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What term do people of Latin American heritage living in the U.S. prefer?


There's a never-ending argument that resurfaces in news cycles every once in a while. What term do people of Latin American heritage living in the U.S. prefer? Latinos? Latinx? Hispanic? A nationwide poll of Hispanic voters conducted by a Democratic firm last month found that these terms continue to create strife within the Latino community about which is the right one. To better understand how Latino identity is parsed, we're joined by Isabel Araiza, an associate professor of sociology at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi. Isabel, welcome to the program.

ISABEL ARAIZA: Thank you for having me.

PERALTA: Why do you think these conversations about how Latinos define themselves are still so fraught?

ARAIZA: Well, I think it has to do with the fact that so many individuals want to create or use an umbrella term that is encompassing of a shared experience, and that shared experience doesn't really exist.

PERALTA: So, I mean, look; Latinos are infinitely diverse, and maybe there will never be a term. Do you think that consensus on having a term is even important?

ARAIZA: Personally, I don't think so, and I think that we need to be more comfortable with the diversity. You know, there isn't a historical narrative that people are taught that can help our own groups, much less the broader society, understand who we are and where we come from. But it's more than that, right? It's linguistic and cultural practices. There's generational differences. There's differences in political statuses. And I think it's really important for us to recognize those social, historical, cultural, geographic contexts within which we're living our lives and making choices about things. And, you know, the sooner that we do that, the better it is, I think, for everyone.

PERALTA: Yeah. So, I mean, we should note that the focus of this poll was looking at specifically how people vote depending on what terms a political candidate uses. So there are many different words and identities. You know, how do you think politicians or even us journalists could be more mindful of how they're addressing specific communities?

ARAIZA: Again, this goes back to this idea of homogenizing groups and, you know, treating groups as their one sort of tone. And I think whenever politicians or journalists are trying to speak to a community, I think it's important for them to learn about the social context within which those communities are living their lives because, you know, the issues that we grapple with are different region to region, state to state, you know, community to community. And if they want to connect with us, they have to see us where we're at and not be preoccupied with the labels but, you know, with those social and cultural and economic and political forces that are shaping our lives.

PERALTA: Yeah. And I think one thing that I think is often missed is that Latinos, we are mixed people, right? I mean, we are of mixed race and mixed ethnicities, right?

ARAIZA: Most definitely. I love that term, la raza cosmica.

PERALTA: Mmm hmm. And tell us what that means.

ARAIZA: Well, it's the cosmic race that we're just like a - we're a little bit of everything and everybody. And, you know, and I think that that also speaks to the fact that, you know, we can be inclusive and, you know, you don't have to choose one identity or the other. You know, those multiple identities can exist simultaneously. And, you know, that's a beautiful thing.

PERALTA: That's Isabel Araiza, who coordinates the Mexican-American Studies program at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi. Gracias, Isabel.

ARAIZA: De nada.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.