Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Latino, Hispanic: Who are we talking about here?

One of the perpetually thorny issues on my thesis was how to identify the people I talked about. Is someone born in Mexico, but who has lived in the US since childhood a "Mexican"? Or a "Mexican-American"? What about someone born to Mexican parents in the U.S.? Sometimes the identifier a scholar would use would not be the same one the person might choose, not to mention all the terms in currency are somewhat loaded. And to make it even more complicated, I came across articles by people complaining about being called "Anglos."

Being a white girl (yes, it's true), I basically do not have much weight this debate. But I had to use something for my thesis, so...

My brief comments from the footnotes:

The word Chicano has been in use since the 1800s to describe people of Mexican descent. In this century, it has usually been reserved for Mexicans living the U.S. and sometimes indicates people born in the U.S. to Mexican parents. Since the Brown/Chicano Power movements of the 1960s which promoted the use of the word Chicano for people of Mexican descent in the U.S., it has carried a political connotation.

The term "Anglo" is a label commonly used by many Latin American emigrants to the U.S. and scholars in Chicano studies to refer to any English-speaking white person, although “Anglo-Saxon,” for which “Anglo” is an abbreviation actually only includes people from England or Northern Germany. The ancestors of most American "whites" were not originally from England or Northern Germany. I use “Anglo” in this thesis primarily when I am quoting others who use the term, such as communications scholar Feliz Gutierrez.

And a quick breakdown of the way I see the terms:

Mexican-American: To me, the most politically neutral and accurate term for people either born in Mexico or born to Mexican parents, but who have primarily lived in the U.S.

Chicano: Too politically loaded. Ditto for La Raza.

Latino: To me, a sort of pan-Latin-American term, too vague to be useful. What does a Cuban exile in Miami have to do with a Mexican farmworker in California? Also, it kind of implies US-born, as opposed to immigrants.

Hispanic: Seems to be a favorite with a lot of white advertising experts, for whatever reason. Technically refers to people with origins in the Iberian Peninsula, basically Spain. Well, most people in Latin American do trace origins back to Spain. Is that a particularly useful way of identifying people descended from Spanish conquistadors and native peoples hundreds of years later? Not particularly.

Final thoughts: I don't even want to get into it.

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