Who Is Hispanic?

Many people seem not to realize that “Hispanic” is not a race. Hence, asking people on a questionnaire whether they are Hispanic or Caucasian makes zero sense. Because you can very easily be both.

My colleague from Spain shared with me today that he stopped putting himself down as Hispanic on official documents because nobody sees him as Hispanic since he is white. And this, of course, is a mistaken perception. If there are Hispanics in the Americas it’s only because my colleague’s ancestors conquered the New World.

The word “Hispanic” comes from “Hispania”, which was what Romans called the Iberian Peninsula. And the Iberian Peninsula is the place where Spain is located. Nowadays, however, the word “Hispanic” has somehow become attached to people who are of Amerindian origin and live in Spanish speaking countries. I’ve heard even those Amerindians who don’t speak a word of Spanish being referred to as Hispanic because there is this perception that Hispanics are somehow racially different from the Caucasians.

Some people are going so far down this ridiculous journey towards racializing the appellation “Hispanic” that they have started adding the categories of “Hispanic White” and “Hispanic Non-White.” My Peruvian brother-in-law has spent a lot of time studying his own skin color and comparing it to my sister’s because he has no idea whether he is “Hispanic White” or “Hispanic Non-White.”

So expecting people to be either Hispanic or Caucasian is like asking them whether they are female or Chinese. And saying things like, “What do you mean she is Hispanic? She is completely white!” is very stupid.

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32 thoughts on “Who Is Hispanic?”

    1. “Caucasian Iberians are almost certainly not Hispanic.”

      Sorry Steve, I just don’t follow … even after clicking on your link. Can you please explain yourself more fully? Are you objecting to the common use of “Caucasian” as a synonym for “white”?

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      1. There are two Iberias — one at the far East end of the continent of Europe, whose inhabitants are Caucasian, but not Hispanic. It is roughly where Georgia is today.

        There is another Iberia that is at the far WEST end of the continent of Europe whose inhabitants are Hispanic, but not Caucasian.

        Caucasian Iberia = East
        Hispanic Iberia = West

        O East is East and West is West
        And never the twain shall meet.

        I suppose someone with a Georgian father and a Spanish mother could be described as Hispanic Caucasian or Caucasian Hispanic, but not otherwise.

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        1. Yes, Georgia is such a confusing place. 🙂 I keep having to say, “Georgia, not the state but the country” whenever I refer to it. This is probably the longest name of a country I ever use. 🙂

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  1. This post reminds me of a dark-skinned man who complained whenever people called him “black” or “African-American”. “I’m from Puerto Rico, I’m Hispanic!”

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  2. The only purpose of the “Hispanic” label is to divide and conquer whites. It’s really just a specific manifestation of the general principle that white=evil and therefore whites should flee the sinking ship and try to come up with some plausible non-white identity. It’s part of a genocidal program and should be reviled as such.

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      1. “Erm. . . the “Hispanic” label is more than 2,000 years old. Whom are you accusing of this anti-white conspiracy? The Romans?”

        So where did this start? If you’ve discussed this elsewhere I’ve missed it. The label used in the US is much more recent–to my knowledge. I always thought that it was used as a way to identify people from Latin American, etc., although I then started to notice labels separating white from non-white category. What’s the purpose of separating the whites from non-whites anyway?

        The people that I’ve encountered mainly use the distinction to demonize the white race (yes, I’ve heard this many times) and the position they take seems to support their belief that people with darker skin are vicitimized by whites, etc., –the old, “we were here before you,” etc., blah, blah, blah. Then all the arguments about privilege, etc. That word seems to be an all-time favorite–it’s so over-used. I’ve become quite cynical anymore.

        I also grew-up in California and so identified the term with mainly people from Mexico or people whose families were from Mexico (not Cuba)–some immigrants from central America. The people who I met who were from Argentina basically were Irish and spoke Spanish with an English accent.

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        1. “If you’ve discussed this elsewhere I’ve missed it. The label used in the US is much more recent–to my knowledge.”

