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Opinion: ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic’?

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A family from the Hudson Valley, where La Voz is based. (Photo by Felipe Santos via La Voz)

In an op-ed piece that appeared in La Voz, Kevin Soto examines how the use of “Latino” and “Hispanic,” two words often used interchangeably in the U.S., can be problematic.

There is a difference between the terms:

“Hispanic” refers to people who come from countries where Spanish is the official language; “Latino” refers to people from countries of Latin America, including Brazil.

Therein lies one dilemma – both definitions encompass at least 20 countries of origin, each with their own history, culture and identity. Enveloping them under one umbrella term of “Latino” or “Hispanic” diminishes, if not altogether eliminates, those distinctions.

Further, as Miles Rodriguez, assistant professor of Historical Studies and Latin American and Iberian Studies at Bard College, says, the labels can conflate race, ethnicity and nationality.

“The problem is that both terms cover many distinct races and ethnicities, including mixed ones.” The confusion carries on to the issue of nationality – that is to say, the relation between a person and a country. Rodriguez comments: “People often refer to Latinos of a specific nationality or national background as a single race or ethnicity even though it is obvious that each national setting includes many people of very different races, ethnicities, and intermixtures.”

Soto acknowledges that the two terms can bring immigrants together to face mutual problems in the U.S. Ultimately, however, “terms of ethnicity are fundamentally subjective.”

To refer to a person as “Latino” or “Hispanic,” one carries the risk of ignoring how this person has chosen to construct their identity based on their race, language, country of origin, and how they are perceived by other people.

 
 

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