Hispanic, Latino—what’s the right word? An examination of the language used to categorize people
A lesson plan based on the Latino heritage articles in the September-October 2003 issue of L.A. Youth.
By Libby Hartigan, Managing Editor
Subjects: Language arts, social studies
Overview of lesson plan: In this lesson, students analyze racial labels and where they come from.
Suggested time allowance: 45 min.-1 hr.
1. Define “Hispanic” and “Latino.”
2. Analyze where these terms come from.
3. Develop an awareness of racial labels.
Resources and materials:
– pens, paper
– copies of L.A. Youth Latino heritage articles (one per student)
1. WARM-UP: What should you call a Mexican-American student? In a discussion with students, the words “Hispanic,” “Latino,” “Mexican-American,” “Ameri-can,” “Mexican,” and “Chicano” may be used. Write the students’ ideas on the board.
What do these words mean?
Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish or have the heritage of people from Spain.
Latino refers to someone from the geographical area of Latin America, which includes countries in Central America, North America, South America and the West Indies where Spanish, Portuguese and French are spoken; excluding the United States, Canada and the British possessions.
Chicano is a phonetic misspelling of méjicano (Mexican), implying a U.S. citizen or resident of Mexican descent.
Because the ideas are linked, people often confuse nationality, race and ethnicity. Nationality is the nation to which one belongs by birth or naturalization. Race and ethnicity are classifications that designate basic groups of mankind distinguished by customs, characteristics, language or other common traits. Race and ethnicity are variable concepts often rooted in historical context and varying from one society to another.
What is the difference between these words and racial slurs? Is it still possible to offend someone by using these words, even though they’re not considered racial slurs? If so, why? (One answer is that people define themselves differently. Even if someone is from Mexico, if they live here they may prefer to be called “American,” for example.)
2. Reading and analysis. Ask the students to look over two articles in the September-October 2003 issue of LA Youth—Valentina on page 10 and Chris on page 12. Ask the students to make a list for each writer. Which of the labels would accurately describe this writer?
VALENTINA: “Hispanic,” “Latino,” “Mexican-American,” “American,” “Mexican,” and “Chicano”
CHRIS: Honduras, “Hispanic,” “Latino,” “Honduran-American,” “American,” “Honduran”
For each of these writers, many labels seem to apply. Why? Does it seem confusing, inaccurate or annoying that there are so many words for the same thing?
Based on reading their stories, which labels do they seem to prefer? Which particular part of the text supports their argument?
VALENTINA: She wants her Mexican roots to be acknowledged, but having been born in the U.S., she also considers herself to be American. She wrote, “I was very happy when my mom got me dual citizenship this year—I’m legally Mexican and American.”
CHRIS: He doesn’t like it when people assume he’s Mexican, and wants his Honduran heritage to be recognized. But he also sees himself as Hispanic. He wrote, “Mexicans are Hispanic too, and being Hispanic, we should all be united.”
All of us are labeled in categories, whether it’s by a classmate or colleague, a neighbor, or even filling out a school registration form. Yet often when they are asked, students can’t decide what label they prefer. Do they have to choose a label for themselves? Why are labels important in our society? How do students feel about being labeled? Is it better or more accurate sometimes to have several labels?
Using the prompt, “I am…” Ask students to do a three-minute writing about the different words that they have heard used to describe their own ethnicity. Which label or labels do students most prefer?
Using the prompt, “My parents are…” Ask students to do a three-minute writing about the different words that they have heard used to describe their parents’ ethnicity. Which label or labels do parents most prefer?
Sometimes parents prefer different terms than their children do. What kinds of differences or similarities do students notice about their own and their parents’ preferences?
Evaluation and assessment:
Students will be evaluated based upon their class participation and work.
Have students research the history of the ethnic labels Caucasian, Negroid and Mongoloid. When were these words first used and why? What connotations do they have?