.”
He added “Latino means those from Latin America and includes Brazil, while Hispanic means those of Spanish-speaking origin and includes Spain. The term Hispanic was first used by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1970 to describe the numerous Spanish speakers in the United States. And Latino was adopted by the U.S. Census Bureau in the 2000 count. Neither word specifies a certain ethnicity, but speaks more to a broader group of people.”
A broader group of people who share the same experience of being Americans of Latin decent. The word Latin and Hispanic unites us in a common bond that in many ways is, ironically uniquely American.
Let’s celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by remembering that we are Hispanics, we’re Latinos, and we are Americans. Whichever word you use to describe yourself be proud of it, and always keep in mind that no matter where we came from, or what’s our cultural heritage Latinos, Hispanics have made, and continue to make America great. Happy Hispanic Heritage month to all.
(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader and was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected].)