What’s in a Name? Hispanics, Latinos, and/or others.
This culture lecture will show you where Spanish is spoken worldwide and introduce you to some of the debates surrounding Latino/Hispanic identity in the United States by learning about the terminology that diverse groups use to describe themselves.
- View the video clip below.
- Read the review of Jorge Gracia’s book, the excerpt from Paula Moya’s response, and the definitions from Mexica.net below.
- Review the following Pew Research article on the recent emergence of the term Latinx: https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2020/08/11/about-one-in-four-u-s-hispanics-have-heard-of-latinx-but-just-3-use-it/
A brief review of Jorge Gracia’s book, Hispanic/Latino Identity: A Philosophical Perspective:
Written by Jorge Gracia, one of the most influential thinkers of Hispanic/Latino descent, this volume provides a superb introduction to the philosophical, social, and political elements of Hispanic/Latino identity. The book explores central historical and current debates surrounding Hispanic/Latino culture, thought, and identity in the United States, Spain, and Latin American countries. In Hispanic/Latino Identity: A Philosophical Perspective, Gracia addresses questions that have been of concern to Latin Americans since the 19th century and remain of vital interest today. First is the central issue of whether Hispanic/Latino people share a common identity, which raises complex questions such as:
Should Iberians, Latin Americans, and their descendents in any part of the world adopt an ethnic name? What name should they adopt? Is one name more representative than another? Is naming even possible? Is Latinos/ Hispanics a term that denotes race? What are some of the benefits of adopting a “particular” identity?
If you would like to explore the book further it is available to be checked out through the NU library: https://nu.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01NATIONAL_INST/cl5c2u/alma9919790400001661
An excerpt from the article Why I am Not Hispanic: An Argument with Jorge Gracia by Paula Moya:
“[T]he search for a name, more than an act of classification, is actually
a process of historical imagination and a struggle over social meaning at
diverse levels of interpretation.”
Juan Flores, “The Latino Imaginary”
In declaring that I am not Hispanic, I mean to be intentionally provocative. Moreover, I do so with the full knowledge that I run the serious risk of having the philosopher Jorge Gracia task me with being an ignorant and prejudicial purveyor of misinformation about my cultural and historical background. I run this risk not because Gracia is an unfriendly person, but because, according to the definition of the term that Gracia proposes in his recent book Hispanic/Latino Identity: A Philosophical Perspective, I am Hispanic; I fit easily into the group of people that he designates as Hispanic. According to Gracia, Hispanics are the “group of people comprised by the inhabitants of the countries of the Iberian peninsula after 1492 and what were to become the colonies of those countries after the encounter between Iberia and America took place, and by descendants of these people who live in other countries (e.g. the United States) but preserve some link to those people.” He goes on to note that his definition “excludes the population of the other countries in the world and the inhabitants of Iberia and Latin America before 1492 because, beginning in the year of the encounter, the Iberian countries and their colonies in America developed a web of historical connections which continues to this day and which separates these people from others” (48-49). Why, if I am willing to admit that I fit into Gracia’s definition, am I yet unwilling to claim the identity Hispanic? Am I simply being perverse?
