Thoughts on Hispanic?

"The term Hispanic, coined by technomarketing experts and by the designers of political campaigns, homogenizes our cultural diversity (Chicanos, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans become indistinguishable), avoids our indigenous cultural heritage and links us directly with Spain. Worse yet, it possesses connotations of upward mobility and political obedience."
    Gomez-Pena, Guillermo

I learned of the term in high school, but in college was set straight by friends from South America, Central America, Mexico, Carribean, and the Americas.  They found it deeply offensive, and to this day I think of them and am careful about using the identity with people.  Colonial roots are powerful and internalized.  I haven’t experienced the same of names like Asian-American or African-American, although ultimately on a personal level I live by the principle of asking and not assuming or "lumping".  Gomez-Pena, Mexican poet and educator, is based in SF and is involved in projects and books that explores borders, physically and culturally between the US and Mexico.

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7 responses to “Thoughts on Hispanic?

  1. It seems this controversy can arise from any label identifying ethnicity, nationality – and to an extent, religious affiliation.

    In the UK, some British Asians do not like being termed ‘Asian’ because it ‘lumps together’ Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists.

    The same could also be said of the term ‘British’ given the strong national / regional identities. Some people in the UK would rather self-identify as English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Cornish, Manx – and even Scouse!

    And some people say they immediately associate the term ‘British’ with colonialism (but often good and bad ways, strangely enough).

    And also, it can be said of ‘White’ and ‘Black’. These are a very simplistic brushing over of diversity.

    I recall Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a British Muslim writer, making a valuable point about the issue of people claiming offence.

    She highlighted that the level of offence caused is usually defined by the alleged victim not the person using the term. And we should not always automatically agree with the perceived level of offence, as there could be other motives behind it.

    An example of this is a complaint I have heard made by some Hindus and Sikhs that ‘Asian’ associates them with Muslims who are hitting the headlines because of the debate over terrorism / social cohesion. It can become a negative statement – as in “don’t lump me in with that lot.”

    What I think it ultimately boils down to is how thoughtfully the term is used, for what reason and in what context.

    We do get stuck on these debates (in the UK at least) – but often I think it is much more constructive just to get on with living and letting live.

  2. That’s a good reminder to me when it comes to people asking about my adopted daughter. People usually ask “where’s she from”, assuming she was an international adoption. At times, I have told people she is Hispanic and born in Texas, but now I try to just tell people she is Tejana or latina and force them to learn a new word.

  3. As a Spaniard myself, I find even more strange the “Latin American” label, that became fashionable around the 70s. Mostly because the Romans did not sail to America.

    Sorry to hear that Guillermo Gómez Peña does not like a direct link to Spain. Curiously enough, he has a name and surnames that are Spanish. Any thought about changing them to Aztec names, as others have done before?

  4. Jaume – Yeah I remember friends changing their names, and taking on new ones. Of course it is never a simple straightforward decision, the colonial angle is just one of the things to consider. I respect the consciousness raising process. Seems to me that there is no perfection in the history of our names, but there is a lot of learning.

    Jim – I’m the same way with my kids. And whatever name or identity they get, I’m sure they’ll have their own say when they are older. I know that I did as an adoptee of Mixed Chinese-White descent.

    Matt – I hear you, yet I feel that there is a certain collectiveness that lends appropriateness to a term or identity, particularly racially/culturally. There is a political aspect that folks unite around when they organize in common and claim a name for themselves. That happened with me and the “Hapa” identity. I remember my first Hapa Issues Forum conference, and how powerfully spiritual and emotional that was to be with other mixed-race Asian kids.

  5. Hmm … I’m from the east coast and never even heard the term “latino/a” until I moved out west. Everyone I knew used the word “hispanic” or the nationality of the person. I switched to latino/a a few years back because that’s what I was hearing from other folks. Now I hardly know anyone who says hispanic. Have times changed, or is this a matter of geography, level of education, or something else?

    Breaking things down by country is ideal, but what happens when you just don’t know the country the person’s people are from? Or what do you do when your latin@/hispanic ancestry is split over several countries?

    I am really curious about whether this strong dislike of the term hispanic is shared equally among latino/as all over the US. From my personal experience, I don’t know any Cubans or Panamanians who refuse to identify as “hispanic.”

  6. Hmm … I’m from the east coast and never even heard the term “latino/a” until I moved out west. Everyone I knew used the word “hispanic” or the nationality of the person. I switched to latino/a a few years back because that’s what I was hearing from other folks. Now I hardly know anyone who says hispanic. Have times changed, or is this a matter of geography, level of education, or something else?

    Breaking things down by country is ideal, but what happens when you just don’t know the country the person’s people are from? Or what do you do when your latin@/hispanic ancestry is split over several countries?

    I am really curious about whether this strong dislike of the term hispanic is shared equally among latino/as all over the US. From my personal experience, I don’t know any Cubans or Panamanians who refuse to identify as “hispanic.”

  7. Hispanic carries with it a lot of the baggage which is associated with anachronistic terms like “Oriental” or “Colored”.

    I think terms like Latin@ are useful in spite of the fact that most Latin@s in the US are really Ibero-Americanos…of some sort.

    At the same time, given the rape which in spanish we obscure through the term mestizaje, it may not be a bad thing to shake off the vestiges left behind by the colonial master…Much like some asians and blacks revert to native names eschewing “white” names.

    And, because it tends to happen in the honest search for identity, moralizing about it is up to the labelee…as is expressed aptly by hsophia.

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