"600 Words by Esther J. Cepeda"
Among the many issues that President Barack Obama dredged up in nominating the United States’ first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court Judge was the dreaded "Hispanic" vs. "Latino" label debate.
The minute Sonia Sotomayor was announced as the nominee there was a mad scramble by some to label her an immigrant (she isn’t, her parents came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico which – surprise! – is part of the U.S.) and a mad scramble by others to debate whether, in fact, she would be the first given that the ancestors of Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1932-1938, may or may not have come from Portugal.
And that alone was enough to inspire the Pew Hispanic Center to dissect the issue in a report they released late last week titled "Who’s Hispanic?"
1) any member of an ethnic group that traces its roots to 20 Spanish-speaking nations from Latin America and Spain itself (but not Portugal or Portuguese-speaking Brazil)
2) no one who says they aren’t
3) anyone who says they are. Like me.
I had no less than three emails by Wednesday morning asking me what I call myself. I’ve made many people grit their teeth by responding, "I’m an American, honey." Rarely does that go over well – curious how people tend to not accept that as an appropriate answer – so I stick to "Hispanic."
"Latina" makes me grind my teeth – it sounds so militant to me. "What – my dry cleaning isn’t ready? It’s because I’m a Lat-ee-na, isn’t it?!" Eeewww.
"Chicana" elicits revulsion – I can’t stand it (again, waaaay too militant) and it doesn’t apply to me, anyway – not only am I not from the Southwest, I’m only half-Mexican. (But maybe I can popularize "Ecuamexian?" Maybe "Mexuadorian?")
Despite the fact that the Spanish language is gender-based – spoons are female, "cuchara" and plates are male, "plato" – I of the man-brain prefer to stick to the gender-neutral descriptor "Hispanic."
Hooray! I’m not in the, ahem, minority on this one…according to the Pew report:
"The labels are not universally embraced by the community that has been labeled. A 2006 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 48% of Latino adults generally describe themselves by their country of origin first; 26% generally use the terms Latino or Hispanic first; and 24% generally call themselves American on first reference.
As for a preference between ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’, a 2008 Center survey found that 36% of respondents prefer the term ‘Hispanic,’ 21% prefer the term ‘Latino’ and the rest have no preference."
An unpublished Notre Dame Institute for Latino Studies study that was referenced in the Chicago Community Trust’s Latino Landscape 2008 (see my column "A statistical portrait of Chi-Town Hispanics") says that in Chicago in 2003:
"those who preferred the term ‘Hispanic’ were more likely to be college-educated, somewhat older (36-60 years old), very interested in politics, and members of nontraditional religions. Those who prefer ‘Latino’ are generally younger."
You may roll one way, or the other – it’s all good. I know it’s not a very ethnic thing to say but call me whatever you want, just don’t call me late for supper.
Esther J. Cepeda writes the "600 Words" & "Pregunta del Dia" columns, and is also the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her views and reporting do not necessarily reflect those of ISAC. "600 words" is a registered trademark of EeJayCee, Inc., Copyright 2008. May be reprinted with permission, contact email@example.com