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Cuestiones con Cruz: How am I supposed to refer to Latino people?

As a human race, labels are vital to us. They act as representations of our identities as well as affect how we view ourselves and relate to others. There are a lot of different terms to refer to those who have ancestral ties to Spanish-speaking countries, but not every label is accurate, nor is every label interchangeable with each other. 

Perhaps the two most common labels for such people are “Hispanic” and “Latino.” Although either word is often used in place of the other, they do not mean the same thing. The word “Hispanic” is used to refer to someone who is from or has ancestral ties to a country where the primary language is Spanish. Although this refers to many countries in Latin America, people from Spain are classified as Hispanic as well.

Latino, on the other hand, is usually used to refer to people with origins anywhere in Latin America. The outlier country in the Latino/Hispanic debate is Brazil, since it’s located in Latin America, but the primary language is Portuguese.

As the Duke University School of Medicine put it: “Latino/a/x tells you about geography, while Hispanic tells you about language.”

Although these differences seem slight, there is a deeper significance that lies in these labels. Specifically looking at the U.S., Latin American descent was considered Spanish-speaking with Spanish origin, therefore considered white on the census prior to 1980. In addition to being misrepresented, this categorization also affected data needed by communities, specifically Mexican-American activists who needed data to prove the need for resources and programs. With the help of stars such as Tito Puente and Celia Cruz to promote filling out el censo, the label of Hispanic began to become more mainstream to identify Latinos.

Although Hispanic was a step in the right direction, it still highlighted the colonizer of Spain as well as excluded Brazil. As an alternative, “Latino” was and is used to form a stronger sense of identity and culture away from Spain. The term comes from the Spanish word for Latin American which is “latinoamericano.” When the year 2000 came around, Latino was on the U.S. Census.

However, there is still disputes among Latinos if that truly is the proper term to identify with. Latin America is a vast region with many different populations identities, and it has been expressed by some that the term “Latino” is too broad. Someone in Argentina and someone in Mexico are thousands of miles apart and have entirely different genetic makeups, cultures and traditions, yet they both live in Latin America, so they are both considered Latinos. In reality, some people feel more connected to their nationality such as Cuban or El Salvadorian. 

Furthermore, there are still a lot of intersectional and interpersonal identities within Latinos. Afterall, there are many countries in Latin America with diverse and rich populations. Sectors of the Latino identity, such as Afro-Latino, often get overlooked because of mainstream media and pop culture pushing this narrative that all Latinos look the same.

Also within the identity Latino lies the relatively new labels of “Latinx” and “Latine.” Spanish is a very gendered language, with every word having a gender. The ending of the letter “o” is seen as a male ending, or an all-encompassing ending. For example, “Latinos” could refer to a group of male Latinos, or just a group of Latinos in general, regardless of gender. The “a” ending refers exclusively to females.

The terms Latinx and Latine were created in an attempt to offer gender-neutral versions. The origins of Latinx are unsure, but it gained popularity in the early 2000’s. Despite its prevalence in politics and media, Latinx has not been completely accepted by the Latino community. One of the reasons is because it’s almost impossible to pronounce in Spanish.

The term Latine on the other hand was born in Latin America and arrived in the United States. This label is said to be more widely accepted by Latinos, considering it can be pronounced, and come gender-neutral words end in “e” already such as estudiante, or student. 

The bottom line is if you are not sure how a Latino person identifies, just ask! ¡Estamos felices de contarles un poco sobre nosotros y nuestra identidad!

Alyssa Cruz is a sophomore studying journalism and Spanish at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Alyssa by tweeting her at @alyssadanccruz.

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