How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Hispanic? Latino? The identity debate continues

Latinos for Obama

Alice Walton/KPCC

A Democratic campaign sign at a South Los Angeles campaign office reaches out in Spanish and English, but opts for the term "Latinos" over "Hispanics".

The Pew Research Center is back with an update to that never-ending identity debate: Do we say "Hispanic" or "Latino?" And to what degree do we even care?

In early 2012, when Pew released a broad report on Latino/Hispanic labels and identity, many survey respondents weren't wed to either. Unless, it turns out, they are from Texas.

From the new report:

Among Hispanic Texans 46% prefer the term Hispanic, while just 8% say they prefer the term “Latino”—roughly a 6-to-1 ratio.

This pattern is different from that of Latinos in other parts of the country. For example, in California, the state with the largest Hispanic population, 30% say they prefer “Hispanic” and 17% say they prefer the term “Latino.” In Florida, results are similar—31% prefer “Hispanic” and 17% prefer “Latino.” The pattern for New York and all other states is nearly the same.

Texas' history as a Spanish colony and Mexican state - before it became the Republic of Texas and ultimately a U.S. state - no doubt plays a role in how its residents identify. For example, the Texas State Historical Association chronicles the use of Tejano, one of several identifiers used in the Lone Star State:

After the Mexican War of Independence and the establishment of a federal government, the term Coahuiltejano denoted the citizens of the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas. Hispanics in Texas identified themselves simply as Tejanos as early as January 1833, when leaders at Goliad used the term.

Texans/Tejanos aside, many Latinos/Hispanics prefer to identify less by a pan-ethnic handle than by their family's specific national origin, i.e. Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, etc. This was covered in Pew's April 2012 study, which found that more than half of those surveyed preferred these more specific identifiers over Latino or Hispanic. Roughly a quarter preferred a pan-ethnic label, while 21 percent simply opted for "American."

There has also traditionally been an east-west split, with "Latino" used more often in western U.S. states, "Hispanic" in the east. But Pew's latest paper on Latino/Hispanic identity notes that even in California, more of those who do have a preference opt for "Hispanic" - and that more than half say they don't have a preference.

The paper doesn't delve into other terms, like Chicano, once commonly used to identify Mexican Americans, and tied to the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. But over the years, the term has become less relevant among younger Mexican Americans, who these days prefer to identify either by national origin or with a pan-ethnic label like Latino.

For the record, Merriam-Webster denotes the origin of the term "Hispanic" coming from "the Latin hispanicus, from Hispania Iberian Peninsula, Spain."

How do you identify?

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