          – It was started by the Nixon administration. What is behind it is this need to classify everybody in terms of race with no understanding that there are people of different races and ethnicities speaking Spanish. It’s yet another instance of trying to explain the world using the concepts that are only relevant to one’s onw culture (and, of course, failing at this attempt.)

          “What’s the purpose of separating the whites from non-whites anyway?”

          – Don’t ask me. In terms of Hispanic populations, it’s impossible to do that anyways.

          “Then all the arguments about privilege, etc. That word seems to be an all-time favorite–it’s so over-used.”

          – You are telling me?? I hate this whole “privilege-scratching” tradition but it seems to be a favorite pastime of many.

          “The people who I met who were from Argentina basically were Irish and spoke Spanish with an English accent.”

          – Argentina is a country of immigrants even more than the US. There are immigrants from many many different countries there (including Ukraine.) But these are all Hispanic people because, as Z pointed out, ‘Hispanic” is a linguistic (and I’d add a cultural) and not a racial term.

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  3. “So expecting people to be either Hispanic or Caucasian is like asking them whether they are female or Chinese.”

    I couldn’t agree more!

    However, what is the problem with “Hispanic White” and “Hispanic Non-White”? Wouldn’t that be like asking someone to check Chinese-female or Chinese-male? I guess I don’t see how being Hispanic complicates the issue of whether you are “white” or not. My experience is that in Latin America, being white (or not) is really much more about the color of one’s skin, whereas in the US … well, it’s another (messier) ball wax!

    I will note that in official forms in the US today (e.g., census), Hispanic is considered an ethnicity, which is recognized to be distinct from race.

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    1. “However, what is the problem with “Hispanic White” and “Hispanic Non-White””

      – How are people supposed to determine this Hispanic whiteness or non-whiteness? I’d love to hear a real recipe that I can suggest to my brother-in-law.He’s been living in his skin for 41 years and still has no idea.

      “I will note that in official forms in the US today (e.g., census), Hispanic is considered an ethnicity, which is recognized to be distinct from race.”

      – And I will note that Hispanic people can have a huge number of ethnicities. 🙂

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      1. “How are people supposed to determine this Hispanic whiteness or non-whiteness?”

        How do non-Hispanics determine whiteness? How do you, Clarissa, determine whether you are white or not?

        “And I will note that Hispanic people can have a huge number of ethnicities.”

        True. But do you object to the term Hispanic as an ethnicity? All of these descriptors are far from perfect….

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        1. ““How are people supposed to determine this Hispanic whiteness or non-whiteness?”

          How do non-Hispanics determine whiteness? How do you, Clarissa, determine whether you are white or not?”

          – Please answer my question before starting with a barrage of your own questions. Doing otherwise is rude. To answer your question: I would have as much trouble defining whether I’m white or not if I received the options of “Ukrainian White” and “Ukrainian Non-white” on a questionnaire as my brother-in-law does.

          “True. But do you object to the term Hispanic as an ethnicity?”

          – I object to the indefinite article “an”.

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      2. “Please answer my question before starting with a barrage of your own questions. Doing otherwise is rude.”

        Clarissa, the couple of questions that I asked you (hardly a barrage!) in my reply were intended as answers to your questions, but thanks for the etiquette lesson. I feel I’m just repeating myself, but my point is that white or not is separate/different from Hispanic. I thought that was your point, too. In fact, today what I usually see on forms are two separate questions: one about ethnicity, where Hispanic is one of several choices; and another about race, where white is also one of several choices.

        For me the answer is pretty simple. I’m Cuban (so I check “Hispanic”) and I’m very fair-skinned, so I check “white.” I feel that the label “white,” when it comes to race (which itself is a problematic concept), is the most accurate descriptor of how I experience life in the US – where people who don’t know my background never guess that I am originally from Cuba. (I grew up in the US, so I don’t speak English with a Spanish accent, and I am not bi-racial (black-white), which many people from Cuba are.)

        I am curious why you would find it difficult to choose between “Ukrainian White” and “Ukrainian Non-white.” Would you have trouble choosing if the choice were simply “white” or “non-white”?

        I also do not understand your response: “I object to the indefinite article “an”.”

