How Latino Identity Goes Beyond Language

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Our community has historically rejected the Spanish language around its identity. It’s not just now, so why are people always so salty?

The cultures, languages, and identities that make up the broad term “Hispanic,” which Hispanic Heritage Month attempts to encompass, are as numerous and colorful as a jar of jelly beans.

The origins of the use of “Hispanic” as a label for everyone in the United States are complicated to say the least. The US government did not use the term in the census until 1970, and which is the result of efforts dating back to the 1960s on the part of activists, in particular Puerto Rican activists as the National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS), to use a term to count Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and other Spanish-speaking communities who, until that time, were otherwise classified as white.

But that’s never been a label that resonates with everyone she seeks to include.

A prism of identities

On the one hand, there is the implicit link with Spain in the term “Hispano”, which for many Latin Americans is a holdover from the history of colonialism in their country. It is an unfortunate reminder of the violent changes brought about on the continent by the conquistadors, who forced the Spanish language into the throat of Indigenous populations at the point of the sword.

And then there’s the inaccurate mapping of language to identity. There are Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Guatemalans, Bolivians and many more who come to the United States and do not speak Spanish, or even if they do, it is not their mother tongue. They speak Quechua, Kaqchikel, Nahuatl or Mixtec. They speak Aymara, Wayuu and Guaraní. The Spanish language does not define their cultures, their outlook in the world and their sense of self.

On the other hand, there are Latinos in the United States who have grown up with English as their mother tongue and don’t think it takes away their Latinity and belonging to a larger community of those who come or have parents. and a family from Latin America.

But for these two groups, the term “Hispanic” emphasizes Spanish, where the language itself is not at the heart of their identity.

More than a language

According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2020, there are 62.1 million Hispanics in the USA. But other studies show that even though people identify as Hispanic in the census or in other government functions, they don’t really identify with that label if they have other choices.

In a 2019 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 47% of Hispanics are more likely to refer to themselves as Cuban-Americans, Guatemalans-Americans, Salvadorans-Americans, or Puerto Ricans, or whatever their country of origin, rather than as Hispanic. This means that nearly half (!) Of Hispanics in the United States do not personally think the term reflects their identity; instead, they just say to use it for the good of the government, the census, etc.

From there, a perspective like Harvard student Manuel F. Cachan is hardly unique. Cachan writes in Harvard Crimson that as a Cuban American he sometimes felt ostracized and ignored in the way people see him and his specific identity in the Hispanic American context. He writes that it’s a good thing to point out the differences within the Hispanic / Latino community and to understand the needs and priorities of the many faces of Latinidad without rushing to label everyone as the same.

But as G. Cristina Mora writes in the preface to her flagship book from 2014, Make HispanicsThe ambiguity of the term Hispanic is what has led it to be a powerful force for change in the American political landscape, despite its complications.

“The narrative of panethnicity,” Mora writes, “concerns the frustrations, struggles, and compromises that ultimately placed the country’s Latin American diaspora at the center of American discourse on race and ethnicity.

Latin America, Latino, Latinx, Hispanic – the one thing that is not disputed is the important role that so many members of these communities, whatever their definition, have played in the formation of this country and the impacts they will continue to have cheeky.

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