Unfortunately in the media, there have been many generalizations and stereotypes that have shaped the ways in which we have defined the Latino population in the United States. These ideas are problematic because they often spread inaccurate and potentially harmful information. It’s important to break down these misunderstanding to create greater clarity to better account for very real bias and broad generalizations that are hurting Latino communities in the US. Let’s get the record straight on some of the common myths about Latinos that appear pervasive within the United States.
MYTH 1: Latino and Hispanic are interchangeable terms.
Many people have come to believe that the terms Latino and Hispanic are interchangeable, however this is simply not the case. Here are the summarized basics:
Latino is a term that relates to geography.
Hispanic is a term that relates to language.
In general, Latino refers to where a person is from. Specifically, Latinos are from Latin America (basically all lands directly below the United States, including the Caribbean). Hispanic, on the other hand, refers specifically to the primary language spoken in a person’s home country. To be defined as Hispanic, the primary language spoken in a home country must be Spanish.. To learn more check out this comic written by Terry Blas further outlining the differences.
MYTH 2: All Latinos speak Spanish.
As we’ve stated above, just because an individual is Latino does not mean that they speak Spanish. A person can be Latino and Hispanic, however a person does not need to speak Spanish to be considered Latino.
Many Latinos come from countries where Spanish is not the primary language. For example, people who come from Brazil might not consider themselves to be Hispanic because their home country primarily speaks Portuguese. On the other hand, people from Mexico may consider themselves to be both Hispanic and Latino because the primary language spoken in Mexico is Spanish.
MYTH 3: All Latinos are undocumented in the United States.
The Latino population in the United States was 57.5 million as of July 1, 2016, making Latinos the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. They constitute 17.8 percent of the nation’s total population and the majority of them are documented individuals in the United States.
Undocumented immigrants come from all over the world. While Mexico and Central America do account for the highest numbers of undocumented immigrants in the US as of 2010-14 (about 7.9 million people in total and 71 % of the overall unauthorized population), about 1.5 million (13 %) were from Asia; 673,000 (6%) from South America; 432,000 (4%) from Europe, Canada, or Oceania; 353,000 (3%) from Africa; and 232,000 (2 %) from the Caribbean according to the Migration Policy Institute.
MYTH 4: All immigrants are Latino (and specifically Mexican).
Immigration is something that has become widely associated with the Latino (specifically Mexican) population. Today in the United States, more than 40 million people are considered immigrants.
While the largest portion of immigrants are from Mexico, immigrants come from all over the world including China, India, the Philippines, El Salvador and more. Assuming that all immigrants are only from Mexican is simply inaccurate.
MYTH 5: Latinos all look the same.
Latinos, as discussed above, can be from a large variety of countries, allowing for a large diversity in appearance, language and culture. The reality is that Latinos have a variety of different skin tones, hair colors, and overall appearances--just like people who aren’t considered Latino. Stating that all Latino people look the same is problematic and denies the diversity within the Latino population. In 2014, the hashtag #WhatLatinoMeansToMe went viral, showcasing how a variety of Latino people identify their culture and themselves.
Making broad generalizations about any group of people refuses to acknowledge the diversity and difference that shapes a person. Attempts to lump together groups of people to one category are lazy, harmful and deny the diversity that makes each individual unique and special.
Learn more about working with diverse communities and ways to have stronger cultural awareness by checking out resources and training provided by MCS Chicago.
Contributing Writer: Brittany A. Hamilton
Photo Credit: Alice Donovan Rouse @ alicekat