Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15, is a celebration of the history, diverse cultures, achievements, and contributions of those whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. However, behind the festivities and cultural celebrations lies a debate about the name itself.
Though used in the initial proclamation in 1968 for what was then Hispanic Heritage Week, it was the US Census that helped establish the term Hispanic as government officials during the Nixon administration sought a word in which to categorize people during the count. According to Cristina Mora, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, “Brown, “Latin American,” and “Latino” were also considered. However, at the time these words tended reinforce the idea that Latinos were foreigners and not full contributors to American society and culture.
Nonetheless, according to Paul Ortiz, a historian at the University of Florida, many immediately hated the label Hispanic because it was forced upon them by the government. The term also carries a colonial undertone, harkening back to the era of Spanish colonization in the Americas. Additionally, some critics argue that it lumps together a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities under one umbrella, and thus overlooking distinct identities and experiences.
In the 1990s the Hispanic came under more and more scrutiny and Latino began to replace it. Then in the early 2000s, the growing adoption of they/them pronouns led some to call for a gender-neutral form. Latin@ was used briefly but was difficult to pronounce. In the last few years, in Latinx has become an alternative that proponents say has the added benefits of offering gender inclusivity and emphasizing intersectionality through the letter x. The x also has roots in the Chicano movement of the 1960’s. Latinx quickly became popular with young people, academic institutions, and corporations.
However, Latinx is not without problems. First, the letter x is also associated with the Spanish colonialism. Additionally, since the term is not used in most Latin American countries, it is also seen as indicative of US imperialism – another example of the imposition of social norms of English speakers on other cultures. Not only that, but it calls for a fundamental altering of the Spanish language by implying gendered endings of all nouns should be replaced with x thus excluding native speakers.
As an alternative, Latine, was created by LGBTQIA+ Spanish speakers as a way to illustrate gender inclusivity while still remaining within existing Spanish pronunciation. Critics of these terms, however, argue it is not logical to impose the thinking about gender in English language to that of Spanish because they are fundamentally different. Since all nouns have a gender in Spanish, they do not carry the notion of actual gender like in English. They assert Latino is already a gender-neutral term to describe the Latin American community.
The debate over vocabulary is a reminder of the diversity within the community, as individuals navigate their own paths to self-identification. This dispute also gets at the core of Hispanic Heritage Month, the rich tapestry of cultures, traditions, and histories that make up this community. No matter what word they use to identify themselves, this month is a time for individuals and communities to embrace their heritage, share their stories, and honor the contributions of their ancestors. To learn more about Latin American heritage check out the book display on the fourth floor and these ebooks from the Library’s collection.