Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Latino Question

Which term is best to describe this ethnic or minority group that  often includes many cultures, races, and languages? "Latino" or "Hispanic?"


 Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid
Response Team, NASA/GSFC
Wikipedia has a well-annotated article that traces the origin of the word "Hispanic," which comes from the Latin "Hispanicus." This was the adjective derived from "Hispania," which meant the Iberian  Peninsula during the time of the Roman Empire.  More recently, "Hispanic" has come to mean people of Spanish-speaking descent.  Giovanni Rodriguez, whom I quote in an earlier post, has a great discussion in his column the origin and usage of "Hispanic," especially as it applies to Brazilians.

Is Latino the same as Hispanic?  As originally used by the Romans, "Hispanic" was used for anyone from the Iberian Peninsula.  This would include both Spain and Portugal. Important, since Brazil, the largest Latin American Portugal would be excluded, though, in Hispanic's more recent usage of anyone of Spanish-speaking descent or culture.

If "Latino" has as its root the word "Latin," and all romance languages are derived from Latin, not only Spanish, but also Portuguese.  If Latino is a shortened form of "Latinoamericano," that would include Brazil, which speaks Portuguese.

Confusing, since Hispanic can have more than one meaning and Latino can as well.  According to Rodriguez, though, these two terms have the same meaning to the census.  So for today's purposes, I consider them to be synonyms, although this would exclude Brazilians.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information observes that that in the 2000 census, only 7.7% of Brazilians self-identified as Hispanic.

So which do I prefer?  Of course, I named this the "Latino Review," so that must indicate something.  I like the Spanish sound to the word, and that it seems to be growing as a preferred term among other peoples of Spanish/ Latin American origin in the United States. What I do like about Hispanic, though, is that it automatically includes both genders. As is usual in Spanish custom, the masculine form is used to refer to both genders in the general sense, however, Latina is used when it clearly refers to all women or to a woman in particular. I do not like this, since I don't enjoy being included in the masculine form of the word every time I am lumped together with men.  So, like the census and the Pew Foundation reports on Latino/Hispanics, I will use the words interchangeably.

Another great resource for the History and Use of Hispanic and Latino is the New York Times post on its Usage and Style.

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