With the race for presidential nominations underway, terms used to categorize people of Spanish-speaking descent have been tossed about freely in both the media and during conversations with the candidates themselves. Is this new or surprising to anyone? It shouldn’t be.
The terms ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’ can cause confusion for those who wish to discuss topics surrounding people who are culturally, socially or politically marked with these labels. But there is one rule you should keep in mind. Neither of these terms capture the full essence of what it means to be a North, Central, South or Caribbean person with small or large ties to Spanish or native cultures.
As Americans, we are socialized from a young age to make sense of our surroundings and peers in order to smoothly go about our days. We simplify concepts and refer to people by how we see them. By understanding others, we can then evaluate and measure ourselves against them. Everyone makes judgments, and it’s a hard habit to break.
However, nothing (and no one) is as transparent as we are conditioned to believe. It’s a simple concept that’s often forgotten. While the term “Hispanic” largely refers to people of Spanish-speaking heritage and “Latino” attempts to capture ALL the identities of people from North, Central and South America, just run a quick Google search on either of these terms to discover how much confusion and ambiguity remains. See what I mean?
Like any other ethnic, racial or cultural label, it’s impossible to capture its entirety in a single word. When speaking with Dr. Jean-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina, Associate Director for the Office of the Associate Vice President for Student Development, Multicultural Affairs, and Disability Services, I asked him to tell me the first word that came to mind when he thought of people with Hispanic or Latino ties. “Unique” is what he said.
We need to keep this in mind when interacting with every person we meet.
Contact contributor Emily Ramirez at firstname.lastname@example.org