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        1. “Clarissa, the couple of questions that I asked you (hardly a barrage!) in my reply were intended as answers to your questions, but thanks for the etiquette lesson.”

          – If you answer a question with other questions, you definitely need a lesson on discussion etiquette. And please observe that you have still not answered my very simple question.

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      3. “If you answer a question with other questions, you definitely need a lesson on discussion etiquette. And please observe that you have still not answered my very simple question.”

        I would not presume to tell someone about whom I know next to nothing how they should define themselves.

        And now I’ve had my fill of your rudeness and inanity.

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    1. The thing is that the population of the Spanish-Speaking America is now mestizo. Nobody can really know who their ancestors were a few generations back. My brother-in-law is guessing that there probably were some indigenous ancestors but we just don’t know.

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    2. No, not inaccurate, although I think the original intention was to de-confuse people who were both Black and Hispanic. Various Mayans would actually say f*** no, I’m not Hispanic, I’m Mayan! … but you could be of, let us say, Lebanese descent and third generation Mexican, so be de facto Hispanic (this being a linguistic category primarily) yet of Caucasian appearance.

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      1. “Various Mayans would actually say f*** no, I’m not Hispanic, I’m Mayan! … but you could be of, let us say, Lebanese descent and third generation Mexican, so be de facto Hispanic (this being a linguistic category primarily) yet of Caucasian appearance.”

        – Exactly.

        Argentinean people are mostly descended from European immigrants (since the indigenous populations were destroyed particularly viciously in Argentina), but can anybody say they are not Hispanic?

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  4. P.S. My student apparently alleged in some grant application that Hispanic could also mean indigenous + Spanish speaking, and was told by a Spaniard that this was very undiplomatic and unfundable since people could be offended by the idea that anyone would consider “Hispanic” something that did not stem 100% from Spain. The whole thing is very contentious.

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  5. I would like to add that I find it hilarious when I see some people (Argentinians, especially) getting outraged that they’re considered Hispanic, which is code for NotWhite in the US.

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  6. What would be the proper term for members of the Spanish-speaking world? Should there be one that encompasses all the various ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures?

    Im originally from California and have noticed most Central Americans using ‘Latino’ to describe themselves and others. Would this be derogatory to a Spaniard? I really dont know; most of my experience has been with Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadoreans, and a few Peruvians. With that said, I agree with profacero in that Mayans distinctly consider themselves to be Mayan and Mexican, not Hispanic. From what i gathered there weren’t many good feelings towards Spaniards, if there were any feelings at all.

    For most South and Central Americans I think the appropriate term would be the one they tend to use for themselves – La Raza. Once again, Im not sure what Spaniards might think about the term but it seems to be one people from the Americas generally consider comprehensive.

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  7. Clarissa, not sure when you came to the States, forgive me, but the category “hispanic” is a counter “latino.” It caused considerable linguistic controversy in academia at the time and on the west coast among certain academic groups Latino has specific political connotations, as does Hispanic. I do find it QUITE hilarious when colleagues refer to the Spanish as hispanic even if it is etymologically correct. It is political nomenclature. It is often argued that Hispanic emerged on the east coast and latino on the west, but that is nonsense.

    This book offers an interesting history http://books.google.com/books?id=U4drF6Go3jMC&pg=PT45&lpg=PT45&dq=the+invention+of+%22hispanic%22+as+a+category&source=bl&ots=ZAHlRkc-ZS&sig=_uvq09c7_OP3xNcu5JT4WaiAtxg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=0CEtT8S4O-qE0QGU6M35Cg&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=the%20invention%20of%20%22hispanic%22%20as%20a%20category&f=false

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    1. I’m a Hispanist, feMOMhist. The great Hispanic civilization is a lot more important to me that some American political nomenclatures of the moment. I’m very well aware of the history of the word “Hispanic” in the US. But I feel more than qualified to object to how and why the word is used.

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  8. Perhaps relevant to the discussion is the apparently homogeneous nature of “Hispanics” when the word is abused used in a political context. The aspirations of Cubans in Florida are conflated with those of Hispanics elsewhere throughout the country, regardless of origin. That makes no sense.

