There is a difference between using the terms Spanish, Hispanic and Latino.
Spanish is a language derived from Spain. “Spanish people” refers to people who are from Spain, just as English people are from England, and German people are from Germany. Hispanic refers to people who come from a Spanish-language background, while Latino is typically used to identify people who are from Latin America regardless of what language is spoken. In other words, you can be Hispanic and not be Latino, you can be Latino and not be Hispanic, you can even be Hispanic and not Spanish or you can be a combination of Hispanic and Latino if you choose to identify that way.
As most of us know Spaniards colonized most of Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean islands. In the Caribbean specifically they initially took ownership of the Natives that were already there, then eventually brought over Africans (as part of the slave trade). Unlike the British colonies, interracial mixing was not taboo. Most of the British colonial people came over as families (which is why they rarely intermixed), alternatively most of the Spaniards in the Caribbean were men, some decided to take Native or African wives. That’s how a good number of Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans became so mixed. Below you can see a diagram of how mixed people were categorized based on who their parents were.
That being said. we must debunk the myth that “Latino/Hispanic” people are a mix of the 3 races. Yes, there are a good number of Latinos that can claim a significant mixture, but there is also a significant portion that can not make that claim. There are “Hispanic/Latino” people who have mostly (if not all) European ancestry, there are “Hispanic/Latino” people who have mostly African ancestry, and then there are also Latinos who are just a mix of 2 of the 3 races (i.e. European/Native, African/Native, European/African). So, as a whole, yes, we are a mixed people but, individually there are levels to the mixing.
The terms “Latino/Hispanic” can also be controversial to some. Contrary to popular belief, Latino/Hispanic is not a race. Latino is a term that was made up to identify people from Latin American countries regardless of how vastly different those countries/cultures could be. For instance, a Latino from the Caribbean is very different from a Latino from Chile. Latin America is so vast that a common mixture of people in one country will not reflect on countries that are barely mixed at all. Since Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba are in the West Indies, their culture is more similar to other West Indian countries such as Jamaica, Haiti, and the Bahamas, as opposed to South American countries like Argentina or Uruguay. The food may go by different names, but they are closely related.
How do you identify? Claiming African ancestry but not claiming Black
This is so odd. Afro-Latinos such as Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans like to say they are not black, they are Latino. Ok, yes you are Latino, but to society you will be seen and treated as a black man or woman. As an example, no racist cop is going to say “oh let’s let him go because he is Dominican not black.” The world sees you as a black man or woman. Your African DNA is clearly stronger my friend, own it.
Latino culture is heavily influenced by African culture. Whether its the spices we use in our food, the drums we use in our music, the way we dance, you can clearly see the influence. Unlike in the US, where slave masters attempted to erase every aspect of African culture from their slaves, African culture was able to survive in Latin America. The conga drums, vejigante masks, santeria, capoeira are all examples of African culture enduring. Lets not forget that the majority of African slaves that were brought over to the “new world” were actually brought over to Latin America, not the US.
If you hear the lyrics of some Salsa songs, you will hear a good number of references to their African ancestry. You would also hear many nicknames and terms of endearment such as negro, negra, moyo, and moya which references skin color. However, with that being said a lot of Latinos would claim their African ancestry but not consider themselves as being black in America no matter how dark their skin color is. I believe this is the result of two mindsets: 1. Not wanting to overlook their nationality (National pride is very important to a Latino) and 2. Not wanting to be associated with the history of how black people are treated in America. They may believe if they claim to be different, they would be treated better, which we know will not happen.
An example of this is Roberto Clemente, a hall of fame Afro Puerto Rican baseball player.. He played from 1955–1972 and was not allowed to eat and sleep at the same hotels or restaurants where his white teammates went to. When traveling Clemente had to stay at houses of people he did not know. Clemente said that his experiences as a Latino baseball player was that of a prisoner. He also said that “I want the world to accept me for who I am, I am a baseball player who should be treated fairly”, but this was not the case because Americans saw him as black.
Latinos CAN BE racist
Unlike dark skin Latinos not identifying as black, there are some light skin Latinos who have no problem with identifying as white. They may do this because they see an easier path in life for themselves if they assimilate with white people. They want to be accepted by white people because they are insecure about themselves. They also tend to overcompensate to ensure they are accepted and will show very racist tendencies.
Racist Latino’s can despise Latinos that show pride in their culture. They will advocate that their European side is stronger or that they are not mixed with anything at all. They will also do whatever they can do to blend in. The only time they will use their Latinidad is as an excuse to be racist. They say things like “I cannot be racist I am Latino.” That is very ignorant and inaccurate. Just because you’re Latino does not mean you cannot be biased and racist. If you are benefiting from being white passing and using that to discriminate against oppressed people, you are racist.
Colorism in Latin America
Even as I stated that Latin American culture is heavily influenced by African culture, that doesn't mean that discrimination in Latin America does not exist. Just as in the US, having more European features can be desired. Lighter skinned Latinos may use the saying “protea la raza” (which means protect the race), and will encourage them to take a lighter partner. Or a darker skinned Latino would use the saying “mejor la raza” (which means better the race), which would also cause them to take a lighter skinned partner. These statements are mainly used to ensure that any babies are of a lighter complexion and are in turn ‘better looking”.
This bias is circulated by Latino television networks. In most Latino novellas (soap operas), shows, news channels, movies, etc., you will mainly see lighter skinned Latinos. If you do see a darker skinned Latino, they will mainly be playing the help or a criminal. Most world leaders in Latin American countries would also be of a lighter complexion even if the majority of the countries they represent are darker.
I identify as a Latina of color, and I claim my indigenous, Taino and Africana roots. If you take the time to look at yourself in the mirror you will see characteristics that are not “fine or slim like Europeans.” A person with lighter completion may have curly hair and a curvy body. Those traits come from African descent. Be more open minded to who you are. I know I have Italian and Albanian ancestry, and not by just my appearance, but because my DNA is comprised of stronger European decent. This fact does not mean that I will go around saying I’m white. Growing up my family called me negra or negrita, a term of endearment because I was more tan than my family. Our ancestors migrated from various parts of the world, to know your history is to know who you are. These teachings are not only important for you, but very important to teach to your children.