The Los AngelesTimes recently released guidelines for the use of Latino vs. Hispanic stating that the term Latino was the preferred term: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/readers/2011/07/latino-preferred-over-hispanic-in-most-cases.html. In fact, in the memo shared with staff it said: “Latino should be used in nearly all contexts; the exceptions, as described in the revised entry, must truly be exceptional. The online stylebook has been updated accordingly.” For comparison, here are the guidelines by the New York Times http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/hispanic-latino-or-what/
The release of the guidelines by the Los Angeles Times has again revived the debate on what term to use, what is politically correct, relevant or accurate, a debate that has existed since the terms were first coined. When I began working in the early 90s two senior people in the industry told me it was best to use the terms interchangeably because we were wasting too much time on this debate and had more serious issues to address for our community. This reasoning made sense but the more I looked into it I found a more compelling reason: using either term can be alienating to some because it is so closely aligned to identity.
A 2000 article in Hispanic Magazine highlighted a poll by Sergio Bendixen that found that 65 percent preferred the term Hispanic, and 30 percent preferred Latinos. This poll also pointed to the regional differences, for example in Texas the preferred term is Mexican Americans (67 percent) and in California 52 percent prefer the term Latino. A Pew Study mentioned in a 2003 Washington Post story found that most preferred either term when describing the wider community (53 percent). A few years ago someone told me that Latino/Latina was a Spanish-language term so should be used when speaking Spanish and the term Hispanic when speaking English. Working in a bilingual and bicultural environment this does not seem to apply today.
One of the best pieces I’ve read, also from the Washington Post, provides the history behind the term Hispanic, describing how “a handful of other Spanish-speaking federal employees helped make the decision that changed how people with mixed Spanish heritage would be identified in this country.” This article clarified how and why this term is used by the government since many believe that Hispanic was a term created by the U.S.government for the 1980 Census.
Fast forward to 2011, do I still believe both terms should be used interchangeably? Yes, this continues to be the right approach and our focus should be on driving awareness and understanding of the impact and influence of the 50 million plus Hispanics/Latinos in this country. So if you are wondering, I identify myself as a Latina who embraces the term Hispanic. Most importantly I am a student of how our community is contributing to the New American Reality.