Politics, Moderate



Hispanic or Latinx? The key is to treat others with respect

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- The student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin recently asked its readers to select a favorite term to describe people of Latin American descent.

"Which term are you supposed to use?" wrote Daily Texan reporter Maria Mendez. "Well, it depends."

It sure does.

There's "Hispanic," "person of color," "Latino/a," and the en vogue "Latinx," which purports to de-genderize the identity label. All are codes used for virtue-signaling and for interpreting a person's politics, depending on age and geography. (We can throw "Chicano/a" and "Chicanx" in for our southwestern and California friends.)

In response to this call for a universal identifier, Angelo Falcon, the president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, wondered in his organization's newsletter: "Is there a need for a Jesse Jackson-type intervention to finally resolve this issue of what to call ourselves, or are we happy to leave this up to the eye of the beholder? ... How should we be dealing with this recurring pan-ethnic question? Or is it really a pan-racial question?"

These are the kinds of issues that make for Latino-centric clickbait and elicit intergenerational side-eyes when "woke" millennials and their old-school elders gather for family occasions and not-so-silent judgment of each other's life choices.

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In reality, however, there will never be an adequate umbrella term for all people of Latin American descent or their increasingly monolingual, intermarried children and grandchildren. This is evidenced by the fact that "what to call ourselves" has been debated since the U.S. government started using the term "Hispanic" in the 1970s, and there are now more identifiers, rather than fewer.

In this age of individuality, the issue is truly not how one wishes to identify oneself -- you can call yourself anything you want -- but how willing you are to put up with very few others knowing/agreeing/remembering to refer to you by your chosen category.

People tend to label you what they want, not what you want.

When I was a kid, it baffled me when someone referred to me as "Spanish," since none of my family even knew anyone in Spain. Ditto for "Latin," since it was better known to me as a language, not a specific country of origin. My response was to ignore these naming conventions until they eventually went away. Sure enough, nowadays it's rare to hear people use these terms.


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