Hiller's use of 'Hispanic'

I should have noted this yesterday, but when rookie Los Angeles Times publisher David Hiller announced a new emphasis on "serving our Hispanic audience" he defied his paper's 25-year preference for the term Latino. Perhaps it betrays his Chicago roots or his newness to the job, though to be fair many of his reporters belong to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Anyway, after the U.S. Census Bureau began using Hispanic based on dubious grounds, the Times in 1981 adopted Latino — though its basis is not much more persuasive. The late Times columnist and editorial writer Frank del Olmo helped make the case then and explained the debate in 2001:

The Los Angeles Times first trod into this linguistic minefield in 1981, when the newspaper’s style guide was undergoing one of its periodic revisions. The style committee’s chairman was a gruff old copy editor who detested government bureaucratese, which doomed the term Hispanic from the start.
He asked me and other Latino staffers, including longtime NAHJ members Frank Sotomayor and George Ramos, to determine what Los Angeles’ many Latino residents called themselves. What we found, in an admittedly unscientific survey, was that most called themselves Mexican Americans, or simply Mexicans, but that a significant number of them also referred to themselves as Chicanos. The catch all term most often used to refer to other Latin Americans, regardless of their country of origin, was Latino. So that was the word the new Times Style Guide decreed was to be used in the newspaper. Hispanic was relegated to use only in direct quotes.

Even the origins of the word Latino are controversial. The term dates to the 18th Century and the colonial rivalry between England and France. Its application to Latin Americans apparently originated in Napoleonic France and was used to differentiate the "Latin” world (France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the many countries of Central America and South America, all of them predominantly Roman Catholic) from the English-speaking and largely Protestant world of Great Britain and its colonies in North America. No one quite knows why the term Latino caught on and today is so widely used by Latin Americans in this country. It could be simply that the word Latino rolls more easily off the tongue of Spanish-speakers than an English word like Hispanic. Maybe if the Census Bureau had used the Spanish word Hispano in 1980, rather than Hispanic, this whole argument would be moot.

But the argument persists, rivaled in intensity only by the generations-long debate among Mexican Americans over the term Chicano...


Another key rule in the L.A. Times Style Guide is that reporters be careful about using any of these terms without first asking a news source what he or she wants to be called. Asking this key question of every Latino, Hispanic or Chicano we report on is a little more work, to be sure. But it is one way to convince all those potential consumers of news that we respect them, and are trying to better understand their diverse cultures and national origins.

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