The term “Hispanic” ignores the complexities of Latin American heritage

This outdated term relies on a history of colonialism to define people

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We can honour Latinx people without mentioning Spain. PHOTO: Alexander Schimmeck / Unsplash

by Michelle Young, Copy Editor

Ah yes, the so-called “Hispanic Heritage Month.” A month made to celebrate the “histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.” Grouping these people and cultures together gives the impression they’re a monolith, when instead they are all richly diverse. The term “Hispanic” doesn’t reflect the distinct histories of Spain and Latin America. 

Merriam-Webster defines “Hispanic” as “of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain.” The word is increasingly being recognized as a poor term as it barely gives any information on individual identities. Somehow, the word manages to mesh together over “62 million people with complex identities,” while also excluding non-Spanish speaking Latinx folks. In an attempt to define all of these people, “Hispanic” erases Indigenous and Afro-Latinx communities who do not speak Spanish, as well as cultural traditions that don’t originate in Spain. It does not include non-Spanish speaking communities — and there are over 400 Indigenous languages used in South America alone. 

As someone with a Latin American background, I don’t understand how it makes any sense to group together the whole of Latin America with Spain. While one could argue Latin America has Spanish influences due to colonization, solely noting Spanish influence is not an accurate way to describe Latin Americans. At least the term “Latinx” indicates someone’s geographic origin and includes Indigenous and Afro-Latinx communities.

“Hispanic” was essentially a careless way to group an extremely diverse set of races and cultures so the US could collect data on its population. Given that “Hispanic” is neither a race or culture, and has language as its only basis, many Latinx folks have never particularly been a fan. It groups us with our colonizers, which is a disservice to those who fought for independence against the Spanish. 

In spirit, Hispanic Heritage month aims to celebrate cultural ties to a variety of places. However, according to author Paul Ortiz, the use of the term “erases all of the centuries of pre-Columbian history, culture and civilizations that existed before the European conquest and colonization of the Americas.” That is to say, Latin America had its own unique histories and cultures before Spain colonized it. These people and their heritage didn’t just disappear, they have remained a part of Latin America, and a month to honor their heritage should reflect that.

“Hispanic Heritage” literally means nothing. There is no unifying “Spanish” heritage. Spanish culture only refers to Spain — which has different cultural customs and celebrations than Latin America. In the case of “Hispanic Heritage Month,” this was obviously made to include more than one country. I love the idea of celebrating Latin American culture, however “Hispanic Heritage Month” has been mushed together with Spain, like no one bothered to tell the difference. 

So, I ask anyone looking to celebrate the month to acknowledge the rich diversity of Latin America and consider the differences in history and culture of its colonizers. Hispanic Heritage Month should have been understood with more nuance before rushing to make a celebration for “Hispanics.” If we are to truly honour Latinx people — we should do just that.