How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What's in a label? Hispanic, Latino, or...

Photo by Steve and Sara/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A restaurant in New York's Washington Heights, whose owners apparently prefer "Latino," December 2008

What do the people referred to on census forms as "Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish Origin," and as alternately "Hispanic" or "Latino" by media and the political establishment, choose to call themselves? What's in an ethnic label, and how much does the label matter?

We tackled this today in a very popular segment on KPCC's Patt Morrison Show, during which Patt and I were joined by Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center, the author of a recently released report on Hispanic/Latino identity, and the OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano.

The nuts and bolts of the Pew report was this: Although it's been forty years since the U.S. Census Bureau introduced "Hispanic" as an ethnic category, since modified, a majority of the people it intended to describe still prefer to identify themselves according to where their family originated, not by the pan-ethnic label. As for those who identify using one of the two labels, it varies depending on the region. In the West, where the term "Latino" first gained popularity, there's less use of "Hispanic" as in the East or parts of the Southwest, like New Mexico.


Latinos and race: How racial identity varies by generation

Source: Pew Hispanic Center

Today on KPCC's Patt Morrison Show, I'll be among the guests talking about the nuances of the pan-ethnic labels attached to people of Latin American origin in the United States, people like yours truly who are asked to identify on census forms as "Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish Origin."

It's been roughly forty years since the "Hispanic" category was introduced by the U.S. Census Bureau, but a recent Pew Hispanic Center study indicates that all these years later, a majority of people described by the Hispanic/Latino label still prefer to identify according to their family's country of origin. There are differences, depending on where people live, which immigrant generation they come from, and so forth.

And there are other interesting wrinkles in the report, including how Latinos/Hispanics/lo que sea (which loosely translates to "whatever") identify in terms of race. Other research has found similar generational differences, but it's fascinating: While second-generation Latinos are less likely to describe themselves as "white" than their immigrant parents are, the grandchildren of Latino immigrants are the most likely to describe themselves as white. They are also the least apt to refer to themselves as Hispanic/Latino. From the report: