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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Addy’s Advice: Hispanic Heritage Month


Dear Reader,

Language is hard. Words have complicated meanings, connotations and sometimes they even have horrible histories of oppression. On top of that, the meanings of words are always changing. A word that used to be widely accepted may seem derogatory now, or a word that used to be derogatory may now be widely accepted.

As someone who is a member of many different marginalized groups, I myself have often felt targeted by someone else’s language. However, I’ve also had moments where I didn’t know the right word to say. I’d find myself second-guessing the word I wanted to use, mentally crossing it out and choosing another word, only to decide that one was bad too. Then I’d just stay silent. I’d decide that no words were better than potentially hurtful ones, and then spend hours combing the internet for different opinions on what to say. All this to say, I don’t judge people who don’t know the right words all the time, as long as they’re willing to learn. So, if you’re interested in learning about some vocabulary related to Hispanic Heritage Month, keep reading!

Hispanic or Latino?

Hispanic refers to someone from a Spanish speaking country. Latino refers to someone from Latin America or the Caribbean. So, to put it simply, the term Hispanic centers the Spanish language, and Latino centers location. Here are some specific examples of when only one of the words works. Since the primary language of Brazil is Portuguese, Brazilians are not considered Hispanic, but since Brazil is in South America, Brazilians are Latinos. Conversely, since people in Spain speak Spanish, Spaniards are considered Hispanic but they are not Latinos because Spain is in Europe.

Since there is so much overlap between the two terms, in many cases both are technically appropriate. But, if you are referring to people from Spanish speaking countries, use Hispanic. If you are talking about people from Latin America or the Caribbean, use Latino.

With people, it’s not as simple. It’s important to remember that many people have preferences about which term is used to describe them. Some are uncomfortable with using the term Hispanic because they feel it centers Spain, and Spain colonized many Spanish-speaking countries. Other people dislike the terms because they find them too broad and would rather identify as their ethnicity. For example, someone from the Dominican Republic might prefer to be called Dominican instead of Hispanic or Latino.

If you’re not sure which term to use to describe someone, don’t take a stab in the dark and hope that they won’t be offended. Just ask!

Why Hispanic Heritage Month? Why not Latino Heritage Month?

When the month was first celebrated in 1968, Hispanic was the term the U.S. government used. Hispanic Heritage Month also includes the independence days of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, and Belize: countries all colonized by Spain. The month starts on September 15 in order to include these independence days. While Hispanic isn’t a perfect term, it is the official name of the month, and regardless of the name, it’s a time to celebrate the amazing cultures of the people in our community.

Latino, Latina, Latinx, or Latine?

There are a lot of different terms used to describe Latinos. (Side note: I use Latinos instead of the other options because the Cypress’ standard is to use Latino, not to express an inclination towards or against the term). To explain this, I first have to give some context. Like many languages, Spanish is gendered. Many feminine words end with -a, and many masculine words end with -o. The traditional rule for any group of people that includes men is to use the masculine ending, even if the majority of the group is women.

Latino refers to one man, and Latinos refers to a group that includes at least one man. Latina refers to one woman, and Latinas refers to a group of only women. Latinx and Latine are newer terms that are both used for people who fall outside of the gender binary or simply prefer a gender neutral term. Latinxs or Latines can also be used to acknowledge that a group is not only men.

Since Latinx and Latine are both gender neutral terms, you might be wondering, what’s the difference? Latinx is sometimes criticized by some Latinos for being hard to pronounce in Spanish because of the ‘x’ at the end, but the younger generation tends to be more open to the term. According to CNN, Latine has emerged as a gender neutral alternative that is more consistent with the way Spanish is spoken. There isn’t a right or wrong term, but people often have a preference for one or the other.

We’ve acclimated to asking someone their pronouns, which is a little thing that makes people feel included. Asking people which version of Latino/a/x/e they prefer is another small thing anyone can do to make the world a little more inclusive.

That’s all my advice for now!

Your favorite logophile (lover of words),

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