Ethnic and racial labels

April 24, 2007

Having just finished writing a major project about a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Brooklyn, I figured that now was the time to finally figure out the proper label for immigrants from Central and South America.*

 I remembered learning something about how “Hispanic” was a term created not so long ago, not a term preferred by the people to whom we assign this label. What I was not prepared for was these paragraphs in the Wikipedia article about the word:

The confusion that arises is from the similarity between the words Latino and Latin, and between the concept of Hispanic and Latino. Latino is a shortened version of the noun Latinoamericano (Latin American). In the Spanish language “Latín” (Latin) is the name of the language of the Romans. This means that “Latín” is not confined solely to Hispanics, Latin Americans, or Latinos, but has always included such European peoples as the Italians, French, Romanians, Portuguese, etc.

Thus, of a group consisting of a Brazilian, a Colombian, a Mexican, a Spaniard, and a Romanian; the Brazilian, Colombian, and Mexican would all be Latinos, but not the Spaniard or the Romanian, since neither Spain nor Romania is geographically situated in Latin America. Conversely, the Colombian, Mexican and Spaniard would all be Hispanics, but not the Romanian and the Brazilian; Brazilians speak Portuguese as Brazil has evolved from the former Portuguese colony in South America. Finally, all of the above nationalities would be Latin, including the Romanian. To further clarify, a Latino is a US citizen or resident of Latin American descent or birth…

The term is oftern rejected by some Hispanics, because they consider Hispanic to be too general as a label, while others consider it offensive, often preferring to use the term Latino, which is viewed as a self-chosen label…

The majority of Hispanic Americans do not identify as Hispanic or Latino, but instead with their national origin, e.g. Mexican-American.

 What I’m getting from this is twofold. One: “Latino” is the proper term, though in a perfect world I would identify each person in Sunset Park by their national origin (which I believe is predominantly Dominican, judging by the turnout on Dominican Independence Day last summer). Two: Labels are damn confusing.

Next I’m going to blog about my journalism teacher who insisted that a writer who capitalized the word “Black” had made a typo in her query letter “because in the AP style manual, it isn’t capitalized.” See you then.

*Not really; I’ve been worrying vaguely about the problem all semester. Also, I don’t even think that “immigrants from Central and South America” is completely correct.


5 Responses to “Ethnic and racial labels”

  1. Vox Says:

    I tend to use Latino (or Chicano, out here) in writing, because most people I’ve talked to seem to prefer that to Hispanic (which is AP style), but I have known several people who prefer “Mexican” or “brown” to other labels. And that’s just the Mexican-American community.

    I figure the most respectful thing is to go with what people want to be called, when possible and if they state a preference.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Agreed. Though I’m not super-familiar with the AP manual (yet), I’m willing to go out on a limb and guess that it’s a bit of a dinosaur. But I think we’re moving in a positive direction, journalism-wise…my next post is going to touch on the NYT’s decision to spell “Bombay” as “Mumbai” and so on. If big media make these changes, they’ll have to trickle down eventually.. :)

  3. Chris Combs Says:

    A datapoint – “Hispanic” in the New York Times today: Hispanics Reshaping U.S. Catholic Church

  4. libbu Says:

    In Spanish, I like the phrase “hispano-hablantes.” Basically means Spanish speakers, though I doubt it will catch on in the English realm.

  5. AnferTuto Says:

    Hola faretaste

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