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2.2: (Re)constucting Latinidad(es)

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    Hispanic or Latino: What’s the Difference?

    This section unpacks the questions: What is the difference between Hispanic and Latino and where did these labels come from? What does it mean to be Latinx and who gets to decide? These are key inquiries to better understand Latinx identities, the focus of this chapter.

    The term Hispanic has been in English usage since the eighteenth century. In the 1940s it was mostly used by scholars to “describe the descendants of the original Spanish colonial territories that became part of the United States in the nineteenth century (Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, California), while ‘Latino’ was more aptly used to describe immigrants from Latin America, of course, with some geographic and temporal exceptions.”24 Interestingly, the idea of Latin America was a mid-nineteenth-century invention, constructed by intellectuals from Spain’s former colonies who sought to describe the new political order that arose in the aftermath of revolutions and independence movements across the Western hemisphere.

    During the 1960s, in the context of anticolonial revolutions abroad and the Black power and American Indian movements at home, the Chicano and Puerto Rican (or Boricua) ethnic nationalist movements also emerged in the U.S. These movements identified with the Indigenous peoples of their respective homelands and oppressed peoples across the Third World, now referred to as the Global South. They used the concept of internal colonialism to analyze their historical, political, and economic circumstances in the U.S. as that of colonized minorities, rather than immigrants. It was in this context that the U.S. government began to use the term Hispanic. To some, especially in the Southwest, it was a term that tried to depoliticize their identity and erase the Indigenous and African origins of many Latin Americans. Hispanic was used in the Southwest by Spanish-origin elites to distinguish themselves from Mexicans of Indigenous and African heritage and many Chicanos found the term offensive. Puerto Ricans on the East Coast more readily accepted the term more readily because they linked it to their country’s resistance to Anglicization by maintaining the Spanish language as an important part of their identity and ethnic pride.


    Historically Hispanic and Latino have been used to describe groups of people and not used for the purposes of self-identification or collective action. That is, until a group of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans came together in Chicago, Illinois as Latinos, forging a collective pan-ethnic identity to demand their civil rights in the 1970s. This was one of the earliest moments that Latinidad was used strategically for political mobilization. 

    Key Term: Latinidad

     “...A political project that cultivates a broad cultural sense of belonging to a grander community that is created through ancestral links to Latin America.”25 In other words, Latinidad suggests a shared subjectivity among disparate ethnic and national groups with shared attributes, experiences, and realities among its members. It should be noted, however, that similarities do not equal sameness. There is diversity within and among the grander community. 

    More Latin Americans from different parts of the continent began entering the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s and people of Mexican and Puerto Rican origin were becoming more geographically dispersed. This resulted in the term Latino becoming common in the 1980s as an alternative to Hispanic, growing out of the same political consciousness as Chicano and Boricua. The term Latino expanded to all Latin Americans, acknowledging a shared complex historical experience of colonization and oppression. By 2000, the term Latino had lost much of its radical edge as the mainstream media began to adopt it and the census offered “Hispanic or Latino” as a category that same year. Eventually, corporations, government organizations, and dominant culture industries would come to understand Latinidad as an opportunity to advance their own agendas, often resulting in the homogenization and commodification of the rich diversity of Latinx communities. 


    At the same time, new ethnic enclaves were developing where Latinxs of diverse heritages resided side-by-side. “This social mosaic leads to new forms of interaction, affinities, and power dynamics between and among Latinas/os from various national groups,” including “different forms of affiliations, solidarity, identifications, desire, and intermarriage among Latinas/os.”26 As reported in section 2.1, many Latinxs prefer to identify with their national identities, however, this statistic obscures the fact that this is not the only frame of reference for self-identification. Latina/o studies Professor Emerita Frances R. Aparicio argues that in fact, “national identities are restructured and reorganized as a result of these increasingly hybrid spaces. New interlatino subjectivities are emerging and we need to examine them at various levels.”27 For example, Latinxs are creating new cultural productions including music, food, clothing, and language practices that coalesce from the multiple cultures within their families and neighborhoods. Hybrid identifications are also emerging that fuse two or more ethnic, racial, national, or tribal labels such as Ticano (Costa Rican and Chicano), MexiRican (Mexicana and Puertorriqueña), BlaXican (Black and Xicanx), and Apachicana (Apache and Chicana) to name a few. These hybrid labels indicate a desire for terms that capture the complexities of individual identities that are not expressed with existing national identities or with the terms Chicana/o/x or Latina/o/x.

