You don’t usually find the Pew Hispanic Center at the center of an online controversy, but since April 4 when it released its report “When Labels Don’t Fit,” it has been. Not about whether we see immigration as a central issue. Not about whether we feel American. Not about our political party preference. All of those issues were part of the report that was released, but not the statistic that temporarily saw heated tweets shoot back and forth across the twitterverse.
No, we’ve been arguing about whether we’re Latinos or Hispanics.
Pew, you see, reports that 33 percent of us prefer the term Hispanic and only 14 percent of us prefer Latino. Immediately the twitterverse exploded with those cheering, and those denouncing the findings of the Pew report.
Lalo Alcaraz, a political cartoonist whose work appears often in Al Día tweeted his view: “You can quote me: ‘Hispanic: an ugly word for a beautiful people.” Esther Cepeda, the Washington Post columnist whose words you also read regularly in Al Día wrote just the opposite in her column this week: “‘Latino’ bugs me to no end. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me.”
I ought to perhaps disclose that I fall solidly in Alcaraz’s camp in this.
For the past 30-some years I’ve lived in the United States, I’ve identified myself as a Latina. The reason is simple: I grew up in Guatemala. In that country around 41 percent of the population is indigenous — with no ancestral ties whatever to Spain — and speak one of more than 20 indigenous languages completely unrelated to Spanish. When these Guatemalans emigrate to the United States they are assuredly Latinos (with ties, ancestral and cultural to Latin America) but equally assuredly not Hispanics.
Like Guatemala, Bolivia’s population is 55 percent indigenous; Peru’s 45 percent; Ecuador’s 25 percent; Belize’s 17 percent. Latinos, yes; Hispanics, no.
Diego Fonseca, a journalist, editor and novelist based in Washington, D.C. tweeted this about the argument to me “Go w/Latino. It's more appropriate. Latino includes--or should include--people w/Italian-French ancestors. Hispanic is *corto* [inadequate].” Portuguese ancestry too, because Brazilians are Latinos, but not Hispanics.
You get the idea. I think Latino is simply a more inclusive catchall term.
Nevertheless, a number of my friends of the generation that precedes mine are adamant about their preference for Hispanic, insisting that it acknowledges the only commonality between the diverse countries we come from or claim heritage to — the Spanish language inherited from our history as Spain’s colonies. In fact, a couple of these friends (Cubans, as it happens) assert that they feel much more connected to the motherland than to their sibling nations in Latin America.
I’ve been laboring under the belief that most Latinos my age or younger prefer “Latino,” and those older than me are the ones arguing for “Hispanic.” But the Pew Report split made me question this assumption. Latinos/Hispanos as a demographic are pretty young — could it be I was wrong?
So, I asked around the Al Día newsroom. A fairly young newsroom — most of those who work the daily web edition and weekly print edition are in their early to mid-20s —with only three of us in the 40-ish and above range.
So, Hispanic or Latino?
One of the 40ish members of the newsroom has a decided preference for Latino. The other 40ish member and all the young ones indicated they don’t really have a preference. They use both terms interchangeably. More than half of the young ones admitted a slight preference for Latino, but certainly not out of any political stance or sense that it “fit” better.
They like the word better. It rolls off the tongue. It has, as one of them said, more sabor.
Now if only Pew had asked about that.