Reconsidering the labels we give Spanish speakers

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With the arrival of the holiday season, many of us are going to be faced with the questions we try to avoid and are already tired of answering.

For most college students, spending time with extended family means being asked the same questions we’re asked every year by the uncle who lives hours away and the older cousin who tries to be relatable as they struggle to make conversation at the dinner table.

“What are you going to school for?” “What are you studying?” “What can you do with that degree?”

By now, the answers to those questions are etched into our minds since they are so frequently recited, as virtually every family member who is not a college student thinks that’s what we want to talk about.

The conversation that reciprocates from the answers to those questions depends on a lot of factors.

Your field of study is a main one. The content that you are studying yields wildly different responses depending on how politically sensitive it is and where the initiator of the conversation falls on the political spectrum.

Additionally – again, depending on the content – the response could be jaw-dropping, because you cannot fathom the ignorance or insightfulness.

When I think about my own experiences and perspective, I hear the same thing over and over, and I am dreading hearing it again this holiday season.

I am studying Spanish and teaching English as a second language. The constant response that I can never seem to fail to receive is, “That’ll be good because there’s a lot of Mexicans coming here.”

As I mentioned, the response is jaw-dropping, and you have to take a second to step back and process what was just said.

First of all, they were here first. Up until the mid-19th century, a large chunk of present-day Texas and part of California were part of the country of Mexico.

In 1848, the U.S. government acquired what is now Texas, and what was Mexico became U.S. land.

Secondly, if we’re talking about the Spanish-speaking population in the United States, using the term “Mexicans” does not compensate for every immigrant in the States who speaks Spanish.

Contrary to what one may believe, “Mexicans” only refers to people that are from – wait for it – Mexico.

By using one term to account for all Spanish speakers ignores the differing ancestries people have. While it is true that Spain originally colonized most of the areas that speak Spanish today, there are also other adjectives to describe the people from Mexico, Central America and South America.

So, to be politically correct and throw out some education, the term Hispanic refers to people who are from Spain. Latino/a (Latinx is also commonly used) refers to those from Latin America, which is inclusive of Central and South America. Lastly, as mentioned previously, Mexicans references people from Mexico.

I believe that the biggest factor in ignorance is a lack of education. While I understand that not everyone is going to have the knowledge to understand the breakdown of terms used to describe individuals that come to the United States from Spanish-speaking countries, I also think that it can be easily inferred that speaking Spanish does not automatically mean that a person is Mexican.

Open your mind. Take a minute to be aware of the ignorance you may be exhibiting by pulling a large, diverse group of people under one term that constitutes for a fraction of the population that is being discussed.

If nothing else, at least check yourself and use common sense to gauge the validity of the claim you are about to make.