Where did ‘Latinx’ or ‘Hispanic’ come from?

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By Val Reynoso

Latinx/Hispanic are terms of European origin that were then brought to the Americas through imperialist conquests and enforced on non-white populations by colonial means. The denomination Latin was created in Europe in the early 19th Century given the increase of romantic nationalism and racism which prompted Europeans to identify their countries with the languages they spoke.

The concept of a Latin race initially referred to nations where Romance languages (Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, French, Italian, etc) originated or were spoken and where the populations were predominately Catholic. The nations and regions that would become known as Latin Europe are Portugal, Spain, Basque Country, Galicia, Catalunya, France and Italy, respectively.

Latin was spread as a label by French intellectuals in the 1830s in reference to those residing in former Iberian colonies in the Americas (Gobat, Michel). This was in part to legitimize French colonial aspirations in the region by persuading people from these regions that they are all members of the Latin race, regardless of whether or not they were European, and that they therefore had proximity to the French as well as a duty to combat US and British expansion in Latin America.

In the years of tensions between the US and pre-Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo Mexico, Anglo-Saxons became the standard of whiteness in the US, and non-Anglo Europeans such as the Irish, Italians, and Spaniards were not racialized as white in the US at the time. Criollo elites affiliated the Hispanic race as those in the Americas who shared Iberian culture regardless of race, and Hispano-América was built against former Portuguese colony Brazil (Gobat).

Hispanic refers to cultures and people from Spain as well as people from former Spanish colonies who are identified as having a Spanish culture due to colonialism. Despite this, the cultures of Spanish-speaking Latin Americans are rather a blend of primarily Iberian, Amerindian, and African influences-as well as some Arab influence due to Moorish conquests of Spain during the 13th to 14th Centuries and establishment of Al-Andalus and the Umayaad Caliphate in the Iberian peninsula, stretching through North Africa and the Middle East.

Likewise, not all people in what is now known as Latin America identify as having an Hispanic culture, such as Natives, who the colonizers would refer to as gente sin razón due to their continuation of their tribal affiliation and pre-colonial cultures with little Iberian influence, as well as Afro-descendants, such as many Afro-Colombians in regions like Choco, Colombia, who have primarily afro-centric cultures.

Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.

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