    It is imperative to recognize the nuances, complexities, and heterogeneity of Latinidad if it is to be used for self and community empowerment. Aparicio urges Latinx studies scholars and students to consider the plural Latinidades, which refers to “the shared experiences of subordination, resistance, and agency of the various national groups of Latin America in the United States.”28 She describes Latinidades “as a conceptual framework” that can be used “to document, analyze, and theorize the processes by which diverse Latinas/os interact with, dominate, and transculturate each other.”29 This framework is aligned with the relational, transnational, and intersectional approaches found across this book because it calls for the examination of “power differences, conflicts, tensions, and affinities between and among Latinas/os of diverse national identities.”30

    Scholars and activists have taken up the call to consider the plural Latinidades through the development of three complementary frameworks: Critical Latinx Indigeneities, AfroLatinidad, and Queer Latinidad. These concepts reflect the realities, experiences, and histories that are not fully captured by the term Latinidad alone. Drawing on hemispheric and comparative Indigenous studies, Critical Latinx Indigeneities “emerges out of a need to examine how Indigenous migrants from Latin America are transforming notions of Latinidad and Indigeneity in the U.S.”31 The term Indígena has come into use as a pan-ethnic term of empowerment as have the variations Indigenous Latina/o/x and Indigenous Xicana/o/x (Xicana/o/x Indígena in Spanish), though most individuals prefer to self-identify with their specific tribal nation, pueblo, or community in their own language (for example, Yoeme, Wixárika, P’urhépecha, Kumeyaay, etc.). “This specificity generally affords respect for the vast differences among Indigenous peoples of the Americas, standing in marked contrast to references to the Indian, the Native American….”32 For more on Latinx Indigeneities visit Chapter 4: Indigeneities. Another framework that expands notions of Latinidad is AfroLatinidad, which centers Blackness as an analytic, acknowledging the particularities of Latin American peoples of African descent, from their racialized experiences in their countries of origin to the shifting racial meanings in the U.S., as well as their experiences with colorism within the larger Latinx community. Critical Latinx Indigeneities and AfroLatinidad are important frameworks that complicate Latinx racial identity and provide nuance to understand the Latinx population boom. 

    Additionally, Queer Latinidad considers queer identity in relation to Latina/o/x subjectivity, engaging in modes of inquiry that center racialized genders and sexualities, while simultaneously challenging the construction and validity of normative identity categories. Just as countless neologisms merge two or more ethnic, racial, national, or tribal labels, others unite ethnic, gender, and/or sexual identity such as joto/a/x, Chicanx, Latine, and translatina/o/x, which combines trans/transgender and Latina/o/x, while also encapsulating Latin American and latinoamericana/o identities. Gay Puerto Rican author, scholar, and performer Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes notes that because the “prefix trans- is used to indicate individuals who might have migrated (or whose family histories might include migration) and who might have transnational connections, it acquires a double valance, referring to geography and physical displacement as much as to gender identity and expression.”33 In Brown Trans Figurations: Rethinking Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Chicanx/Latinx Studies, transfronterizo scholar Francisco J. Galarte presents “brown trans figurations” as a theoretical frame to examine the nuances of racialized trans subjectivity, embodiment, politics, affect, and agency. Galarte looks to the possibilities of the coexistence of brownness and transness asserting, “both frames center modes of relationality” and have a “shared expansiveness and unboundness.”34 For more on Queer Latinidad and how this analytic has developed into a prominent subfield in Chicanx/Latinx studies, visit Chapter 6: Jotería Studies.

    Sidebar: An Identity Label Timeline

    This timeline35 provides readers with a quick reference of the significant identity labels that Chicanxs and Latinxs use to refer to themselves as discussed in this chapter. Emphasis is placed on the mid-twentieth century to the present and the shifting spellings of terms and their associated meanings. Even though this is a timeline, it is not a linear chronology. Some terms circulated in specialized circles prior to their popularization, and the emergence of one label did not necessarily replace its antecedent. Typically, a segment of the population took up a new term that was not utilized, or even known or regarded, by everyone in the community. All of the labels included in this timeline are still in use today, albeit in different ways, despite their emergence and popularity in a given timeframe. Moreover, this is not an exhaustive list. Other national, regional, and personal racial and ethnic identity labels are not included. Finally, it is important to note that there are in-group critiques of and resistance to all of these labels, which are not covered here. A potential research project could expand on this timeline.

