On the Term "Hispanic"

Published in the Hollister Free Lance, March, 2001
Dear Editor:

Some things make me wonder if people don't have anything better to do with their time. Case in point, the March 15 Free Lance, where the front page carried an article titled "What does it mean to be Hispanic?" The article presented the good and bad points of classifying people with the term "Hispanic". I can't help but wonder why anybody thinks this issue is new, or why it warranted front page treatment. Perhaps other issues of importance to the Latino community -- like education, poverty, gangs, and immigration -- have been solved....

The article claimed that different cultures being grouped under one term could "provide a sense of strength", but that it also "obscures cultural differences of people with more than 20 national origins." Isn't that insightful!

Perhaps the author thinks "Caucasian" perfectly represents all white people, even though there are more cultures subsumed under that term than "Hispanic". The same could be said of "African-American" and "Asian-American".

Yes, people from Ecuador have different cultural backgrounds than those from Mexico. But does the author think that people from Ireland have the same cultural history as people from Russia? Does he think people from Ethiopia have similar cultures as those from South Africa? Does he think people of Chinese heritage are basically the same as those of Indian heritage?

If not, why focus on one term? Yes, "Hispanic" is probably not a great term, as people from Spain could rightly claim themselves to be Hispanic. But Boer descendents from South Africa who moved to the U.S. could also claim to be "African-Americans" as well. All that proves is that no simple classification scheme can cover the diverse backgrounds of all people.

The article also said "Hispanic" was disliked because it "obliterates their Indian heritage". If people really object to that, why not list themselves as "Native American"? Their heritage was native to South or Central America, so that usage could easily be argued to be correct.

Another self-serving statement was that generic terms will "subsume cultures already fragile from the rough crossing into American homogeneity." Isn't that homogeneity exactly what the American melting pot is all about? People from different countries wanted to be Americans, and worked hard to become part of our culture, even if it meant giving up parts of their own cultures. That's what helped make the United States the greatest country in the world. One need only look to Canada and Quebec to see what the alternative can be.

Is there discrimination against Latinos? Of course there is. You'd have to be ignorant to claim that didn't exist. But the same is true of almost any group that came to America, from the Irish in Boston to the Chinese in San Francisco to the blacks in the South. Fortunately, much of that discrimination is fading, even if it will never completely disappear (there will always be ignorant, hateful people).

At least the article pointed out that such grouping could provide a "more accurate picture of the population." If you really want to bring Affirmative Action to its knees, start classifying everyone by their cultural and ethnic backgrounds as precisely as possible. It wouldn't surprise me if my being a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant would suddenly put me in some minority group. Is that what we really want? Or will we soon be seeing an articled titled "What does it mean to be Caucasian?"

Want to comment on this? E-mail me at [steve@svpocketpc.com].