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The Globe and Mail

'Hispanic' Tag Still Evokes Animosity


March 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

Navigating cultural sensitivities in a new market is always a chore and, in the United States, one of the potential pitfalls is the debate about how to refer to the Latino population.

Just as the politically correct term is now "African American" as opposed to "black American," there are those in the Latino community who reject the tag "Hispanic."

Some activists see it as a vestige of colonial domination, first by the Spanish and more recently by the United States itself.

Most researchers and commentators use Latino and Hispanic interchangeably, while the U.S. Census Bureau sticks to "Hispanic," a designation it adopted in 1980 to replace the clearly inappropriate "Spanish origin."

Sonya Tafoya, a senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based research group, said there is absolutely no consensus among Latinos themselves on the preferable label.

"For some people, ‘Hispanic' has the connotation of Spanish conquest or Spanish dominance and so, politically, they don't like the term," Ms. Tafoya said.

"It was also used by the federal government to lump people together."

Any label for such a diverse population is bound to be troublesome. Hispanics in the United States come from all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, predominantly Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

They also come from different races: white, black, native American and various mixtures of all of the above.

In a research note on banking in the Latino community, analyst Virginia Heyburn Garcia of Tower Group Inc. said it is "absolutely critical" that financial institutions realize that Hispanics themselves prefer to be recognized by their country of origin and not in a collective grouping.

The problem, of course, is in marketing broadly to such a diverse group.

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