top of page

Exploring Latine Culture-Reducing Disparities Begins with Cultural Sensitivity-The HSB Blog 5/5/23

As we were preparing for this week’s “Our Take”, we had a little internal debate about Cinco De Mayo. Was it a Mexican holiday, or was it a Latino holiday? As we explored this, we came across an article from the Washington Post entitled “Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican holiday. It's an American one” which argued “Cinco de Mayo is a celebration created by and for Latino communities in the United States. And the celebration of Cinco de Mayo is more about U.S. Latino history and culture than Mexican history.” As we read this, we realized there is often a tendency to view and categorize other cultures with monolithic and homogeneous labels that are often inadequate. Doing so can lead to broad generalizations that perpetuate the inequities in health care. Increasing cultural sensitization is a way to begin addressing and reducing those inequities.

If we are to understand ethnic disparities in health care and deliver culturally appropriate and equitable care, we need to understand the nuances and idiosyncrasies of other cultures. Cinco de Mayo seemed a good place to start so we found the article “Ethnic Bias and the Latine Experience” in the American Counseling Association’s magazine, Counseling Today. While we don’t necessarily agree with everything in the article, we found this to be one of the most thorough and broad attempts to understand the Latine culture in the U.S. and as a result, we reprint an excerpt from it here with permission.

Key Takeaways:

  • Only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino had heard of the term Latinx, and only 3% said they use Latinx to describe themselves (Pew Research Center)

  • The U.S. Latine population was 62.1 million in 2020, or 19% of all Americans and is projected to increase to 111.2 million, or 28% of the U.S. population by 2060 (Pew Research Center & UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute).

  • Hispanic is the oldest and most widely used term to describe Spanish-speaking communities. It was created as a “super category” for the 1970 census after of Mexican American and other Hispanic organizations advocated for federal data collection.

  • In 2019, 61.5% of Latines were of Mexican origin or heritage, while 9.7% were if Puerto Rican or of Puerto Rican heritage, and Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, and Hondurans each equaling a million or more in 2019.

Ethnic Bias and the Latine Experience

“She looks Latina.” “He doesn’t look Black.” “They sound Hispanic.” “She doesn’t sound Asian.” “I think they’re mixed.”

Conversations all around us bear witness to the inclination to classify people into groups. This categorization of people is built into the fabric of American life, a fabric not originally intended to cover everyone. Inherent advantages and dominance historically favored white male landowners (with the exception of Jewish or Catholic men).

Like Indigenous and Black communities, people of Hispanic or Latine descent continue to navigate a system not created for them. (In the next section, we explain why we prefer to use the term Latine as a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino.)

The objective of this article is to enhance counselors’ cultural sensitivities when providing services to Latine communities. We will discuss the unique discrimination challenges faced by Latines and provide tips for counselor effectiveness.

A culturally responsive discussion about the mental health effects of ethnic bias on the Latine experience begins with a definition of key terms. The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Dictionary of Psychology defines ethnic as “denoting or referring to a group of people having a shared social, cultural, linguistic, and usually racial background,” and it can sometimes include the religious background of a group of people. The U.S. census has only two ethnic categories: Hispanic (Latino) and non-Hispanic (non-Latino). Ethnic bias is discrimination against individuals based on their ethnic group, often resulting in inequities.

Nomenclature is problematic and ever evolving in the U.S. system of categorizing people into racial and ethnic groups. Every racialized group in the United States has gone through numerous label adjustments from within and outside the group. For example, First Nation people have been called Indian, American Indian, Native American, and Indigenous American. People of African descent have been called Colored, Negro, Black, Afro-American, and African American.

Similarly, the word choices for the collective Hispanic description have also evolved over the years: Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx and Latine. These are pan-ethnic terms representing cultural origins — regardless of race — for people with an ancestral heritage from Latin American countries and territories, who according to the Pew Research Center, prefer to be identified by their ancestral land (e.g., Mexican, Cuban, Ecuadorian) rather than by a collective pan-ethnic label. The history, and the debate, of nomenclature for this collective group set the stage for understanding the ethnicization of a large and diverse population.

Hispanic is the oldest and most widely used term to describe Spanish-speaking communities. According to the Pew Research Center, the term Hispanic was first used after Mexican American and other Hispanic organizations advocated for federal data collection about U.S. residents of Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central and South America, and other Spanish-speaking origins. The U.S. Census Bureau responded by creating the “super category” of Hispanic on the 1970 census.

The term Latino/a gained popularity in the 1990s to represent communities of people who descend from or live in Latin American regions, regardless of their language of origin (excluding people from Spain). This allowed for gender separation, with Latina representing the female gender and Latino representing the male gender or combined male-female groups. The Pew Research Center noted that Latino first appeared on the U.S. census in 2000 alongside Hispanic, and the two terms are now used interchangeably.

While the two terms often overlap, there are exceptions. People from Brazil, French Guiana, Surinam and Guyana, for example, are Latino because these countries are in Latin America, but they are not considered Hispanic because they’re not primarily Spanish-speaking. These regions were colonized by the French, Portuguese, and Italians, so their languages derive from other ancient Latin-based languages instead of Spanish.

Latinx has been used as a more progressive, gender- neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino. Latinx emerged as the preferred term for people who saw gender inclusivity and intersectionality represented through use of the letter “x.” Others, however, note that “x” is a letter forced into languages during colonial conquests, so they reject the imposing use of this colonizing letter.

Interestingly, for the population it is intended to identify, only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino had heard of the term Latinx, according to a Pew survey of U.S. Hispanic adults conducted in December 2019. And only 3% said they use Latinx to describe themselves.

In this article, we use the term Latine, the newest word used by this population. Latine has the letter “e” to represent gender neutrality. We like this term because it comes from within the population rather than being assigned by others, and it is void of the controversial “x” introduced by colonists.

Next, we look at the meaning and impact of ethnicization and ethnic bias toward Latines in the United States. We explore the ways that bias, and discrimination affect the nation’s largest group of minoritized people, and we recommend actionable solutions to enhance counselors’ cultural sensitivities when providing services to Latine communities.

Latines come from more than 20 Latin American countries and several territories, including the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

There are seven countries in Central America: El Salvador, Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The official language in six of these countries is Spanish, with English being the official language of much of the Caribbean coast including Belize (in addition to Indigenous languages spoken throughout the region).

South America has three major territories and 12 countries: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname. The official language in most of these countries is Spanish, followed by Portuguese, although it is estimated that there are over a thousand different tribal languages and dialects spoken in many of these countries.

The Pew Research Center reported that the U.S. Latine population reached 62.1 million in 2020, accounting for 19% of all Americans. In 2019, 61.5% of all Latines indicated they were of Mexican origin, either born in Mexico or with ancestral roots in Mexico. The next largest group, comprising 9.7% of the U.S. Latine population, are either Puerto Rican born or of Puerto Rican heritage. Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians and Hondurans each had a population of a million or more in 2019.

Although there are notable similarities, the Latine population is not an ethnic monolith. Latine cultures are diverse, with different foods, folklore, Spanish dialect, religious nuances, rituals and cultural celebrations. Despite the varying cultural experiences, many of the issues facing Latine communities remain the same.

Copyright Counseling Today, October 2022, American Counseling Association


Search By Tags
Recent Posts
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Social Icon
bottom of page