You’ve heard the terms: Latinx, BIPOC, AAPI, POC, MENA, Hispanic, African American. Have you used them to describe yourself? Or to describe other people? There are a lot of different words for racial and ethnic identity in the United States. But the terms that politicians, media and governments use to describe communities of color are often different from the words people use to describe themselves.
Vicki Adame is a Report For America Corps member who covers the Latino community for MPR News. She recently explored how the term “Latinx” misses the mark for many community members. A survey from the Pew Research Center found that only 3 percent of Latinos use the word to describe themselves.
Host Angela Davis spoke with Adame, a political science professor, a Chicano studies professor and a DEI expert about how such terms evolved and what they mean and who does — and doesn’t — use them.
Vicki Adame is MPR News’ Latino community reporter through Report for America.
Jessica Lopez Lyman is an assistant professor in the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies at the University of Minnesota.
Efrén Pérez is a Professor of Political Science and Psychology at UCLA, where he directs its Race, Ethnicity, Politics, and Society experimental lab.
Courtney Schroeder is the Senior Global Diversity and Inclusion Manager at General Mills in Minneapolis.
During the show, guests spoke about the origins and use of several specific identity terms. Read what they said below and listen to the whole conversation by using the audio player above.
Editor’s note: The quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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“We see the popularization of this term, probably in the mid-2000s. It definitely comes from the community. I know that in Vicki (Adame)'s story, the young man I think, was really misinformed thinking that it was outside of our Latina, Latino, Latinx community imposing this term, but we see it coming up from folks that are pushing back against this gender binary of either Latina or Latino. So, we have a lot of queer spaces, activists, artists, academic spaces that are asking us to reconceptualize this term …
The ‘X’ is meant to represent gender neutrality, or to really I think, challenge, this heteronormative patriarchy that understands gender as a binary of either male or female. So, gender nonconforming people, trans community that might see themselves in a more gender fluid way and don't have necessarily a masculine presenting or female presenting way of understanding their gender are really caught when we only use the term such as Latina or Latino. …
It's important to note when we're looking at the history of this term, that the X is what we're currently seeing popularized, but we're also getting new terms. For example, the X is being replaced by a lot of young folks with the ‘E’ because it's easier to pronounce. Before the X, we have the ampersand or the at symbol (@). My point here is just to say that, you know, our language is constantly evolving. And I think community members are always trying to figure out what term best represents who they are.” — Jessica Lopez Lyman
Chicano and Chicana
“Chicano and Chicana was a term championed by individuals of Mexican descent primarily in the American Southwest, Arizona, California, Texas. And it went a step above and beyond just saying, ‘I'm Mexican American,’ by saying, ‘I'm Mexican American, and I champion very racially progressive policies that not only benefit my group, but that in general benefit other minoritized groups in the United States.’
You’ve got to remember that this terminology in its heyday, was basically popping at precisely the same time that, for example, African Americans were having discussions about, ‘are we Black? Are we Black nationalists?’ Right. And so, a lot of this is: what is the appropriate terminology and set of politics to practice on behalf of a community at a certain point in time.” — Efrén Pérez
People of color
“The thing about the evolution of the term ‘people of color’ is that it's actually the combination of terms that were developed by and for African American individuals to refer to themselves and as a way to push back against their stigmatization in society. And this starts really early — turn of the century stuff when we saw the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Martin Luther King Jr. refers in his speech to individuals as citizens of color. And so, it's in the 1960s, in the heyday of the Black Power movement, where a lot of Black activists start connecting the dots between the struggles of Black Americans in the United States with the struggles of a variety of nonwhite people — not only in the U.S., like Chicanos in the southwest but also liberation movements throughout the Third World.
And so, the idea here was to basically say, look, at the end of the day, the particulars are particulars, right? If you look at the forest, there's going to be trees, but as far as the forest is concerned, all these nonwhite individuals are being oppressed in some shape, or form, where white individuals benefit at our expense. Right? That's the narrative. And so, this is where the term gains traction, and it starts evolving to encompass not only Black individuals where the term started, but also non-Black minoritized group.” — Efrén Pérez