Hispanic or Latino?

What's the best way to describe your background?

By Edie J. Adler
Published on LatinoLA: June 15, 2006

Hispanic or Latino?

Can someone please tell me where ?Hispania? is? Apparently there is a mythical place where anyone who speaks Spanish comes from, no matter their country of origin or their ethnicity. If you speak Spanish, you then are automatically consider Hispanic.

I know there are plenty of folks who will call themselves Hispanic. But anyone who knows the true meaning of the word and its origins will find the term offensive. It is comparable to a black person calling him or herself by the ?n? word. The term Hispanic is very offensive not only to me, but to a large number of people who come from Latin America.

But have you ever wondered where did it all begin? It started shortly before the 1980 Census when a group of bureaucrats were trying to decide how to count all the different people living in the US whose first language was Spanish. Up until then they simply called us Mexican, Mexican-American or Chicano. But since not everyone who speaks Spanish comes from Mexico, they needed to come up with some sort of unifying term. Latino was the term of choice, until someone said that word sounded too much like ?Ladino?, and so the term Hispanic came to be the new ethnicity for anyone speaking the language of Cervantes or having a ?Spanish? sounding name such as Perez?never mind there are plenty of Pereses in Israel.

Before the 1980 Census, if you looked up the word in a dictionary you would have found that it was used to describe any thing originating from Spain. In fact, when you learn history in any Latin American country, the period before Columbus is referred to as pre-Hispanic!

When I think of Hispanic the first thing that comes to my mind is the image of Hernan Cortez looting the so-called new continent, destroying its culture, raping the women, killing the men and enslaving the poor survivors; imposing on them not only his language, but his religion and way of life.

I also think of Isabella and Ferdinand kicking all the Jews out of Spain. Why would I be proud to be identified with such shameful ancestry?

When I have to fill out any form that asks for my ethnic background, I will typically check ?white?. If there is a space for ?other?, then I?ll write down that I am human. In the last Census I was one of the handful who checked every single category, except for Hispanic.
This is truly a word that sounds like nails on a blackboard to me! I am proud to be called American; I am proud to be called Mexican; I am particularly proud when someone refers of me as a Jew. But unless you never want to be invited to my house, or, depending on the time of the month, risking getting a black eye, please do not ever call me Hispanic.

I am not Hispanic because my ancestors came from Lithuania, not Spain. They arrived in Mexico in the late 1800?s in search of the possibility of finding a better life for their children, not to steal or impose their way of life or culture on the native people. I am not Hispanic because there is not a single drop of Spanish blood in my veins. I am not Hispanic simply because I happen to speak Spanish.

Consider this: by the same logic used to describe Spanish speaking people as Hispanics, we should then label anyone who speaks English ?Germanic?. After all, isn?t that the origin of their language and a good common denominator to box everyone in the same ethnic category?

You?ve also heard us referred to as ?Latinos?. Well, by definition, anyone who speaks a language derived from Latin is, well, Latin. This includes France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and of course Latin America.

Although I do not like labels, I find the term Latino much more acceptable. At least the true definition of the word Latina, the feminine form, means that my first language is Spanish, a language derived from Latin.

Latino has a melodic sound to it. It brings to mind upbeat music, and friendly, easy-going, fun people. Latino evokes passion, spice, and a joy of life that is contagious. Latino is a broader, more inclusive term that applies better to those of us who speak Spanish, but whose ancestors did not come from Spain.

About Edie J. Adler:
Edie J. Adler is writer, comedian, and a regular contributor to LatinoLA. She lives in the San Fernando Valley with her husband, four parrots, four cats, and three dogs.

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