There is no shortage of labels used to identify members of the population that share a Spanish language heritage and/or whose ancestry is from one or more Spanish-speaking or Latin American countries. These many labels include but are not limited to “Chicana/os,” “Mexican Americans,” “Latina/os,” Hispanics, “la raza,” and “Latin Americans,” and even more regional labels such as “Tejano,” “Nuevomexicano,” “Hispano,” and “Californio.” These many labels attest to the inherent heterogeneity and diversity of a community that shares no monolithic identity and represents a broad spectrum of backgrounds and beliefs across lines of race, class, culture, region, citizenship, religion, and ideology.
Hispanic and Latina/o
Often media, government, and the larger community use the terms Hispanic and Latina/o interchangeably to refer to the Spanish-speaking or Latin American–origin population in the United States. These generic labels, however, can be viewed as problematic in their lack of acknowledgment of unique cultural differences. The term Hispanic was developed by the federal government in the 1970s in order to broadly categorize peoples with Spanish-language heritage, including Iberians. Some argue that that this identifier, with its emphasis on Spain, is too closely associated with Spanish colonization and overlooks the Indian and African ancestries of many of the people it is meant to describe.
As an alternative, the term Latina/o generally refers to all persons with Latin American origins or descended from Latin Americans, including Brazil. This would not include individuals with Spanish national origins living outside the Western Hemisphere. Although using umbrella terms like Hispanic and Latina/o can be advantageous in acknowledging common experiences among Spanish-speaking or Latin American–origin people in the United States, as well as facilitating access to government resources, individuals from these populations often favor being referred to by their country of origin or by a more specific regional identifier in the United States.
This is often the case in Colorado, where people of Mexican ancestry have occupied the land since the seventeenth century. Early members of communities in what was northern New Mexico and is now southern Colorado were subjects first of Spain and later of Mexico, after it gained independence in 1821. After the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded more than a third of Mexico’s territory to the United States, including all or parts of Colorado, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. The treaty guaranteed—in word, if not in deed—full citizenship rights as American citizens to those Mexicans who remained in this ceded land.
Thus, many with multigenerational histories in what is now Colorado did not cross a border but had a border cross them. Historically, they referred to themselves as Hispanos. This regional identifier is commonplace and holds resonance even today. Historians typically attribute the origin of the term to those early descendants in southern Colorado and New Mexico who used Hispano and Spanish American to differentiate individuals and families who claimed they had “pure” Spanish ancestry from those with more mixed, or mestizo, backgrounds, including newer Mexican immigrants and indigenous and black peoples. Present-day scholars, however, typically recognize Hispano culture and identity as more of a reflection of racial and cultural hybridity, particularly the mixing of Spanish colonial and indigenous cultures in southern Colorado.
Usage of the term Chicana/o is no less ambiguous. Some use the term to refer to individuals of Mexican descent born in the United States. But in most cases, Chicana/o is used to refer to the time frame of the 1960s and 1970s civil rights movement, specifically in reference to the cultural and political proclamations of the Chicano movement and others who claimed pride in their indigenous Mexican ancestry. Those who adopted the label wished to highlight a political and social consciousness that rejected historical claims to whiteness and instead demanded recognition of indigenous origins and influences in the creation of a distinct brown identity. As such, they distinguished themselves from earlier generations of Mexican Americans—another label applied to American-born people of Mexican descent—who were thought to be assimilationist in perspective. The eventual recognition and adoption of more inclusionary language, including use of the terms Chicana/o and Latina/o as a way to signify representation of both men’s and women’s experiences, emerged out of this larger movement.
Keeping in mind the varied and imprecise nature of labels and categories pertinent to the Spanish-speaking or Latin American–origin population in the United States, the Colorado Encyclopedia strives not only to refer to individuals and groups in ways that they wish to be ethnically identified but to provide the background necessary to understand the contested nature of labels that carry different meanings, depending on the historical context. In this encyclopedia, you will notice that the term Latino is used as an umbrella category to represent people of mixed ethnicities—including Spanish, indigenous, African, and Asian heritage—who share some commonalities, which can include ancestors who speak Spanish and/or common histories as populations living with legacies of Spanish and US imperialism. The term Latina/os is used to include men and women of Latino descent, while Latina is used when speaking specifically of women.
Of course, given that lumping together millions of people into a single ethnic category makes no allowances for varied racial, class, linguistic, and gender experiences or unique places of origin, customs, and histories, authors in this volume will take care to provide such details when speaking of specific individuals and their communities.