I get asked often: “What is correct – Latin@ or Hispanic?”

When you move the United States, part of becoming an American is being put into a category. This is problematic for people who come from Latin America and the Caribbean, where we do not use this type of categorization. 

Some people like “Latino”, some people like “Hispanic”, some people like to be called by their own country name, and others may just say “I am an American”. Puerto Ricans have long claimed the Taino name “Boricua” for themselves; many Mexican-Americans claimed the name “Chicano” or “Xicano” to express identity and cultural pride. 

I use the word “Latin@”. I am intentional in writing “Latino” with a “@” since that makes the word gender inclusive (the symbol is both an “o” for masculine and “a” for feminine).  To me, “Latino” is the name that “Latin@s” are claiming to define themselves in the United States. That being said, I acknowledge that "Latin@: is problematic.

The population we are trying to label as "Latin@" or "Hispanic" is diverse. Depending on the colonial power and what the country boarders there are any number of influences that shape the histories, cultures and economies of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Latin@s can look like anyone - there is no one way to look when you are "Latin@". The food and music varies greatly from region to region. Most countries in Latin America have been at war with each other at one point or another and those wounds may still be raw. There is racism and xenophobia. Some people immigrated to the United States recently, some within in the past hundred years and some never had to immigrate, their families have always been Americans. This is the population we are trying to define under one label.

The need to find “one label” to define such a diverse population speaks to the need of the United States to lump people together in large categories. Doing this leaves out the complicated cultural and historical layers which define Latin America and the Caribbean. These labels do not tell us how the indigenous people of the land we now call Latin America called their home. These labels leave out the African roots that run deep in the culture and people of the region. These labels leave out countries who speak “Latin” languages but are not located in Latin America (such as Angola) or were also colonized by a European power that speaks a “Latin” language (such as the Philippines). 

Neither Latin@ or Hispanic is able to adequately encompass the full identity and experience of someone who comes from Latin America or the Caribbean.  Identity and culture are central to who we are as individuals, boiling that down to one label takes away our power to self-actualize. However, finding the places where we do have self-interests helps us to organize. 

Which leads us back to the question – Latin@ or Hispanic? 

Mi gente, what do you prefer?

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