Ethnic Labels Not Embraced by Latino Community, Study Finds

Over half of respondents say they prefer to say where their family came from

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    A majority of Americans with origins in Spanish-speaking countries do not embrace terms such as "Latino" or "Hispanic" in describing themselves, a new Pew survey found.

    More than half of the Pew Hispanic Center's respondents say they prefer to just say which country their family is from.

    About 40 years ago, the U.S. government mandated the use of the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino" to categorize Americans with roots in Spanish-speaking countries for census data.

    These terms may be more divisive than helpful though, said SDSU Chicano and Chicana Studies Professor Isidro Ortiz.

    "Many Latinos have been living in a country where they are often still not imagined as part of the American community," Ortiz said. "Linking someone's identity to their country of origin recognizes the diversity of the population."

    They also conceal more than they reveal, added SDSU Professor Roberto Hernández.

    "Growing up Mexican is very different than say growing up Puerto Rican, Colombian or Chilean for that matter; thus the need to account for the diversity within such labels," Hernández said.

    Another finding in the study was that Latinos are split on whether they see themselves as a "typical American." Less than half -- 47 percent -- say they are a typical American. The same percentage say their experience is very different. Nearly 70 percent say Hispanics in the U.S. have many different cultures. The rest say the culture is shared.

    Knowing the right term to use in identifying someone with Spanish-speaking origins may be difficult to navigate in everyday conversation -- however, identification all come down to respect, Ortiz said.

    "It's a matter of respecting the population and acknowledging diversity," Ortiz said. "Even among Americans we have distinctions."

    The survey's findings, though not surprising, are still a good reminder of the proverbial melting pot, he added.

    "We need to acknowledge that we can be Latino and yet still be profoundly American. It doesn't have to be one of the other."

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