The terms Hispanic and Latino are not the first choice amongst people from South America and Spanish-speaking countries when identifying themselves, according to a new Pew Hispanic Center survey, although Boston University students in the Latino community said it depends on who is asking them.
The Pew survey of 1,220 Latinos found that 51 percent identify themselves by their family’s country of origin, while just 24 percent prefer “pan-ethnic” terms such as Hispanic or Latino.
Although the government mandated these terms to categorize people of Spanish-speaking countries, they “still haven’t been fully embraced by the group to which they have been affixed,” according to the survey.
The government’s definition of Hispanic or Latino identification put Latinos in a unique position when formally identifying their background.
Hispanic or Latino is defined as anyone “of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race,” according to a 2010 U.S. Census brief.
But Hispanics or Latinos may be any race because they are treated as an overarching ethnic group.
“Because Hispanics are classified as an ethnic group, but not a race, they can face particular challenges,” according to the survey.
The survey found another 51 percent said they had no preference between the terms Hispanic and Latino, while 33 percent prefer Hispanic and 14 percent prefer Latino.
Some BU students who are descendants of Spanish-speaking countries said if they are around other Latinos, they connect themselves with their family’s country of origin. If they are not around other Latinos, they said they identify as Latinos.
College of Communication sophomore Gina Lopez, who is president of the BU student cultural group Alianza Latina, said if another Latino were to ask her, she would say she is Dominican and Venezuelan.
Lopez said she prefers the term Latino instead of Hispanic because it is more specific regarding who she is.
She has family members with her origin who do not speak Spanish, so they would not consider themselves Hispanic, she said.
“I think when we say Latino it definitely specifies that you’re from a specific place or part of the world, I guess,” Lopez said.
College of Arts and Sciences junior Daniel Lopez, who is half Mexican and president of the Latino fraternity Phi Iota Alpha, said he found the survey results pretty surprising.
“I think it depends more than anything on how the question is asked and who is asking us,” he said.
Since he is half Mexican, Lopez said he never just says he is Mexican.
“Generally when I’m speaking to a group of people if they’re not Latino . . . I’ll generally say that I’m just American or Latino,” he said.
Latinos and Hispanics are in somewhat of an identity crisis, Lopez said, because they are not all from the same country.
College of General Studies sophomore Kelly Carrión, the events coordinator for Alianza Latina, said if she is talking to other Latinos, she will say she is Ecuadorian.
Carrión said she is fine with the term “Latina,” but has noticed people who have just come from other countries identify with their country, while people who have grown up in the U.S. label themselves as Latina.
Carrión’s parents say they are Ecuadorian if someone asked them just because they were born there, she said, but she identifies herself as Latina.
Professor John Stone, who teaches sociology at BU, said the terms Hispanic and Latino have different meanings to different people.
“Latino is regarded as much more as sort of a strongly political term,” Stone said. “Hispanic was more of a traditional way of describing people from Latin America and, of course, from Spain as well. It depends on what you’re emphasizing.”
Stone said the survey depends on what generation of immigrants the researchers were questioning.
About 64 percent of survey participants were foreign-born, according to the survey.
“[While] first-generation immigrants have very strong links or ties to their country of origin, their grandchildren have a totally different experience,” Stone said, “and that’s where the pan-ethnic thing will become more and more important and the original single state origin becomes less and less significant.”
Stone said people have a concept of identity that is “overwhelmingly monolithic,” although in reality it is not.
“We have multiple identities and those identities switch depending on where you are,” Stone said. “You’re in a group of friends that all come from the same part of the world, or you’re in class that is very, very diverse and so on.”