Hispanic: A label given to me by my Spanish oppressors

The use of the terms Hispanic, Latina and Latino are becoming altered in today’s society because of their historical meanings and new gender identifications.

Hispanic is a term that refers to people with origins in Spanish-speaking countries. Besides Spain and Mexico, there are 18 other countries listed on World Atlas, which include Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.

By definition, since I am of Mexican descent, I am Hispanic. Yet the only reason Mexicans are Hispanic in the first place is due to the fact that the Spanish raped, enslaved, murdered  and encroached on the indigenous peoples’ land in 1519.

The term Hispanic is a slap in the face to the history of my indigenous ancestors, who did not descend from a Spanish-speaking origin. That being said, because I am Mexican-American, I do have Spanish blood, regardless of how it came to be. I fall under the generalizing category of Hispanic.

Katynka Martinez, SF State Latino/a studies department chair, identifies as a Latina, Chicana and Mexicana and said the term Hispanic was created to bundle groups of people with different identifications together. It is associated with former president Richard Nixon, who used the term in the 1970 U.S. Census, during a time of social justice activism and affirming self-identification, according to Martinez.

“My opposition to the term ‘Hispanic’ can only be understood within this context— as a government-imposed term that failed to recognize the self-naming, self-determination and struggles of large segments of the very population it purported to address,” Martinez said.

Kayla Ortiz, a cinema major who identifies with Mexican and Caucasian, said that she does not identify with the term Hispanic because of the history of colonization behind it.

“I think it’s important to understand the history of why these words were introduced to the culture, and consider that before just calling every Mexican, Central and South American person Hispanic or Latino,” Ortiz said.

According to World Atlas, unlike “Hispanic,” the terms “Latino” and “Latina” are not determined by language—  their origin lies within geography. It’s a term used to identify those from, or descendants of, Latin America, which includes all of South America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean. There is a lot of overlap between countries that are located in Latin America and are Spanish-speaking as well, which contributes to the mix-up.  

BECA professor Oscar Guerra said it’s great to celebrate the Latino heritage and culture, and Hispanic Heritage Month spreads good awareness to non-Latino audiences. But, he questions the name.

“Should it be called Hispanic or Latino?” Guerra said. “ I prefer the word Latino, but I celebrate and support the event itself.”

Martinez, although passionate about the term Hispanic, said the use of this term to dedicate this month to us, is not the main issue at hand.

“What I’m more concerned with is whether it’s simply a marketing opportunity or if there is a true commitment to addressing the historical and current lived experiences, struggles, self-determination, and dignity of the people it claims to celebrate,” Martinez said.

I am often asked the question, “what are you?” rather than being asked what my ethnic background is.

The answer people are searching for is something along the lines of common identifiers, such as Latino/a or Hispanic. And no, they are not interchangeable.

To answer that question, I simply say, “I am human.”

Ethnic identifications don’t end at Hispanic and Latino/a. Now terms like “Latinx,” “Latin@,” and “Xican@” are being used to remove gender from ethnicity-based self-identification. There are many who are upset about this change in terminology, though, because the language associated with it is indeed gendered. The revision can be seen as a form of gentrification by those who oppose the change in language.

Albert Serna, journalism major with a Chicano studies minor who identifies as a queer Chicano, believes that the general use of the “x” terms is an action that wipes away our culture.

“It’s like a straight person calling themselves queer; you’re not queer, why the f— are you calling yourself queer? That’s my word,” Serna said regarding the generalization of the term “Latinx.”

He said the use of the term for people who do identify with a gender is a disservice to those who are non-binary.

“If you are gender neutral, ‘Chicanx’ is fine because there is no in-between,” Serna said. “But for the most part, Chicano and Chicana are gendered because the Spanish language is gendered, and changing it for everyone is a bastardization.”

Guerra, who identifies with Mexicano because he moved to the United States from Mexico about six years ago, thinks these terms are smart ways of reducing gender-bias.

“There is controversy, and there will always be controversy, about terms,” Guerra said. “However, language is dynamic and constantly changing–I welcome and embrace this change and the different forms of labeling our reality.”

I, too, welcome the change with open arms. If we choose to ignore the “x” or the “@” that people prefer, we will be no better than those who created the term Hispanic.

“I think it’s great that a new term is being introduced now,” Martinez said. “I look forward to the conversations that will take place when folks who use the term engage in conversations with those who have never heard of it and might have never questioned gender binaries.”

Guerra, along with identifying as Latino and Mexicano, also identifies with “Tapatio” because he is specifically from Guadalajara, Jalisco. According to Guerra, the only way to stop these hasty generalizations, like the term ‘Hispanic,’ is for us to move forward with dialogue.

“You can be a ‘Tapatio’ from Zapopan, Guadalajara, Tonala or any of the 125 counties in Jalisco,” Guerra said. “For you to know that, you would have to start a dialogue with me, right? We need more dialogue.”

Not only do we need more dialogue between cultures, but we also need more understanding between cultures. I need people to understand that I am not a checked box next to the term Hispanic.

I am not a checked box next to the term Latina. I am a mixture of both and so much more than that, but more importantly, I am human.

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