What’s In A Name? Analyzing The Terms Hispanic And Latino

The Latin American Student Organization (LASO) sponsored a forum in an effort to bring important cultural and diversity issues to campus. The forum, held in the ALANA Cultural Center, was a conversation-style discussion, with several Colgate professors and faculty members serving as panelists. It was open to all students, and a significant number of people outside LASO attended. The crux of the discussion centered on the use of the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino”- and which was more politically correct. The meanings of these words have varied over time. “Latino” is a term that largely refers to people living in Latin American countries or people with ethnic ties to those countries who are living in the United States. “Hispanic” is a word created by the United States Census Bureau in the 1970s. The word referred to people in the U.S. who spoke Spanish, and is, in general, a broader term than Latino. Both Hispanic and Latino are complicated words to define. Each can have geographic, ethnic and political significance – which makes it difficult to give them an exact meaning. The proper use of the term prompted heated discussion. “I identify as Latino, and I tried to make clear that I went from Hispanic to Latino over the course of my life,” Assistant Professor of University Studies Rob Figueroa. “The main reason is that most of us came to see Hispanic as a carry over of 500 years of colonial conquest, whereas Latino offers something quite different in its connotation … even though we admit historically, Latino has European roots too. I think Latino has political implications that avoid the colonialism, and I am also thinking that Latino has multiple meanings, some of which can be traced to French introductions, and some of which should be seen within modern historical contexts.” Apart from the meaning of the words, the discussion involved association of both words to individual preference and what they represent. Women’s Studies Program Assistant and panelist during the discussion Tamara Serrano, mentioned the problem with defining and assigning terms to different people. “The biggest issue is that we are diverse and collective and people need to realize that,” Serrano said. “We are not easily put into categories because we differ by country, by physical characteristics, and many times by language. I think what is most important is that we have to let others decide how they want to self identify and not expect people to fit into neat little boxes.” Junior Anjuli Fernandez also felt that these labels are best used for individual purposes and self identification. “People want to keep their culture,” she said. “People want to say they are still authentic.” Although emphasis was put on the right of the individual to identify ethnicity, the point was made that it can have widespread importance. “A label can also be empowering,” Assistant Director of the Center of Leadership and Student Involvement Monica Nixon said. “It’s a huge part of how I identify – Asian American. I feel a sense of community larger than myself.” Serrano is a member of the class of 2003 and was an active member of LASO as a student. She believed that the forum was a constructive activity. “First and foremost, I believe LASO recognizes the concerns its membership has about what unites us as a people,” Serrano said. “They are very clear about celebrating both the similarities and differences across various Latin American countries. We can not assume that everybody in LASO is the same, which is what many people on campus might think at times. I think the forum was a way for LASO members to educate themselves along with educating their Colgate peers.”