Calderon, J. (1992) "Hispanic" and "Latino": The Viability of Categories for Panethnic Unity

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Several scholars have joined the debate about the viability of a Hispanic or Latino ethnicity that can embrace all the different national identities from people from Latin America (Gimenez, 1989a; Hayes-Bautista and Chapa, 1988; and Padilla, 1985a). Calderon argues that although the groups that are identified as Hispanic and Latino do not have a common collective experience, identity, and socioeconomic status, the emergence of a panethnic unity among Latino groups is a reality and a necessity. However, there is not agreement on the terms to describe the panethnicity due to different class and group interests. Meanwhile the term "Hispanic" seems to be imposed from outside, the term "Latino" has been articulated by grassroots organizations and activists and show the capacity of diverse groups to develop a panethnic unity. Commonalities among groups are found in similar conditions of inequality regardless the heterogeneity of the groups. They can act collectively in response to structural conditions that affect their class and ethnic interests.

Calderon explains that the Chicanos have been an oppressed minority since the Mexican-American war in 1948. He also points out that even before the war, the people from northern Mexico was very heterogenous and developed particular regional identities different to the ones of central Mexico due to isolation. Texas, New Mexico, and California, each had populations with unique identities and characteristics before the US won the war and new Anglo settlers occupy the territories.

As Calderon points out, "In California and Texas the back-and-forth movement and eventual settlement of Mexican immigrants has produced a strong cultural tradition carried over from Mexico." (38)

According to Calderon, the Chicanos of 1s, 2nd, and 3rd generations have retained an ethnic identity, despite the fact they have had a diverse historical experience that can be divide in three:

  • Original inhabitants of the Southwest.
  • Immigrants to the US since 1910
  • Descendants of both groups.


During the 1960s, the term Chicano was claimed by grassroots activist groups as a name better to Spanish-American. Chicano and Mexican-American had militant connotations and recognized the indian heritage of this population. Chicano was used with pride.

Puerto Rican historical experience is different. U.S. took over the island in 1898 and dominated it as a colony for the next 50 years. in 1917, gave American citizenship to the island population. Due to monopoly strategies in the Island, an economic depresion during 1920 and 30s forced its population to immigrate to the US.

Cuba was also won by the US in 1898.During Batista's dictatorship, many cubans came to the US. As well as after the 1969 Revolution. The post-revolution immigration of Cubans (more thatn 600.000, were mostly middle class, well educated, entrepreneural and professional. (Portes and Bach,1985) In 1980, a new wave of Cubans entered the US (124.000) and they were not as privileged as previous waves.


Calderon points out that the use of the term "Hispanics" for categorizing different populations from Latin America is done by the media, the Census Bureau and other governmental agencies, and politicians. He explains that the term "Latino" is preferred for referring to a panethnic unity among the different Latin American groups. This term has been used by grassroots and activists organizations. It was precisely during the 1970s when Chicanos and Puerto Rican groups gained attention, that the label "Latino" was "popularized to symbolize the commonalities in issues and collective action." (39)


According to Calderon, when the term Spanish-American fell into disuse, "the U.S Census Bureau and other government agencies, with the blessings of various Latino politicians, replaced with the term Hispanic."(40)


As Padilla(1985), Calderon recognizes that there are commonalities in the group that can be used to unite for collective action, especially for actions that respond to common structural conditions in education, politics, and economics. According to him, the two groups have a "common language, an awareness of being different from other social groups in the United States, a low standard of living, and a common desire to eliminate inequalities created for the Spanish-speaking by the larger society." (40)


Some scholars have understood ethnic groups as political interest groups, united around common interests and not just around a shared culture (Bentley, 1987). Ethnicity can serve as a basis for organizing political movements around issues that affect particular populations. Emphasis on "issues" is situational specific and facilitates alliances among diverse groups.

The term Hispanics seem to be politically safer and more accepted in mainstream America according to certain populations. However, the term Latino is popular at the grassroot level of neighborhood and political organizations.

Position in regard the production process, being an employer or an employed, education, and other class related factors, determine the way people define their interests and how much importance they give to ethnicity.

Calderon claims that although panethnic unity for collective action is necessary, the development of particular historical identities will continue. Coallitions of oppressed groups are viable around structural inequalities that different groups have in common.