While the cultural experience of Latinos is frequently packaged in a one-size-fits-all American check box, young people continue to call for the correct teachings of our histories. In the United States, the period of Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is referenced as National Hispanic Heritage Month. And though many celebrating may have positive intentions, it is essential to remind the populace that the words “Hispanic” and “Latino” are not interchangeable. However, in specific cases, it is possible to identify as both.
Firstly, some may question what it means to be Hispanic. The word “Hispanic” references someone who is a descendant of or from a Spanish-speaking territory. Its focal point is language. This umbrella term does not automatically imply that an individual is from Latin America. For example, Europeans from Spain are inclined to speak Spanish but are not Latino. Further, the history of colonization by Spaniards throughout Latin America is appalling and is also why Spanish is spoken in many Latin American countries.
Latinos are individuals who are from or ancestrally descended from Latin America. Latin America is referenced as such because its territories’ principal languages are classified as Romance languages and therefore derived from Latin. Still, the cultural phrase is emphatic upon geography. And while being Hispanic or Latino signifies a person’s ethnicity, it is worth noting that numerous languages and racial backgrounds are encompassed throughout Latin America.
Despite some diversity, Spain’s largest demographic is white Europeans, per the World Atlas. Hispanics and Latinos are likely to share some cultural experiences, but these terms also require the acknowledgment of nuanced distinctions among separate nations. For instance, Brazilians traditionally speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and are Latinos.
In accordance, the Dominican Republic, also known as the eastern portion of Hispaniola, is an island shared with the nation Haiti. Its top languages are Spanish and Haitian Creole. The Spanish Academy published, “Over 160,000 people in the DR speak Haitian Creole.” The observation of this specific Latino territory invites dialogue surrounding the Caribbean at large and how its descendants drastically differ from those of a country like Mexico, best known as the most common Spanish-speaking population or country of linkage in America.
Now that REVOLT has illuminated some introductory notes for those becoming acquainted, let’s review why people have begun to utilize more inclusive or gender-neutral terms like Latinx. In Spanish, “Latina” references a woman, “Latino” references a man, and the collective term is male-prioritized. None of these practices create space for queer identities, such as persons who are non-binary and self-identify as neither. The letter “x” does not require anyone to choose between masculine or feminine nouns and includes communities that have been historically excluded.
Since its academic emergence, some Spanish speakers have identified issues with the English term’s pronunciation. A newer gender-neutral synonym for Latinx is Latine. Inclusive umbrella term preferences may be subjective to an individual’s tongue, but this growing consensus aims to make all people feel seen and welcomed. While one side of the discussion may feel, “This is the way things have always been,” it is vital to recognize that the Latinx identity is not a monolith and requires examination of intersectionality and so forth.
You may not share someone else’s gender identity, but that does not invalidate that it is their own. The contemporary junctures facing the usage of the word “Hispanic” are not solely contingent upon the construct of gender. Considering the umbrella term Hispanic implies that a descendant is expected to be Spanish-speaking, it calls for further analysis, as numerous Latinxs have witnessed how many children of the diaspora have been barred from the Spanish language. I.e., families who immigrate or migrate to the United States. In this case, one might question if the go-to ethnic title accurately pinpoints all Latinxs backgrounds, as English is the predominant American language. Every Latinx may not have been reared with supervision that veered away from assimilation or had access to academic resources which encouraged pupils to become perfectly bilingual.
If this notion confuses you, please examine the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico’s history, a home to a beautiful and influential culture, despite continuously genocidal experiences. The past persists in affecting the present for this United States Census Bureau-noted Hispanic population. It might be useful to reference a renowned subject of colonization for corresponding assets. As REVOLT has previously registered, several island nations were devastated by the European traveler Cristoforo Colombo, best known as Christopher Columbus, and other sailing men like him pillaging the original peoples of the Caribbean as far back as the 15th century.
The traditional and inaccurate textbook verbiage covering this period of exploration and its omission of the robbery of Black and Brown populaces’ dialects of the Taíno language, among others, convey contextual issues with perceived representation through the umbrella term Hispanic. As that era’s story unfolds, Spanish settlers prevailed in the murder and enslavement of once-free people in areas throughout Latin America, Africa, and beyond. However, what is also often lost in translation is these privileged men made no true discoveries of already thriving societies. Further, to uphold their mostly white customs above those of now-minoritized populations is to support cultural ideals of racial superiority and perpetuate further aspects of supremacy, including when reviewing derogatory generalizations repeatedly made about Caribbean understandings of the Spanish language.
That same rhetoric impacts numerous regions of Latin America’s political affairs. Returning to the original case in point, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States in 1898 and has since been under American regulation commencing the pursuit to strip Puerto Ricans of their nationality. According to the Library of Congress, in “1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. This law gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. [However, the] Jones Act separated the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of Puerto Rican government.” Consequentially, its people serve as one federal agenda reference when examining National Hispanic Heritage Month and the pick-and-choose convenience of when these diverse identities matter.
Persons of all races and creeds can review separate occasions when the United States government harmed its territory, such as in the thirties when Latinas began to be forced into sterilization. The National Women’s Health Network cited that by “1968, a Puerto Rican demographer reported that women of childbearing age in Puerto Rico were more than 10 times more likely to be sterilized than women [born in] the United States [with a] sterilization rate of over 35 percent.” Events like that in the Spanish-speaking U.S. colony, and others, such as the enactment of Law 53, better known as Puerto Rico’s Gag Law, made it illegal to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, discouraging the island’s independence movement and considerable natives’ predominant language usage.
Subsequent united liberation movements, including those of the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Organization, were suppressed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other figures of law enforcement. Agents often went to the extreme of assassinating their Black and Brown leaders, attempting to neutralize their communal power. In contrast, the Young Lords’ 13-Point Program also emphasized: “We want self-determination for all Latinos. Our Latin brothers and sisters, inside and outside the United States, are oppressed by Amerikkkan business.” The word “Hispanic” is printed nowhere in the co-created composition’s full reading.
So, with respect to that specific finding and ethnicity, Heritage Month may not be a matter of what descendants of Latin America are called nationally but what they choose to answer to. More recent American transgressions against these Latinx citizens include the Trump Administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in 2017. The compounding human rights violations resulted in nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans dying in the aftermath of the storm, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Last month, Puerto Rico was hit by a Category-1 cyclone, Hurricane Fiona. Prior to the storm’s landfall, its entire electrical grid failed under an American-imposed private electricity transmission and distribution company. This not only wiped out power across the island but the storm also caused massive flooding and the loss of access to clean water.
Neighboring islands were also affected by the natural disaster, which arguably amounted to a passing thought in mainstream media. For many Latinxs in the United States, the specified territory’s citizenship is merely one enduring illustration of what it means to be referenced as Hispanic during a month designed to celebrate collective cultural contributions. Nevertheless, happy Latinx Heritage Month from REVOLT because each of our communities validates themselves.
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