Latino and Hispanic identities aren’t the same. They’re also not racial groups.
What does it mean to be Latinx and/or Hispanic? American media has largely characterized hispanic and Latinx people in a stereotyped way i.e. Sofia Vergara on Modern Family, therefore few of us outside these communities understand what these identity signifiers actually mean.
In the latest episode of MTV’s Decoded (the greatest thing to come out of MTV, imho), host Franchesca Ramsey invites YouTube activist Kat Lazo to explain the difference between Hispanic and Latinx and how they are used to identify groups of people.
The confusion starts with America’s fixation on race, and the differences between racial groups.
As uncomfortable as it is for many white Americans to admit, this country was founded by a group of men from Western Europe who believed that Caucasians were the superior race and therefore had a right to liberty, freedom and justice where those who weren’t Caucasian did not.
Scientists in that time period determined that people of different skin colors were of different races of people entirely. Caucasians, or “white people” were the intelligent, advanced race, while Africans, or “black people” were considered to be less than human. Scientists created facts (that are now debunked) based on skull structure, among other things, to determine the Caucasian’s superiority. These “facts” helped justify the atrocities Americans and Europeans forced on people of different “races”
Because of this history, dark skin became emblematic of “other,” “bad,” “inferior,” in the American psyche, whether people are consciously aware of it or not.
White was “good” and anything else was not. Cue the influx of immigrants from Central and South America. Most of them looked very different from the Americans descended from Western Europe. Many of them had darker skin, and didn’t speak English.
Well this was simply abhorrent for many Americans, especially as the economy took a dive and people started having their salary decreased, or lost their jobs entirely. The only reason why these good, white Americans could be suffering is because “outsiders” had infiltrated and changed the country from what they had known when times were better.
White Americans did not consider Hispanic and Latinx people to be “white" because of color of their skin, their country of origin, and language they speak. But they didn’t consider them to be “black". So where were racist white people supposed to group them? They got their own group and their own ethnic titles and identifiers were used to racially separate them.
However, in the 2010 U.S. census, “Hispanic” and “Latino” are not considered a separate race. If a person identifies as Hispanic or Latino, they mark that under “origin” and then must mark “white” under race because Hispanic and Latinx are not options there. So the statistics come out as the country being 77% white, when in actuality 15% of those identifying as white also identified as hispanic or latinx.
And according to white supremacy, hispanics aren’t “white.”
So what race are Hispanics and Latinx, then?
Well, to find an answer to this we must first understand the difference between Latinx and Hispanics.
In MTV’s Decoded, Kat Lazo explains that Hispanic identity refers to “people of Spanish-speaking origins,” meaning people who have a family history in a Spanish-speaking country, while Latinx identity refers to people whose family origins are geographical located in Latin America.
Lazo explains that "Latin America includes the countries in North and South America that are geographically south of the United States.” So this includes Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America.
While the two categories overlap most of the time, there are two important distinctions as illustrated by Brazil and Spain. People from Spain are Hispanic because Spain is a Spanish-speaking country. However, they are not Latinx because Spain is not south of the United States. People from Brazil are not Hispanic because Spanish is not Brazil’s primary language. Brazilians speak Portuguese. They are, however, Latinx, because of Brazil’s geographic location.
"Whichever term you use, neither of them actually refer to racial identity,” Lazo explains. Hispanic can’t refer to one race because it includes people from Spain, who are primarily considered white, and people from Mexico, who are primarily considered non-white.
Latinx identity also includes a variety of races due to European colonization, African slavery and immigration. Latinx countries also have a rich native history that intersects with these events and patterns.
So what this all means is that grouping all Latinx and Hispanic people as one race makes no sense. These two groups are just as racially diverse as the population of the United States.
Latinx and Hispanic identity is an ethnicity, or common cultural practices like language and shared history. Color is not a characteristic of any ethnicity. People of color often have family origins from many different racial groups, which is why intersectionality is important when considering oppression.
Lazo also points out that Hispanics are Latinx are often racialized as white be cause, in a predominantly black and white binary society, it’s safer to default to white. There is more opportunity if one is racialized as white as opposed to black.
At the end, Ramsey reminds us that race is a social construct, not a natural biological classification. She says race is “basically an ever-shifting categorization that sometimes includes ethnicity and sometimes doesn’t.”
And this is yet another obstacle Hispanic and Latinx people have to face, especially in the entertainment business. In film and TV, Latinx and Hispanic people are either the stereotyped, cartoon representation, or simply seen as white (or black in the case of Zoe Saldana).
We here at This Boy’s Vida are a part of the change by providing honest representation of Hispanic and Latinx people.