As Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off, Latinos grapple with the decadeslong debate on whether or not the pan-ethnic terms that exist to identify their communities truly represent their lived experiences.
The term Hispanic first emerged in the 1960s when Puerto Rican civil rights groups and others such as the National Council of La Raza, now called UnidosUS, advocated for a way to count people who could trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, the Caribbean or Spain in order to identify specific needs and fight for policies that could improve their livelihoods.
But the federal government officially adopted the term Hispanic as a descriptor for this population in the 1970s under President Richard Nixon. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Week, and it was later extended to Hispanic Heritage Month during President Ronald Reagan’s term in 1988. Throughout the following decade, other terms such as Latino and Latinx emerged, with Latino being included alongside Hispanic in the 2000 census count.
Hispanic Heritage Month is often peppered with debates around what terms Latinos should use to identify themselves. But the Pew Research Center found that when asked if they have a preference between Hispanic and Latino or no preference, "half of the adults in this population said they have no preference for either term," according to Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at the Pew Research Center.
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