September is Hispanic Heritage Month but you may be wondering who exactly this includes. Well according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word Hispanic is defined as “of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain or of Spain” and is frequently loosely defined as “Spanish-speaking” and refers to people from Latin America (which includes Mexico, Central and South America).
There are various problems with this definition: Firstly, it directly excludes indigenous peoples who do not speak Spanish. Indigenous groups across Latin America have their own dialects and languages. For example, the K’iche’ people are a Mayan tribe living in the Midwestern highlands of Guatemala (Guatemala has one of the highest indigenous populations in Central and South America) with their own respective language. There are between 550 and 700 recorded languages spoken in Mexico, Central and South America and in 2010, an estimated 45 million indigenous people lived in Latin American. This accounted for 8.3 percent of the population. So by using this term, we are excluding a huge part of the Latin American population and actively contributing to indigenous erasure, a rampant problem around the world.
In addition, the term “Hispanic” also excludes people from Brazil and other Latin American countries that do not speak Spanish but instead speak various indigenous tongues or in the case of Brazil, Portuguese. It also excludes Black Latinx peoples. Many Latin Americans countries such as Bolivia and Brazil have large populations of Afro-Latinx peoples and according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014, a quarter of Latinx Americans identify as Afro-latinx. In my opinion, one of the greatest things about Latin America is the amazing diversity in our people, culture, and languages and by using the word Hispanic, we completely invalidate all of that and clump every single Latin American to a simplistic overgeneralization.
Secondly and most importantly, it links us to our colonizers. As a Latinx woman, when I think of Spain, I think of the people who murdered, raped, and stole from my ancestors and I know many of my fellow Latinx feel the same. Fellow UCM student and Latinx, Jennifer Castro shared her opinion on the matter with me, “By calling a person hispanic, you’re assuming their origins and labeling them without getting to know them. It’s comparable to assuming every Latinx person is Mexican, it’s much more complex than that.”
Similarly, Sandra Cisneros, Xicanix author, has taken a stand against this ignorant grouping by refusing to have any of her novels associated with the term Hispanic. “To say Latino is to say you come to my culture in a manner of respect,” said Cisneros, the author of “Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories,” who refuses to have her writings included in any anthology that uses the word Hispanic. “To say Hispanic means you’re so colonized you don’t even know for yourself or someone who named you never bothered to ask what you call yourself. It’s a repulsive slave name.” I agree with Cisneros since the word Hispanic is comparable to branding; we’re being branded with the name of our colonizers.
It’s a label forced upon us by non-latinx people. The label “Hispanic” is mainly used in the United States and it widely used to identify people from Latin America and it’s even used in most legal documents. When people arrive to the U.S., they are no longer from their respective countries, all that culture and heritage is stripped from them as they are now “Hispanic”. This word completely strips us of our identity and associates us to our colonizers which is why it’s important to take a stand against the use of the word.
For example, President of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A), Patricia Casimiro shares her opinion of the term with me, “The word Hispanic is a way of grouping all of the Latino communities but in reality we are different cultures and although we have similarities we are not the same. The word “Hispanic” groups everyone together and doesn’t let people understand the true culture of every Latinx country. We are not all the same.”
You may be asking so what is the difference between the terms Hispanic and Latinx, and why I condemn one and accept the other. Well the term “Latinx” simply refers to people who originate from Latin America, it’s completely based on geography, while the term “Hispanic” has all these cultural and colonization related connotations. While it’s important to keep this in mind, at the end of the day, it’s best just to ask a person directly what they identify as and what term they would like used when referred to them.
Photo Credit: MECHA, www.sandracisneros.com