01 Sep DEI Committee Update 9-1-22
Each year, on September 15th the United States observes National Hispanic Heritage Month: A national celebration to honor the history, culture and influence of past generations who came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. U.S. & World.
It started in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson as a one-week celebration called Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1988 It was expanded to 30 days by president Reagan in 1988 and later that year made into law on august 17th.
Hispanic Heritage Month takes place over 30 days starting on the 15th – a nod to the anniversaries of national independence for a number of Latin American countries like: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua all recognize September 15 as the date of their independence. Within that 30 day period we also have Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, or indigenous day.
Hispanic and Latino are often used interchangeably though they actually mean two different things. Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish and/or are descended from Spanish-speaking populations, while Latino refers to people who are from or descended from people from Latin America.
In today’s United States, these terms are often thought of as racial categories and are often used to describe race, in the way that we also use white, Black, and Asian.
However, the populations they describe are actually composed of various racial groups, so using them as racial categories is inaccurate. They work more accurately as descriptors of ethnicity, but even that is a stretch given the diversity of peoples they represent.
In a literal sense, Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish and/or who are descended from Spanish speaking lineage.
Latino is a term that refers to geography. It is used to signify that a person is from or descended from people from Latin America. It is, in fact, a shortened form of the Spanish phrase latinoamericano — Latin American, in English.
While reports indicate that the term Hispanic came into use by the government during the Nixon administration which was from 1968-1974 it wasn’t actually added into the census till 1980 as a question prompting the taker to determine whether the person was of Hispanic/ Spanish origin. In todays census, most of us self report.
That said, they are as important as identities for many people and communities, and they are used by the government to study the population, by law enforcement to study crime and punishment, and by researchers of many disciplines to study social, economic, and political trends, as well as social problems. For these reasons, it’s important to understand what they mean literally, how they are used by the state in formal ways, and how those ways sometimes differ from how people use them socially.
There are a million ways and different directions we can go when we talk about the complexities of the word Hispanic. However, How one identifies is a lifelong journey that lends itself to nuance, and not necessarily a fixed construct.
So whatever term you prefer — Hispanic or Latino/a/x — the debate itself shows the ongoing fight for recognition and being counted which is not over yet. In choosing what term to use, we still find ourselves asking: Who is included and who is excluded? And what do we hope to accomplish when we bring forth a word and speak its power?