Unpack the term “Hispanic”.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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  • The term “Hispanic” was created in order to redirect funds to larger initiatives encompassing communities of the Latin American diaspora.
  • This term, however, does nothing to refer to the diversity of experiences within these communities and impedes us from having explicit conversations about racism and race.
  • Instead of using “Hispanic”, refer to the specific ethnicity, nationality or race you want to talk about, so as to avoid generalizations that don’t apply to “Hispanic” people as a whole.

During the 2020 presidential elections, news outlets were full of predictions, analyses, and examinations of how the Latino/Hispanic sector would vote (NBC News). Many supported Donald Trump in the polls (New York Times), sparking many conversations and questions concerning the fact that a minority was apparently voting against their best interest. However, this information is hardly surprising when we consider the ambiguous nature of the term. “Hispanic” can easily refer to a person from Spain, Chile, The Philippines, or Equatorial Guinea. So where exactly did this term come from? Who exactly does it refer to?

The idea that there is a single category of Hispanic or Latinx people spanning every Spanish-speaking country is not the result of an organic organization between Spanish-speaking Latin Americans but rather a project of U.S. activists, government officials and media executives from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. According to G. Cristina Mora, the conscious ambiguity concerning the definition of the “Hispanic” was a fundamental part of its institutionalization.

“Activists thus described Hispanics as a disadvantaged and underrepresented minority group that stretched from coast to coast, a wide framing that best allowed them to procure grants from public and private institutions,” said Mora. “Media executives, in turn, framed Hispanics as an up-and-coming national consumer market to increase advertising revenue. Last, government officials, particularly those in the Census Bureau, framed Hispanics as a group displaying certain educational, income, and fertility patterns significantly different from those of blacks and whites” (University of Chicago).

The three main diasporas that were most visible at the time due to their political presence were Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban. According to Mora, the concept of Hispanic was an attempt to unify what were, in fact, wildly different priorities. “Immigration reform, for example, became an important Mexican American policy goal but was of little interest to Puerto Ricans, who were citizens by birth, and to Cuban Americans, who gained citizenship through their refugee status. Puerto Ricans in New York focused on issues of Puerto Rican independence, but this cause fell on deaf ears in Mexican American and Cuban American communities. And while there were certainly some issues that these groups shared, such as bilingual education and discrimination, many of the joint, pan-ethnic mobilization efforts addressing these topics were either highly local or short-lived.”

Populations within each Latin American country are also not homogenous. After they obtained independence from Spain, the white ruling elites crafted discourses whose purpose was to assimilate the Indigenous and Black populations into whiteness, creating racist discourses that are still prevalent to this day (Latin American Perspectives). Some Latin American governments promoted the idea that “We are all “Mestizo,” or mixed-race, to erase erasing anti-Indigenous and anti-Black practices (Critical Sociology). Overuse of Hispanic, Latinx, and Mestizo can make conversations around racist violence within these communities much more difficult due to their basic premise: “We are all Hispanic/Mestizos.”

Now, if we focus particularly on the three diasporas previously mentioned, we can see how even the homogenization of these populations according to their nationality impedes us from understanding the diversity of experiences the “Hispanic” label encompasses.

We can now understand “Hispanic” Republican politicians that seemingly legislate against the interest of the community at large. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are both white men of Cuban ancestry whose political posture rests on the fact that their families supposedly fled their country of origin because of the Cuban revolution. They legislate in favor of white, rich conservatives such as themselves (whether “Hispanic” or not).

The terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx” have become racialized categories in the US. Therefore many conversations in the public eye equate being “Hispanic” or “Latinx” to being someone who is non-white. This has not only allowed white women to indulge in self-exotization due to the way they are perceived in the U.S. vs. their countries of origin (ie. Shakira, Sofía Vergara, Kali Uchis) but has also created controversial conversations on the internet, such as the description of Anya Taylor-Joy as a woman of color (Tribune).

In order to adopt an anti-racist stance when referring to Latin American people, these labels must be understood in their historical context and left aside for more specific terms that refer to the community that we want to refer to explicitly. Hispanic and Latinx are not a race, ethnicity, or nationality. There is an immense spectrum of realities within the “Hispanic” term, therefore, we must explicitly name the communities we want to recognize lest they be made invisible by these homogenizing narratives once more.

Key Takeaways

  • Some outsiders think about immigrant communities as political tokens or only consider them in relation to the food, music, or other products they produce.
  • Corporations might support immigrants or other oppressed communities rhetorically while harming them in practice.
  • Solidarity must be a constant practice.
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