I’ve had locals and people from out of state ask me all the time about terminology for people from Latin American countries. They usually bring it up when I mention one of my undergraduate majors, Chicana/o Studies, or am adamant that I not be called Hispanic.
I know identity politics and terms can be confusing. I’ve changed my mind on the subject a couple of times. I’ve gone from Mexican(a) to Mexican American to Hispanic to Latina to Chicana and then back to Chicana/Mexicana. When asked for my race, I say Mestiza. Oh yeah, and I’ll check boxes like Hispanic even if I don’t like the term. Opinions on labels differ, even amongst the “experts.” Yes, I know it is confusing.
So, how are you supposed to know what to call us?
Raza: translates to race, but is often used as “people.” I use Raza as an all encompassing panethnic term.
Latina/o: most people I know in LA choose Latina or Latino over Hispanic. It encompasses people from Spanish-speaking countries. Some people wonder whether or not it includes countries like Portugal and Haiti. I’m not sure, I just stick with the easy stuff.
Although I think the term Latina/o is okay and it doesn’t bother me too much, I really dislike Latin. As Elenamary, an Irish Xicana in Ohio, writes Latin is a dead language, not a people.
Hispanic (or Hispano): term used most often in business and on government forms. Main reason I know a lot of people don’t like it is because of it’s roots and because the term implies that all people from Latin America speak Spanish and have some kind of Spanish roots. Not true. Others claim that using such a panethnic term lumps together a lot of different people who might share language, but obsures differences in immigration patterns, colonization, class and even race. Oh yeah, and those who want to reject the colonization of the Americas dislike it because the term focuses on the colonizer.
Brown: very simple. Yes, I know there are a lot of brown people and a lot of people from Latin America don’t even look brown. Still, it’s easy and quick to use. I use it because I feel I have some privilege as a Chicana.
Nationalities: I like using nationalities (i.e. Mexicana/o or SalvadoreÒa/o) when I know them, but you should take care in doing this. I know people who get offended if you automatically think that they are Mexican just because they speak Spanish and have dark skin.
Chicana/o: a lot of people assume you have to be Mexican to call yourself a Chicana/o.
Ruben Salazar, a former LA Times journalist, defined Chicanos in an article in the late ’60s:
“A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself. He resents being told Columbus ‘discovered’ America when the Chicano’s ancestors, the Mayans and the Aztecs, founded highly sophisticated civilizations centuries before Spain financed the Italian explorer’s trip to the ‘New World’.”
Although this was the case in the late ’60s, the term has evolved and many people, including myself, do not see Mexican heritage as a prerequisite for calling oneself Chicana/o.
These terms are all incredibly fluid and changing. I don’t feel the right to tell someone what to call themselves, but just ask that they respect the label I choose. If I were to recommend one, I’d go with Latina/o.