Two weeks ago kicked off Hispanic* Heritage Month in the United States and it will end on October 15.
Like many heritage months, it began as a week of celebration of the contributions of Hispanic and Latine communities in particular regions.
The commemoration started in Southern California and was timed to correspond to many Latin American countries’ dates of independence from Spain. Mexico declared independence September 16, 1810, and Chile on just two days later on September 18. Eleven years later Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua became independent nations on September 15, 1821, and finally Belize declared independence from Great Britain on September 21, 1981.
While it is important to recognize the culture, contributions and achievements of the over 62 million people in the U.S. who fall into the category “Hispanic,” it is also essential to talk about how to have more inclusive acknowledgment all year long. Importantly, we also need to talk about how we talk about these identity categories.
There has always been debate about the adoption of a pan-ethnic umbrella term that has come to represent the enormous diversity of Latinidad.
The term Hispanic has long been unpopular with many individuals and communities who point to the fact that it was chosen by the U.S. government to solve a census problem and also that it is the English version of Hispano which describes cultural and linguistic origins in Spain. It both erases the indigenous groups who were colonized by the Spanish and did not ring true for most of the people it was meant to count in 1980.
While the word Hispanic has many important critiques, it was originally offered as a potential way for people to stop seeing the folks in this category as outsiders or “foreigners” who are not inherently “American.”
When regions like Central America and South America appeared on the Census, many White Americans who lived in those regions of the U.S. selected the category, not understanding they were referring to other global regions near the U.S.
In order to receive more accurate counts of many communities, there was a task force created to agree to better identity language. In addition to Hispanic, other suggestions included “Brown,” and “Latin American.”
Often you will see the terminology of Latino or Latinx employed as well. Latino as an umbrella term includes groups who have ancestry and cultural links to countries in Latin America, including countries that do not have a history of Spanish colonization (e.g., Brazil).
Spanish language uses the masculine generic for nouns that are plural (i.e., Latino for groups with all genders and only Latina for groups with feminine gender) so Latinx is sometimes used as a gender-neutral term.
However, many reject Latinx because it defies Spanish grammar rules and therefore Latine has been proposed more recently as an option. You will find very little consensus and deep generational divides about each of these options. Listen to the self-identification of people and communities you are connected to and don’t make assumptions about how folks may identify.
For more engagement with the issues of language and identity in this context, join me and a fantastic panel of UCF faculty, staff and students on October 14 at 3 p.m. Register for the Zoom event here!
I hope you find ways to bring Latine and Hispanic history into your organizations, classrooms and interpersonal spaces in meaningful ways this month and throughout the year. For more information about events and activities specifically at UCF and in Orlando at large, check out these events and information below:
*The U.S. government continues to use the terminology of Hispanic, but there is considerable debate within the Hispanic/Latine communities about how to talk about this identity.
Jennifer Sandoval, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Assistant Director of Inclusive Culture can be contacted at Jennifer.email@example.com.
Reference: Mora, C.G. (2014). Making Hispanics: How activists, bureaucrats and media constructed a new American. University of Chicago Press.