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I’m not Latina, I’m Hispanic —& there’s a major reason why that matters

On the outside, I don’t look like a foreigner.

I am fair. I am European.

Therefore, I should naturally understand “traditional American” things right? You know, burgers, the 4th of July, the Christian family with the white picket fence. All those things that are “culturally American” that you see in the movies.

Well, I don’t. They are foreign to me.

However, there is a community within the States that doesn’t feel foreign to me, despite it not being created by people from my own country: the Latinx one.

I speak Spanish and share most of the customs and traditions of the Latinx community: the emphasis on food, the huge families, the extroverted personalities, even the heroes and icons.

We all admire García Márquez, Cortázar, and García Lorca. We dance to Shakira, Rosalía, and Enrique Iglesias. We celebrate these people that have done wonders for the Spanish language independently of their national origin.

However, when I fill out a diversity form in the United States, I always have to stop and think.

Most likely, there is a “white” category, and a “Hispanic/Latinx” one.

What am I supposed to say? Ultimately, even though I am white and Spanish, I cannot call myself a “Latinx”, because I know that this term does not match my experience.

I share a lot of things with Latinx people, yet I am also a foreigner there. Let me explain why.

I prefer to call myself ‘Hispanic’ rather than ‘Latina’.

“Latinx” is a term used to refer people with a Latin American origin that live in the United States. In turn, “Latin America” encompasses generally all of the American territories except for the U.S. and Canada.

The term was coined in the 1860s when Napoleon III was trying to exert control over the region. The use of this word served to create a connection between the region and France, by making a reference to the fact that their languages share a Latin origin.

Yes, Spanish, Portuguese, and French all come from Latin.

But, while European nations can trace their languages through a slow evolution from its Roman predecessor that took hundreds of years, Latin American nations can date to the day the moment that their countries started to speak Spanish. or Portuguese.

Why? Because it wasn’t a gradual process, it was a forceful imposition.

The term “Latino/a”, is tied to two colonisations: the one by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century, and the 19th-century attempt of Napoleon III to repeat it. Since then, the term has been reclaimed and shifted into “Latinx” to avoid the gender aspect.

When they hear it, people think of reggaeton, not Napoleon III. However, as much as I like the comradery that it now fosters, it’s not a term for me to reclaim.

Although I could technically be classified as “Latina”, using the historical definition, I usually prefer to identify as “Hispanic”.

This is because of several things, but mainly the color of my skin, and the ocean that separates colonizers from colonialized countries.

After all, I am white, I look white, and I have never faced hate or difficulties because of my race. I have a European passport, which makes it very easy for me to immigrate. I come from a country that enslaved and mistreated a whole continent.

I am privileged, and I am aware of it.

I am privileged, and I am aware of it.

The reason why Latin American people and Spaniards have such similar culture is that, at one moment in time, there was a distinctive attempt to make it the same.

Violence was even used to make sure that it was so.

Latin America is largely Catholic because indigenous people were forcibly converted by colonizers. Our common Christmas traditions and holidays are tied to this religion. Latin America speaks Spanish because that’s the language that conquistadores imposed on the land, and the one they made laws and business in.

Our similarities are not a coincidence. They are a direct consequence of historical actions.

Calling myself “Latinx” would be an attempt to erase that history and the painful reasons why we share language and traditions.

Moreover, our cultures sport their differences.

A big part of Latin American identity is mestizaje, the mix between Spanish and indigenous cultures such as the Aztec, the Mayan, and the Inca cultures.  That is a beautiful and valuable heritage that I do not feel comfortable claiming, because I don’t share it.

Calling myself “Latina” would undermine the importance of this indigenous heritage, as well as the experience of the conquest, and the terrible historical consequences that it had. I cannot avoid the many deaths and abuses that Latin American populations suffered as a result of my country’s desire for riches.

Moreover, using this word to identify myself would also undermine the privilege I have because of my race.

I have never faced the stereotypes regarding my income, my immigration status, or my involvement in criminal activities that often accompany Latinx people living in the States.

It would be foolish of me not to admit that Latinx people do face discrimination even here in Spain.

They’re often seen as foreigners and treated as ‘less than’  because of their accent or skin-color. I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth.

However, when we are all far from home, in a non-Speaking country, the situation changes. We cling to what we recognize as similar and celebrate the customs that we share, like a common language.

In the U.S., the Latinx community makes me feel at home.

In comparison to English or American culture, the Latinx one is much more similar to my own. I never claim to be a part of it, but it makes me feel at home.

The term “Hispanic” comes from “Hispania” which is the old word for Spain. It, therefore, refers to people that come from Spain or that speak Spanish.

This word makes me much for comfortable because it stresses my language and my culture, rather than my ethnicity.

Saying that I am “Hispanic” is not an attempt to pretend to be better than the Latinx community. I use it as a form of respect, and as a way of celebrating our shared cultures while also acknowledging our different experiences, and the painful history that explains why we share a language.

I want to be respectful of the experience of Latinx people while also celebrating our similarities and connecting with a community that I feel very close to.

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By Beatriz Valero de Urquía

Beatriz Valero de Urquia is the Senior Pop Culture and Books Editor at The Tempest. She graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2020 and has written for publications such as Teen Vogue, El Huffington Post, Digital Bulletin and Tech for Good. Beatriz spends her time between Spain and the UK reading, writing and listening to Taylor Swift.