As reliable as research may be for simplifying complex concepts or vast amounts of information, truth is, it sometimes likes to put square pegs in round holes, attempting to normalize individual life experiences into neat little boxes ready for mass consumption. And we eat it all up! Yes, the human mind seems to have a penchant for labeling and categorizing everything it encounters in the course of making sense of it all… but what happens when the categorizations extend to people? Can something as complex as the human experience be labeled? What happens when a particular group resents and rejects the labels being imposed on them?
Having held over 100 weekly Twitter chats over the past three years, on everything from music to health to civic engagement and race, of course I was curious to hear what our people thought about the Pew Hispanic Center’s report on how “Labels don’t Fit”! What better way to verify or refute the information than to bring the conversation home? Who better to let us know how they prefer to be called than hearing it straight from “la voz del pueblo”: the voice of the people?
Last Thursday, we discussed the problems surrounding ethnic labeling [including our community's thoughts on the 'racialization' of the Trayvon Martin case], the meanings of various ethnic labels, as well as their social values and consequences, both positive and negative, for a community that refuses to adopt them as it constructs and re-constructs its own identity. One thing’s for sure, whatever you decide to call these ‘LATISMs‘, you could never call them suppressed or inarticulate!
1) There were some marked differences in opinions from Pew results, particularly in their statement that “Most don’t care about the ’Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’ labels—but among those who do, “Hispanic” is preferred.” In fact, they do care – A LOT – about being called one thing or the other… and “Hispanic” was the term that got the most heated comments as people passionately expressed their dislike of it
2) Knowledge of our community’s history seems to be a marker as to which term is preferred, with most people rejecting the term “Hispanic” and categorizing it as a remnant of Spanish colonialism that excludes other parts of our heritage such as our afro and indigenous roots
3) There was no consensus as to what the preferred term should be. Most of the chat’s participants view selves as a mix of different cultures and races, not as Latino OR Hispanic. As a consequence of this, most reject labels in general. This, by the way, was the only part of the conversation that may be in agreement with some sections of the aforementioned Pew research
So are the traditional ethnic and racial categories on their way to being rendered irrelevant? Would labels work better if we were allowed to pick them ourselves? Will there ever come a time when human beings evolve past labels so we can finally progress as a species?
Not sure when or how we will find the answers to those, but in the meantime, read some of the night’s best responses above, and you can read our LATINO OR HISPANIC LATISM TWITTER PARTY TRANSCRIPT here.