By The Editorial Board
September and October are known more for the change in leaves and the weather becoming more crisp, but they are also designated by the U.S. government as a time to celebrate Hispanic heritage.
Hispanic Heritage month starts in mid-September and wraps up on Oct. 15.
“Hispanic” is a category that was created in the mid-1970’s to unite disparate Spanish-speaking groups of communities in order to form an impactful political group, according to a journal article by J. Cristina Mora in the American Sociological review.
Mora contends the “Hispanic” designation initially rose out of organization by Mexican workers who viewed themselves as an exploited class, and as the Chicano movement evolved more affluent Cuban-Americans and Puerto-Rican Americans, who arrived in the U.S. with the right to vote became involved.
“Mexican-American leaders capitalized on the momentum of the civil rights era by joining with congressional allies and pressuring the Bureau to create a pan ethnic category that could justify a broader Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban political coalition,” Mora wrote.
Latin-American immigration increased in the 1970s and the non-specific term, Hispanic, became a Census designation in 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.
What unites these disparate groups of people is Spanish history. National Geographic states the term comes from the Latin word for Spanish, Hispanicus. It’s a broad term that has caused debate among the community its meant to designate, because the blanket term covers several continents and disparate cultures.
It’s also a term that’s begun to be used by many to designate people who don’t speak Spanish at all.
Brazil’s national language is Portuguese. The Quechua language is the third main language of South America, after Spanish and Portuguese, according to the Latino Bridge. Communities in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Colombia all speak this native language. Guarani is spoken in parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and is the official state language of Paraguay. Latino Bridge says more than six million people are fluent in this language, which is mostly spoken in rural areas, while millions of people speak the Aymaran, Tupí-Guaraní and Mapuche languages. There are 23 recognized languages in Guatemala according to One World Nations online.
“Hispanic” is a term that flattens out the variety of experiences and cultural backgrounds. Latino, Latina and Latin X are gendered designations trying to acknowledge the fact that not everyone from the same region is Spanish-speaking. Latino is geographical, as explained by artist Terry Blas, while Hispanic is language based.
Even still, the more accurate designation still flattens out a huge difference in life and cultural experience. In some respects it makes sense that as a culture we still have this kind of language for government forms – Moon Area Superintendent Barry J. Balaski stated that there were 21 languages being spoken in his school district. When allocating state and national funding to a school, there needs to be a box to check in order to figure out who needs more student support.
But still, with the vast differences among this diverse group of people who have settled in the United States, is the term Hispanic meaningful at all? The experience of someone immigrating from Mexico is vastly different from someone moving from Guatemala and someone immigrating from Spain. All of these experiences are different from the second or third generation American.
Many were stunned by the support for Donald Trump among the Hispanic or Latino population even though he began his candidacy by attacking Mexican immigrants and saying outright they were criminals.
That support makes a lot more sense if the class distinctions within the Hispanic community are fully understood and why wealthier people who never shared a culture and may resent being placed in the same group as more recent immigrants with whom they had little in common.
Ultimately, what is the intent of acknowledging differences within a population?
Is it to give respect to differences or to exclude?