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When discussing the differences between racial or cultural subcultures, it is important to remain culturally sensitive. The word "Chicano," for example, was considered derogatory when it first appeared, but later generations of Mexican-Americans have since deemed it acceptable. Brazilians may be considered to be Latino, but are not considered Hispanic. This is why it is important to understand the difference between the three words commonly used to describe those of Spanish or Mexican descent.
The most straightforward of the three cultural identifiers may be the word Chicano. "Chicano" refers specifically to Mexican-Americans, or anyone else of Mexican heritage. When Mexican workers and their families first moved into the United States, they were often referred to as "Mexicanos," which became shortened over time to "Xicanos" or "Chicanos". At first, "Chicano" was considered to be derogatory, somewhat akin to "Chinaman" or "Negro." Eventually, however, many in the Mexican-American community embraced the term, at least informally. There are still older Mexican-Americans who view "Chicano" as something less than respectful. It should only be used to describe those of Mexican descent, not those of Central or South American descent.
The word "Hispanic" is a bit more universal than "Chicano." Historically, areas conquered by the Spaniards were considered part of a region originally called Hispania. Modern countries which can trace their history to Spain are now considered to be Hispanic, and include Mexico, Central America, and most of South America where Spanish is the primary language. The only exception to this Hispanic designation is Brazil, which was settled by Portugal, not Spain. Any citizen of those countries originally colonized by Spain can be considered Hispanic. People from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and other areas south of the American border would all be considered Hispanic.
"Latino" is very close in meaning to Hispanic, but it also includes other countries such as Brazil. The regional description "Latin America" now refers to the countries where Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese) are spoken, but was originally used by Napoleon to describe other Romance speaking (French included) territories throughout the Americas. To be described as a Latino is not considered derogatory, although it can be construed as a generic for all Hispanic cultures, much like referring to a Korean or Japanese-American as "Asian." While "Latino" may be politically and socially correct, it may be more culturally sensitive to learn a person's specific heritage and refer to him or her as "Nicaraguan" or "Guatemalan" rather than using the broader term, "Latino."
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the definition of Hispanic?
Hispanic refers to people who come from or have ancestors from Spanish-speaking countries, primarily in Latin America and Spain. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 18.5% of the U.S. population identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2020. This term emphasizes a connection to the Spanish language and can include individuals from diverse racial backgrounds.
Who are considered Latino?
Latino (or Latina for women, Latinx as a gender-neutral term) describes people with cultural ties to Latin America, regardless of their language. It includes countries in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean but excludes Spain. The term focuses on geography over language, uniting a wide array of cultures under a regional identity.
What does Chicano mean, and who does it represent?
Chicano is a term that specifically refers to Americans of Mexican descent, often with a historical and cultural emphasis on the Mexican-American experience. It gained popularity during the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which advocated for civil rights and empowerment of Mexican Americans. Chicanos may identify with both their Mexican heritage and their identity as Americans.
Can someone be both Latino and Hispanic?
Yes, individuals can identify as both Latino and Hispanic. For example, a person from Mexico would be considered Hispanic because they come from a Spanish-speaking country, and Latino because Mexico is part of Latin America. However, not all Latinos are Hispanic (e.g., Brazilians, who speak Portuguese) and not all Hispanics are Latino (e.g., Spaniards).
How do these terms impact individual identity?
The terms Latino, Chicano, and Hispanic are more than labels; they carry significant cultural, political, and social connotations that can influence personal identity. Individuals may prefer one term over another based on their unique experiences, family history, or the statement they wish to make about their heritage. It's important to respect each person's chosen identity and understand that these terms can mean different things to different people.