    Chicano - late 1960s to 1980s

    Chicana, Chicana/o - late 1960s to 1990s

    Chican@, Latin@ - 2000s to 2010s  

    Chicanx, Latinx - 2010s to 2020s 

    Latine - 2020s

    • Latine has come into usage in Spanish-speaking countries through the work of feminist, nonbinary, and genderqueer activists and academics. Its proponents argue the pronunciation is natural and already exists for nouns in Spanish (e.g. estudiante).

    The drastic growth of a diverse Latinx population––impacted by structural factors such as the end of segregation and anti-miscegenation laws, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that ended racially discriminatory national quotas, and U.S. political, economic, and military interventions in Latin America––have contributed to a shift in the ways race and ethnicity are understood in the United States. Shifting racial meanings are ongoing and have a long history on this continent, which will be explored in the following sections.  


    24 “Introduction,” in The New Latino Studies Reader: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective, eds. Ramón A. Gutiérrez and Tomás Almaguer (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 2.

    25 “Introduction,” The New Latino Studies Reader, 1.

    26 Frances R. Aparicio, “(Re)constructing Latinidad: The Challenge of Latina/o Studies,” in The New Latino Studies Reader: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective, eds. Ramón A. Gutiérrez and Tomás Almaguer (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 59.

    27 Aparicio, “(Re)constructing Latinidad,” 59.

    28 Frances R. Aparicio, “Latinidad/es,” in Keywords for Latina/o Studies, eds. Deborah R. Vargas, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 115.

    29 Aparicio, “Latinidad/es,” 115.

    30 Aparicio, “Latinidad/es,” 115.

    31 Maylei Blackwell, Floridalma Boj Lopez, Luis Urrieta Jr. Special issue: Critical Latinx indigeneities, Macmillan Publishers (2017): 126.

    32 Robert Warrior, “Indian,” in Keywords for American Cultural Studies, eds. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler (New York: New York University Press, 2020), 131.

    33 Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, “Translatinas/Os,” TSQ 1 (May 2014): 237–241.

    34 Francisco J. Galarte, Brown Trans Figurations: Rethinking Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Chicanx/Latinx Studies (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2021), 12-13.

    35 Much of the content in this Sidebar is drawn from Amber Rose González, “Where is Indigeneity in Chican@ Studies?” in Another City is Possible: Mujeres de Maiz, Radical Indigenous Mestizaje and Activist Scholarship (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2015), 51-73.

    36 Sheila Marie Contreras, “Chicana, Chicano, Chican@, Chicanx,” in Keywords for Latina/o Studies, eds. Deborah R. Vargas, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 34.

    37 “Introduction,” in Keywords for Latina/o Studies, eds. Deborah R. Vargas, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 1.

    38 Hernández, Roberto. “Running for Peace and Dignity: From Traditionally Radical Chicanos/as to Radically Traditional Xicanas/os,” in Latin@s in the World System: Decolonization Struggles in the 21st Century U.S. Empire (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2005), 123-137. Hernández elaborates on the ways in which a critical Indigenous Xican@ subjectivity, or those with an “indigenista perspective,” has led to strategic coalitions with Native American activists since (and prior to) the 1960s. Raul Salinas and Carlos Cortéz Koyokuikatl are prime examples of Chicano movement activists with an “indigenista” consciousness.

    39 Contreras, “Chicana, Chicano, Chican@, Chicanx,” 35.

    40 Sandra K. Soto, Reading Chican@ Like a Queer: The De-Mastery of Desire (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 2.

    41 Soto, 2-3.

    42 Contreras, “Chicana, Chicano, Chican@, Chicanx,” 35. For more on the “-x” see Alan Pelaez Lopez, “The X in Latinx is a Wound, Not a Trend,” Color Bloq, September 2018; and Terry Blas, “You Say Latinx,” Vox, October 23, 2019.

    This page titled 2.2: (Re)constucting Latinidad(es) is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Amber Rose González (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .