What’s so confusing about Hispanic Heritage Month?

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Hispanic Heritage Month is a month (30 days) where we celebrate the great impacts Latinos have had on this country. Firstly, Hispanic Heritage Month isn’t just one month. It began as just a week when Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president, signed off on the legislation in 1968 and was later made into a month (from September 15th-October 15th) under Reagan. That’s one of the less complicated aspects of being Hispanic/Latino in America, that Hispanic Heritage Month actually spans over two months and gives people reasons to have Mexican food fever. 

A major point of complication is understanding the difference between the terms Latino and Hispanic. Hispanic Heritage Month is often described as a time to celebrate Latinos, but few actually know the difference between Hispanic and Latino. 

Hispanic references people of Spanish-speaking cultures meaning every country that speaks Spanish (including Spain, excluding Brazil because they speak Portugeese) and Latino encompasses the people of Latin America (excluding Spain, including Brazil). 

A complicated example of how this works is, a Spaniard who lives in Brazil and speaks Portugese, but not Spanish would be Hispanic not Latino even though they don’t speak Spanish and live in South America with other Latinos. If they had a child with a Brazilian person who spoke Spanish and moved to, let’s say, Japan, that child would be both. It’s complicated, I know. The term Hispanic came from the Spanish word hispano (meaning of Spanish language or culture), but was created by the U.S. Census to simplify the categorization of a large group of people.

In recent years the term Latinx has appeared on the internet for people who don’t identify with binary genders, but it is also anglicizing Spanish. In response to this, people have begun to say Latine, since the “x” sound we use in English doesn’t exist in Spanish. However, only 3 percent of Hispanics/Latinos/Latinx/Latine folks actually use the term Latinx and many have never said, heard or seen the term before. 

The controversy continues: some groups, usually based on region, prefer different terms. People in South America tend to prefer the term Latino because their ancestry is mainly indigenous while people in the Caribbean tend to prefer to be called Hispanic because their ancestry is closer to Spain. 

Meanwhile, some people who live in Spanish speaking countries don’t identify as either and simply want to be called indigenous because they have very little to no European blood. To add to the confusion, some people who are technically both Latino and Hispanic (and add in Latinx/Latine to be even more inclusive) prefer Latino; they don’t wish to be associated with the killing and raping done to their ancestors by the Spanish.

inally, the term chicano (with variations like chicanx, xicano/a, and xicanx) began as a derogatory term for someone of Mexican descent in the Southwest areas of the country but changed meaning in the wake of the Chicano Movement in the 60s. Modern-day Mexico was once called Mechica (Meh-CHi-ka) and the people living there were called Michicanos (shortened to chicanos). The term later evolved into xicanx to get more in touch with the Aztec spelling of the word and include LGBT+ Chicanxs.   

So now that we got through the basics, we can talk a little about the issues Hispanic/Latino/Latinx/Latine people face in the U.S. So while we are underrepresented in countless fields from entertainment to politics, people make us feel like we are less “American” than they are, face gaps in education solely based on the fact that we feel out of place in a classroom of only white faces, and get that “No soy de aquí, ni soy de alla” feeling, we are proud of our cultures.

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