(CNN Spanish) — The ways in which people from Latin America identify themselves have been changing over time. And, in addition, these ways change according to geographical location.
According to Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity at the Pew Research Center, Latinos living in their home countries prefer to be called by their nationality. Mexican, Argentine, Colombian, Chilean, Ecuadorian, Panamanian, Costa Rican people and a long etcetera.
On the other hand, the Latin American population that lives in the United States also prefers to be named by their nationality of origin; however, there are three terms “panethnic” that are popular in the United States: Hispanic; Latino or Latina; and Latinx.
“There are three terms that are popular in the United States. But in reality, the majority of the Hispanic population prefers to identify with Hispanic, it is the most popular term; the second is Latino or Latina; and only 3% (of that population) say that prefers to use Latinx,” explained Hugo Lopez in an interview with CNN.
Likewise, new Latino migrants arriving in the US are unaware of some of the terms and prefer to be called by their nationality of origin, added the director of the Pew Research Center.
It is clear that preferences are diverse. However, behind each word there is a historical and cultural process that gives even more relevance to the issue of identity within the framework of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Mark Hugo Lopez noted that it was in the 1970s that the term “Hispanic” became more popular.
This coincides with the dates on which what is now known as Hispanic Heritage Month was established. The United States government, under the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, Hispanic Heritage Week began in 1968 and President Ronald Reagan expanded it in 1988 to a full month of celebration.
This can be seen, Hugo Lopez pointed out, as the government’s institutionalization of the term Hispanic. However, he pointed out, it was the civil rights movement in the United States that had previously fought for a pan-ethnic term to describe the Latin American population in the country.
Hispanic Heritage Month and the term Hispanic, therefore, have diversified into many areas: initially, it was something that the government began to expand with greater force, but now it reaches many levels.
This month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, is “to celebrate the independence of the countries of Latin America, but also the heritage of the Latino population in the United States. It is a celebration of the government, but it is also now a celebration of companies, productions, universities… So, it refers to the entire part of Latin production in the United States.
The term “Hispanic”, a complex idea
This is the general panorama that has occurred with the word “Hispanic” in the last 50 years. However, there is a whole historical process behind the term.
Verónica López Nájera, doctor in Latin American Studies and academic at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), indicated that the term is the result of a process of discovery, conquest and colonization that took place in America from 1492.
“At that time these new lands are going to be named in different ways, one of them can be New World, Spanish America, West Indies, or Hispanic America, which refers particularly to the Crown that was the one that conquered and dominated and colonized these territories. We are talking about the Spanish Crown,” said López Nájera in an interview with CNN.
From then on, the expert added, she referred to everything with a “Spanish cultural, ideological, religious, linguistic heritage” as Hispanic, unlike Brazil, which was conquered by the Portuguese Crown.
With the independence of the American countries in the 19th century, a process began to disassociate itself from everything related to the “colonial yoke”.
“It was necessary to detach ourselves, cut the bond, overcome the domination that the Spanish Crown had subjected to these lands for 300 years. And then there is a rejection of the concept or the idea of assuming ourselves as Hispanics,” said the UNAM academic.
So, the idea of what is Latin and of Latin America begins in the countries that had a common past, but that now assume themselves as autonomous and sovereign states.
“The Latin finally emerges in the mid-nineteenth century, precisely as a result of this search and cultural differentiation of the Hispanic, but also of the Anglo-Saxon, of the North American, we are America, but we do not belong to the same culture as North America. We are something else, we are South America, we have another identity. Our culture is a Latin heritage that has a language, that has a religion, that has a specific worldview and that no longer corresponds to the Anglo,” stressed the doctor in Studies Latin Americans.
Therefore, Latino, Latina and in general the idea of Latin America arises under this process of distancing oneself from both the Hispanic and the Anglo-Jason.
The widespread use of the term Latino and Latina, according to Mark Hugo Lopez, appears in the 1990s, already with the celebration of Hispanic Heritage expanded to a full month. Therefore, this is also something that the United States government institutionalizes, but with greater force in the universities, where they seek a term to distance themselves from the Hispanic.
“These are terms that were very popular in universities. Professors want a term that doesn’t look like Hispanic,” said Hugo Lopez, adding that in this same American academic context of the 1990s, the term “Latinx” also emerged with in order to have a neutral concept in gender issues.
Students and professors “prefer a term like Latinx because it’s not masculine, it’s not feminine and it’s neutral, in this case gender, and they want an alternative one. So Latino, Latina and Latinx are from the 90s and the universities in the United States to have Hispanic alternatives to describe this population,” said the director of the Pew Research Center.
In addition, he added that this is about a youth movement that is not only located in the United States but throughout the world. The difference is that “latinx” is a term that comes directly from the English language (pronounced Latinx), while its Spanish adaptation can be found as “latine”.
Dr. López Nájera points out that these variations arise as a way of resignifying identities in a context like the current one, where respect for gender equality is increasingly sought.
“It seems to me that what (the term Latinx) tries to do is to account for this Latino but inclusive identity, including sexual diversity, ethnic diversity, geographic diversity, socioeconomic diversity. But I think above all it would have to do with the gender gender diversity that begins to be considered as something already important in the redefinition agenda from the 90s, when the xo or the arroba begin to be used to destabilize this conception of the masculine gender as the gender that is universal or that identifies both genders,” explained the UNAM academic.
Possible increased use in the future
The use of “latinx” by the Latin American population in the US is still low. According to the Pew Research Centerone in four Latino people in the United States has heard of the word, but only 3% of them say they prefer to use it to identify themselves.
Despite this, Hugo Lopez considers that the word may be used more in the future, precisely because of the context that López Nájera mentioned.
“There is a movement in general, not only in the United States, but also in Latin America and the world in general to change languages, to have terms and alternatives that are not masculine or feminine, that have no gender. And so I think that with Latinx it is possible that we can have a growth in the use of this term”, concluded the director of race and ethnicity of the Pew Research Center.