Written by Monse Arce
Lately, especially if you follow twitter politics, you may have noticed a rise in the rejection of the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx,” the latter of which was recently changed from “Latino/a” in order to be more gender neutral. However, this rejection of the terms has not quite reached it’s popularity peak, and this may have to do with a lack of understanding as to why these terms are being rejected.
Both terms carry ties to Europe, to the colonizers. In their affiliation with Europe, it causes the erasure, the denial, even, of Indigenous heritage. “Latino/a” derives from the word “Latin,” as in Rome, as in Europe. “Hispanic,” when broken down, sounds a little too much like “España,” Spain, in English. Both are terms that were given to the people of places that were colonized by Spain.
So what’s the problem? It’s just a name right? It’s understandable why this movement might be confusing to some, especially to those who are not “Hispanic” or “Latino,” to use the terms ironically. The problem is that these terms were not chosen by the people. They were imposed on us, it was decided for us. They’re blanket terms that were invented to group us all under one common colonized identity. Being indigenous was not favorable to the Spanish colonizers. Mexica was not good enough, Azteca was not good enough, Inca was not good enough. These names were created to erase the names our ancestors had chosen for themselves, to make them forget who they were. This is why many have a problem with those terms.
Now, many may still say, “it’s just a name, who cares?” But it’s not just a name. This is about identity. Identity is important. When the U.S gained independence, the colonists didn’t want to identify as “British,” did they? No. They wanted to disassociate themselves from England, and they did. It’s the same thing. Now, that’s not even a perfect example because most colonists at that time were in fact from England, or had parent who were. Their ancestry was English. The difference here, is that many of my people carried little to no Spanish blood, yet their disassociation was not legitimized. It is just now beginning to be legitimized. So you can understand why many are no longer content with identifying as Hispanic or Latinx. We want our indigenous ancestry legitimized, we want it to be recognized. It’s unfair to have to hide it behind labels that were imposed on us after years of colonization, of imperialism. After years of having ancient practices, architecture, artifacts, and even people killed off and destroyed. Yet the cultures that the Spanish colonizers interfered with somehow managed to survive, you can find thousands of indigenous influences in many cultures today; Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, you name it. The roots are strong. In Mexico alone, there are at least 11 existing indigenous “families,” 68 tribes within those families, and 364 different indigenous languages and dialects among them all. And all Spanish speaking countries speak a different kind of Spanish, with their own indigenous influences, the diversity is incredible. I would go as far as to say that other than the Spanish language itself, and some Spanish genes, which are recessive to indigenous genes, might I add, these countries have held on to more indigenous culture than we often think. Knowing this, how can we deny our Indigenous heritage?
The problem now is, what term do we use to call the entirety of “Latinxs/Hispanics” without using those words? It’s easy if you’re talking about people from a specific country, but what if we are talking about Mexico, and El Salvador and Peru? Many have come to use “indigenous,” as a supplement. Another good one is “Nican Tlaca” a term we have thanks to the Mexica movement, that refers to all of those with indigenous ancestry located in the Western Hemisphere. For those who are Mexican American, we see a reemergence of the Xicanx or Chicanx identity and movement, something that allows Mexican Americans to have an identity that properly reflects who they are, and allows for a sense of community in a place that is not always the kindest to us.
Identity is incredibly important, especially when the roots of an identity are as ancient and rich in culture and history as my people’s. We deserve to acknowledge them. Hispanic and Latinx are terms that are outdated and that we never chose. Love your roots, honor your ancestry, honor the people who endured seeing their culture, their language, their homes being ripped apart and destroyed, only to fight back and keep as much alive as they could.