Elsewhere, I have demonstrated that how a person identifies herself has profound consequences for how she understands the world, and consequently, for how she chooses to act within it. Claiming or affirming an identity, under this view, is more than a simple act of self-determination-although it is that, too. Fundamentally, it is a struggle over social and historical meaning. Moreover, because identity labels are tags for conceptual categories, they are epistemically and politically significant in ways that Gracia clearly acknowledges in his introduction but fails to fully register in his argument in favor of Hispanic identity…
The key to understanding my objection to Gracia’s argument has less to do with what I think is the “best” name for the group of people Gracia delineates, and more to do with the constitution of the group, as an identity group, in the first place. Gracia’s concept of Hispanic is not, properly speaking, an identity category. Identity categories, ethnic and otherwise, serve a particular social function-they help us to locate individuals (more and less accurately) in relation to social groups. As such, an identity category is most meaningful when it provides some substantive hints about the person who is designated as a member of that group. The concept of Hispanic ethnicity as Gracia defines it, however, is so capacious as to be contentless at a number of different levels. It provides no substantive hints regarding a person’s possible place of birth, nationality, economic or social status, sexuality, language, religion, political perspective, or even what century he or she belongs to…
If we are going to reach back through 500+ years of history, with the only criteria being a historical one, there is little reason to suppose that I, for example, should privilege my Spanish ancestors rather than my Anglo ones. Why, since I have Cunninghams and Blacks in my genealogy, don’t I identify as Anglo? On what basis can I claim more affinity with the Bacas, the Martinezes and the Moyas in my particular family history? How, unless I know what I am looking for, am I to determine which branch to follow up my historical family tree?…
Skin color, hair texture, and bone structure never even come up for serious discussion in Gracia’s book on Hispanic/Latino identity. And yet, the particular visible morphological characteristics we carry around on our bodies have a great deal to do with how we are treated, how we see and evaluate others, how we come to interpret the social world, and, ultimately, whom we identify with. Skin color, hair texture, and bone structure have no inherent biological or social meaning, but they do have historically constructed and highly sedimented social meanings that affect-in ways that can be described-how people sort themselves and others into racial and ethnic categories. I can imagine a future in which our physical characteristics will be irrelevant for how we identify. That future, however, is not yet here, and as long as skin color, for instance, can make such a difference in how a person experiences the world, theorists of identity cannot afford to ignore it as a factor in ethnic (or racial) group categorization…
So, if I am not Hispanic, what ethnicity am I? This is a complicated question, and one that can be answered in a variety of ways. In some contexts I would decribe myself as Mexican-American, in others as Chicana, and in still others as Latina. I use the term Mexican-American, usually with people who are not Mexican-American, as a way of helping them to locate me. The term, for me, is a descriptor that indicates that I am a U.S. citizen and that my cultural heritage is Mexican. If the person to whom I am speaking knows very much about the community of Mexicans in this country, they might be able to envision what foods I likely grew up with, what music I might have listened to as a child, what religion I was probably baptized into, and what languages I might have some familiarity with. Despite the fact that not all Mexican-Americans will share all aspects of this cultural identity, enough of us share enough of these aspects so that the people who can be so described constitute a fairly organic grouping. The cultural attributes that are generally associated with the concept of Mexican American provide a backdrop against which we can explore our individual differences…
I use the term Chicana when I want to signal a particular kind of affiliation with other Mexican Americans who share an identifiable (although internally heterogenous) perspective on the world. In some ways, the term Chicana/o does the work of the term Mexican-American plus a little bit more. A Chicana/o identity is a politicized identity, and one that many Mexican-Americans do not claim. The fact that not all Mexican-Americans claim it is perfectly fine with me. There are many Mexican-Americans whose views about assimilation, for example, I do not share, and the use of the term Chicana/o is a convenient way to signal that.
Finally, I use the term Latina when I want to signal an experiential, and to a lesser degree political and cultural, affiliation with a larger group of people living in the U.S. who themselves or whose ancestors have come to this country from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc. It refers to basically the same group of people that Gracia designates with the term Hispanic with a crucial difference. When I refer to Latina/os, I am not referring to people living in Latin America or Spain. This is not because I am a nationalist, or because I am biased against Latin Americans or Spaniards. Moreover, I acknowledge the important connections (economic, political, intellectual, familial, and cultural) that exist between Latina/os in the United States and Latin Americans and residents of the Iberian peninsula. But I believe that when it comes to assigning and describing social identities-especially when they are invoked for political or epistemic purposes-it is important to recognize the specificity of geopolitical space, and the experiential significance of being a ethnic minority citizen or resident of a country like the United States. I am in no way suggesting that being Latina/o is inherently better or worse than being Latin American or Spanish. I am, however, suggesting that it is different enough to be worth marking…
*Here is a link to the complete article if you are interested in reading it: Moya article.pdf
Here is a “taxonomy” excerpted from Mexica.net that breaks down some common terms further:
This term is used frequently in the United States to refer indiscriminately to any person that speaks Spanish. As such, it is imprecise and often inappropriate in that it includes people from more than two dozen countries, spanning all of the American continent, the Caribbean and Spain. The term does apply specifically, however, as the proper name for the native people of Spain, and for this reason it is as incorrect to use it to refer to any and all Spanish-speakers as the term “English” would be to refer to citizens of New Zealand, Australia or the United States.
This term is often used to refer collectively to all Spanish-speakers. However, it specifically connotes a lineage or cultural heritage related to Spain. As many millions of people who speak Spanish are not of true Spanish descent (e.g., native Americans), and millions more live in Latin America (cf., “Latino” below) yet do not speak Spanish or claim Spanish heritage (e.g., Brazilians)…
This term is used to refer to people originating from, or having a heritage related to, Latin America, in recognition of the fact that this set of people is actually a superset of many nationalities. Since the term “Latin” comes into use as the least common denominator for all peoples of Latin America in recognition of the fact that some romance language (Spanish, Portuguese, French) is the native tongue of the majority of Latin Americans, this term is widely accepted by most. However, the term is not appropriate for the millions of native Americans who inhabit the region.
Specifically, the nationality of the inhabitants of Mexico. Therefore, the term is used appropriately for Mexican citizens who visit or work in the United States, but it is insufficient to designate those people who are citizens of the United States (they were born in the US or are naturalized citizens of the US) who are of Mexican ancestry.
This term is commonly used to recognize US citizens who are descendants of Mexicans, following the pattern sometimes used to identify the extraction of other ethnic Americans (e.g., “African-American). This term is acceptable to many Mexican descendants, but for those who do not identify with a Mexican heritage, but rather with a Spanish heritage, it is unacceptable (cf., “Hispano,” below).
This term is preferred by that subpopulation, located primarily in the US southwest, who identify with the Spanish settlers of the area, and not with the Mexican settlers (specifically, the Creole Spanish-Native American race). There is in fact an important number of these people located along the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and in the northern Sangre de Cristo mountain range of the same state.
A relatively recent term that has been appropriated by many Mexican descendants as unique and therefore reflective of their unique culture… The most likely source of the word is traced to the 1930 and 40s period, when poor, rural Mexicans, often native Americans, were imported to the US to provide cheap field labor… The term was appropriated by Mexican-American activists who took part in the Brown Power movement of the 60s and 70s in the US southwest, and has now come into widespread usage. Among more “assimilated” Mexican-Americans, the term still retains an unsavory connotation, particularly because it is preferred by political activists and by those who seek to create a new and fresh identity for their culture rather than to subsume it blandly under the guise of any mainstream culture.
Study the Culture Lecture in Week 1 of the course. Then please write a 150 word response in English using the following questions as a guide by Day 4 (Thursday) and then write 2 responses to other students’ postings by Day 7 (Sunday) with at least one classmate response by Day 5 (Friday). Your initial response and your peer responses will be graded together using the embedded rubric to determine your weekly written discussion score. Your responses should show that you have engaged deeply with the lecture material and your classmates’ ideas. Your writing should be polished and your opinions expressed in a respectful manner.
1) According to what you learned in this week’s Culture Lecture, is there one unique or singular Hispanic/Latino identity? Why or why not?
2) Discuss the emergence of the term Latinx and its current usage, according to the Pew Research article.
3) Do you agree with the importance that Moya places on the term(s) that a person chooses to use for their identity? Why or why not?
4) Did what you learned in the lecture correct any misconceptions that you had about the best term(s) to use for different groups?
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