The term “Hispanic” was adopted by the United States government in the 1970s as a word used to identify people from Central and South America, but many Americans whose lineage traces to countries in that part of the world have never felt an affinity for the label.
In the 1990s, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget added the term “Latino” to government reports, but that word has not always been fully embraced either.
A new report by the Pew Hispanic Center indicates that the majority of people of Latin American descent choose to identify themselves by their countries of origin. For instance, an individual from Puerto Rico would simply be called “Puerto Rican.”
However, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, people still prefer one or the other when filling out forms or polls, even when they have the options to choose "other" or write in their own terms.
"People are self-identifying as these terms," said Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "They do it in census data collection and they also do it in Hispanic Center data collection. We actually ask people which term they prefer and we find while most people say they have no preference, we find that its Hispanic that's preferred more often than Latino."
Which term one might apply to onself depends on many factors, including country of origin and political ideology, some Mexican-Americans prefer the term "Chicano," but geographical location within the United States also plays an important role.
"In Florida, Hispanic is more preferred and on the east coast hispanic tends to be more preferred, but in California Latino tends to be more preferred," said Lopez. "It is very interesting that across the country some terms are preferred more than others."
Most of the 1,220 “Latino” adults polled by the Pew Hispanic Center did not observe a shared common culture among all “Latinos,” as is sometimes assumed by mainstream America.
"With Hispanic, the controversy over that is that it relates to Spain, it's of Spain," said KPCC immigration reporter Leslie Berestein-Rojas. "It is not surprising that Latino comes out of California, its a Mexican-American majority, has a very different history, for example, than say Texas in the way that that population evolved over time, so there was a desire to say 'Hey, we're not from Spain, we're something else.'"
Are the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” misleading, inaccurate, or offensive? Is it politically incorrect to group all people with Central and South American lineage together? Where do we draw the line, if at all, between a person’s race and his or her nationality?
Mark Lopez, associate director, Pew Hispanic Center
Gustavo Arellano, editor of the OC Weekly, where he writes the column ¡Ask a Mexican!; he’s also the author of “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America”