Blanket terms don’t reflect all lifestyles

by Jose Gutierrez

The pan-ethnic terms Hispanic and Latino encompass approximately 53 million people in the U.S., but the vague words leave much to be desired. Just what is a Hispanic or a Latino? Is it a race? Can you identify one by simply looking (I’m looking at you, Arizona)? Do we all share a homogenous culture? The truth of the matter is that the Hispanic and Latino check boxes on forms and applications cannot, will not and should not and tell you much about the people checking it.

[quote]Contrary to popular belief, they’re not races.[/quote] Have you ever filled out a form and seen something along the lines of, “White (not Hispanic or Latino),” “Black (not Hispanic or Latino),” or “Asian (not Hispanic or Latino)”? The terms Hispanic and Latino are systematically used to categorize people into an ethnic group, not a racial one. Therefore, it’s not surprising that more than 18 million Hispanics and Latinos checked the “other” box in the 2010 census, because we are multiracial more often than not. One single race group can hardly define everyone’s diverse composition.

Native San Diegan actress Cameron Diaz, who has blonde hair and blue eyes, identifies as a Latina because of her father’s Cuban heritage. Retired Baseball player Sammy Sosa is of Dominican descent. Infamous former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori is of Japanese descent and is of one many Asian Latin Americans. All three are classified as Hispanic and/or Latino, but none of them look similar in the least. It’s not something you can tell by looking.

[quote]But why are there two terms? What’s the difference? [/quote]Hispanics trace their heritage to the Iberian Peninsula in Europe (Spain and Portugal), while Latinos trace theirs to the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean, where the Spanish conquered mid-century. But within the Hispanic and Latino communities, there is confusion and disagreement between the two terms.

In 2011, The Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project surveyed 1,220 Hispanic and/or Latino adults in the United States. It reported that 51 percent of those surveyed said they have no preference for either term (Hispanic or Latino), but among those who do, 33 percent prefer Hispanic compared to 14 percent who prefer Latino. However, 51 percent also said they prefer to describe themselves with their family’s country of origin rather than pan-ethnic terms. Only 24 percent said they actually use the terms Hispanic or Latino to describe their identity.

Evidently, there’s an undeniable discord within the Hispanic and Latino communities regarding identification, and with good reason. Hispanic and Latino are blanket terms that hardly take into account the subtle, or sometimes massive, differences that evidently exist within the global community. We do not all get along. [quote]Do I even have to mention the rampant colorism and racism that exists within the community? We may understand the language, but we don’t always understand each other.[/quote] There is no homogenous culture within the community, although people like to perceive it that way.

Here at San Diego State, there are 6,598 Mexican-American students and 1,625 “Other Hispanics.” I don’t know how it feels to be classified as other; it might be prideful or stigmatizing. Many may feel fine being categorized as Hispanic or Latino, some might prefer one term over the other, some might just stick with their family’s country of origin. These terms encompass all of us, regardless of the differences we may have. But this is where we can take advantage of that label. Approximately 53 million individuals are grouped with that demographic term, and while we do have differences, we also share some attitudes.

In the Pew survey, 75 percent of Hispanics and Latinos share the same attitude about hard work, namely that hard work increases efficacy. Compare this to 58 percent of the general public who say the same. In terms of the political spectrum, 30 percent of Hispanics and Latinos align themselves as liberal or very liberal, compared with 21 percent of the general public.

Differences aside, a voice of 53 million in a country of 318 million can’t be ignored, and we will hear each other when there is common ground. That blanket term of Hispanic and/or Latino can bring united voice to a community so divided. But what it can’t do, won’t do and shouldn’t do is tell you of the personal history, struggles and culture of those identified as Hispanics and Latinos.