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  9. It has always perplexed me how the inaccurate use of the terms Hispanic and Latin continues to be perpetuated. What do the vast majority of people in the US who use the term Hispanic or Latin to describe themselves have to do with Spain or the Latin Countries (Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Romania) anyway? Absolutely nothing as far as I can tell. So why then, do these folks continue to appropriate and co-opt names that do not belong to them and absolutely do not describe them accurately?
    As an example, suppose you have two individuals with an identical name, say Fernando Gonzalez. The first Fernando is from Spain, specifically northwest Spain which happens to be and has a very Celtic culture, bagpipes included. Most likely Fernando Gonzalez from northwest Spain is tall, light haired and blue or green eyed, not unlike his brothers in other Celtic lands like Scotland and Ireland. The second Fernando Gonzalez is from, say, the Dominican Republic. Most likely this Fernando Gonzalez is black and his culture is Afro-Caribbean.
    My question is: why would these two Fernando Gonzalez both be referred to as Hispanic or Latin when they have absolutely nothing in common except that they share the same name?
    The first Fernando Gonzalez, from northwest Spain, is absolutely Hispanic since he comes from the former Roman colony of Hispania, from which the name for modern day Spain, Espana, is derived. He is also Latin because he comes from one of the Latin Countries, as described earlier.
    I don’t understand why the second Fernando Gonzalez, from the Dominican Republic, is referred to as being Hispanic when he has absolutely no connection, culturally or racially, to Spain nor is he Latin since he also has no cultural or racial connection to any of the Latin Countries.
    Using this same line of logic, why are James Brown from Birmingham, England and James Brown of Jefferson City, Missouri who is white referred to as Anglo-Saxon yet James Brown of Greenville, South Carolina who happens to be black is not referred to as Anglo-Saxon also? After all, James Brown of Greenville, South Carolina has the exact same name as James Brown from Birmingham, England and James Brown from Jefferson City, Missouri.
    Someone please explain.

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    1. “My question is: why would these two Fernando Gonzalez both be referred to as Hispanic or Latin when they have absolutely nothing in common except that they share the same name?”

      – Because they speak the same language and are part of the same linguistic and cultural space. One’s language is absolutely central to one’s identity and it really surprises me to see somebody who doesn’t understand something so basic.

      “I don’t understand why the second Fernando Gonzalez, from the Dominican Republic, is referred to as being Hispanic when he has absolutely no connection, culturally or racially, to Spain nor is he Latin since he also has no cultural or racial connection to any of the Latin Countries.”

      – You really need to be told about the connection between the Dominican Republic and Spain? Really?

      “nor is he Latin since he also has no cultural or racial connection to any of the Latin Countries.”

      – Spanish is derived from Latin. Is that something you didn’t know?

      “Using this same line of logic, why are James Brown from Birmingham, England and James Brown of Jefferson City, Missouri who is white referred to as Anglo-Saxon yet James Brown of Greenville, South Carolina who happens to be black is not referred to as Anglo-Saxon also? After all, James Brown of Greenville, South Carolina has the exact same name as James Brown from Birmingham, England and James Brown from Jefferson City, Missouri.”

      – Try to avoid the passive voice because it confuses you. I refer to all of these people as “Anglo” because they are English-speakers.

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  10. So when is the last time you saw a black American mark himself down as an Anglo on a census form?

    I speak German, yet I have absolutely no German background and have no connection to Germany, culturally or otherwise. I doubt I would be considered Teutonic.

    Sarcasm does not become you. Nor does stupidity in your responses.

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    1. “So when is the last time you saw a black American mark himself down as an Anglo on a census form?”

      – I have never in my life seen a census form that contained the word “Anglo.”

      “I speak German, yet I have absolutely no German background and have no connection to Germany”

      – I was talking about one’s first language and the language of one’s ancestors. Please concentrate and try to process a simple text.

      “Sarcasm does not become you. Nor does stupidity in your responses.”

      – Please keep your outbursts of hysteria to yourself.

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