Before we move further into our discussion, it’s important that we’re on the same page about some definitions. Especially because the way demographic information is collected in the U.S. further confuses our understandings of race, ethnicity, and other complex human identities. So does migration.
Hispanic: This means of or relating to Spain. Which is also to say, this means Spain or colonized by Spain. When referring to a person, it means that they speak Spanish as their primary (but maybe not Native) language. It’s most commonly used to describe anyone in the U.S. who learned to speak Spanish before, or at the same time as, English. Folks tend to use Hispanic and Latino interchangeably, but they mean quite different things. You’ll find Hispanic listed as an ethnicity on most the U.S. forms of your life.
Latino: Latino, as patrilineal and patriarchal cultures do, is used to mean everyone, regardless of gender, from Latin America, but it technically means men from Latin America. The label Latino identifies folks beyond national identity as someone who’s ancestors a) were colonized by Spaniards between the 15th and 18th centuries, b) are descendants of Spanish colonial-settlers, and most commonly c) a combination of a & b.
Latina: The feminine version of Latino. Never used as a universal term to include everyone from Latin America. But I’m down to start using it that way, if you want to.
Latinx: A gender neutral alternative to the Latino/Latina dichotomy. The @ symbol can also be used for gender neutral language: Latin@. It’s a bit binary, but it will do. Some Spanish speaking folx, even queer ones, resist these contemporary evolutions as colonial. Which is interesting, given that Spanish is a colonial language and that most often these folks are primarily of Spanish colonial-settler descent. But these systems are built to be confusing as fuck. When Latinx is resisted, it tends to be resisted most commonly by Hispanic and Latinx immigrants to the U.S. with strong colonial ancestry.
A fun comic that helps to explain the difference between Hispanic and Latinx.
Latin America: This refers to the the collective regions of North, Central, and South America colonized by Spain. It includes the areas of land we now refer to as: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana (sorta), Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
American: What folks from the U.S. say to refer to things made and born in the U.S. What folks from the UK say to mean not as good as the UK. What the rest of the world uses to refer to things and beings from two whole continents named America.
Fun Fact: It’s only in North America that we learn that these are two separate continents. In South America, South and North America are considered one single continent. I know, I know. But we have each other.
And it’s a good thing we do:
Race: Well, this one is a doozy. It’s generally used when we’re referring to the shade of a person’s skin color. It’s meant, much like Latinx, to group individuals. This time based on specific shared biological components. (Though the range of biological differences within a race is actually much more vast than between races, making it more accurate as an additional social and cultural identifier). It’s a tool to control humans that is sometimes reclaimed as a tool to empower humans. We’ll find other blogs, written by folks with different experiences than mine, to learn more about race together. For now, we’re going to follow our societal instincts and simplify a very complex set of concepts. We’ll consider race as the 5 categories required by the U.S. Census: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. (Isn’t it weird that we alphabetize nearly everything in the world except this list? Hmmm…) There is the alternative option of “other” which tends to be symbolic for the beginning of an awakening in the humans in charge of PAPERWORK. And occasionally there is “multiple races”, which is not an occasional occurrence.
So, someone, from any region in the world, from any country in the world, can belong to the following races: Asian, Black, Indigenous, White, and Kānaka maoli. And after you realize that the U.S. Census is super-general until it gets real specific about the Indigenous groups it’s settler-colonized most recently, we are left with:
Asian Black Indigenous White
And folks of these races can and do live across the entire globe.
This means there are even white supremacist, border-loving, anti-Black, anti-migrant and refugee, folks regularly born in countries like Venezuela.
Generations upon generations of them.
And then sometimes, these very same folks, migrate to the U.S.
And become interested in (Im)migrant Rights.
Now you’re wondering if my girlfriend is one of them.
But she’s going to tell her own story.
Note: If something is highlighted and a different color than the rest of the text, you can click on it and it will give you more information. Like “Ethnic”; “Ethnicity”; and “Dichotomy” below.
Language Note: “I’m down” is a phrase used in U.S. English to mean either that you have knowledge of something or that you are in agreement with it. In the section “Latina”, it means that I am in agreement with it.
Ethnic; Ethnicity; Dichotomy
Kānaka maoli: The name folks indigenous to Hawaii call themselves. It means people.
Gender Binary: This is the idea that there are only two genders and that they are somehow in opposition to each other. Woman and man.
Paperwork: Forms that you have to fill out, whether online or on physical paper, generally about yourself.
Doozy: This doesn’t quite mean what it used to. Today, it is used to describe something unique and carries a connotation of frustration or difficulty. Originally, it meant stylish or splendid and generally referred to early American (U.S.) automobiles.