Does the term ‘Latino’ mean anything?

It is really sad and shameful to hear, or read that people who should know better – especially in the media – still insist on using the term “Latino” when referring to Latin Americans. This term is not only culturally inappropriate, but it also has the ugly undertones of a racist profiling of people.

The term “Latino” does not mean anything. I have written a post here some time ago, in which I list some reasons explaining why people, in particular journalists and broadcasters should stop using this term.

Whether we like or not the real name for the people from any country of Latin America is simply: LATIN AMERICANS.

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About L. A. Pinel

I'm the founder and Director of Tres Culturas Spanish Language Studio, a specialist Spanish language school in Melbourne, Australia. As a teacher of Spanish I view the study of issues about the nature of the Spanish language in particular and of applied linguistics in general with great passion. I’m also an avid language learner, my other languages are Italian, Portuguese and French; at the moment I'm studying Latin and Mandarin Chinese.

Posted on July 30, 2010, in Culture, Education, etymology, Language, Spanish. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. New words are created or adopted in languages all of the time. The fact that the term “Latino” is so widespread in American English discourse alone makes it a valid word, with a pretty valid meaning, too. Many people who are described as “Latino” use the word to describe themselves, as well, so I don’t understand how it is inappropriate or offensive.

    Furthermore, by using the term “American continent” in your previous entry, you yourself are promoting a common misunderstanding of the English language. From the perspective of English speakers, the region you are describing comprises two continents – North America and South America. I’ve often heard people whose first language is Spanish accuse English-speaking citizens of the United States of being ethnocentric or even imperialistic by calling themselves “Americans” or their country alone “America”. This is a misunderstanding that assumes the cognate for the Spanish word “America” is also “America” in English, which it isn’t – the English term is “the Americas”. The terms “America” and “American” as they are used in the United States and even many other English-speaking and non-English-speaking countries is not an attempt to make the United States seem more important than the rest of “the Americas” – It stems from the fact that “American” and “America” by themselves have no other meaning in English outside of the context of the United States of America. If someone used the term “Americano” in Spanish with a US-centric meaning, that would be a misunderstanding on their part, but “American” and “America” as they are commonly used in English is culturally appropriate.

    • “From the perspective of English speakers, the region you are describing comprises two continents – North America and South America.”

      Just to point out that there is a part of the Americas called CENTRAL AMERICA

      And also, just because people from the English speaking perspective imagine there is such thing as North America and South America only (I assume you are placing Mexico in South America) it doesn’t mean it will be like that and all the rest of the world have to accept that.

      I do agree with your opinion about the word “latino” – it does exist and have a meaning and a particular connotation from what I understand

  2. Language terms are usually imposed or adopted. The usage of imposed or adopted terms does not automatically confer legitimacy or appropriateness to them. I have written in an earlier post that the terms Latino/Latinos as used in English by some sections of the public and the media, have been used without a careful thought about the linguistic, social and cultural implications deriving from their indiscriminate usage.

    There may be many ways of interpreting my views on this language issue. However, in my opinion what remains clear is that these terms although completely appropriate when used in Spanish, are not linguistically or socially appropriate for usage in English. It is true that there are many Spanish speakers from Latin America who like to refer to themselves as ‘latinos’ (short form of latinoamericanos/as) when speaking or writing in Spanish or English. Although these speakers may not be aware of the sociolinguistic implications of generalizing the terms usage in English; moreover, I always wonder if journalists, bloggers, or the public in general, ever think about these implications when they decide to use these words.

    I’m not trying to offer here – or in my posts on this subject – an academic paper, thus I won’t attempt to do any in depth research on this issue here. But I like to add that the terms Latino/Latinos as applied to people may sound very subtle and be defended as ‘normal’, ‘inoffensive’ or ‘appropriate’. But they are not.

    As the words latino/latinos are part of the Spanish language lexicon as well as being generally recognized in Spanish as abbreviations for latinoamericano or latinoamericanos, they can be considered as legitimate and appropriate when used in a Spanish speaking setting or when used endearingly by Spanish speakers in most situations. However, in English to avoid cultural stereotype and to respect linguistic sensitivities, the terms Latin American or Latin Americans must be used when referring collectively to the people from Latin America.

    The terms Latino/Latinos deny the right of people of being recognized as Americans (i.e., Americans from Latin America). This is why they are inappropriate culturally, socially and linguistically.

  3. Thank you very much Luis, it is so important that non-native spanish speakers learn and comprehend that it is not always ok to apply terms to other cultural backgrounds.
    I have felt quite disturbed when on a number of occassions I was asked if I am ‘latino’. To me it sounds like they are attempting to say a word in spanish without knowing the real meaning or gender of the word.

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