Hispanics and Identity

The Pew Research Center has just released a study based on a nationally representative sample of 1,220 Hispanic/Latino respondents ages 18 and older. You can read the summary (“When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity“) or look at the full report.  There are a lot of interesting issues floating around in the study. For this post I’m focusing on the issue of Hispanics/Latinos and their identity. I’ll look at the issue of their American experience and politics political views in later posts.


Terms Hispanics Use To Describe ThemselvesIronically, the primary finding of Pew’s study of Hispanics or Latinos (the term is used interchangeably by PEW and others) is that the categories “Hispanic” or “Latino” are artificial and often too broad to be useful. In fact, 69% of respondents said that Hispanics in the U.S. reflect many different cultures, while 29% said Hispanics in the U.S. share a common culture.

Further, Hispanics and Latinos have little interest in being labeled Hispanic or Latino. As the figure shows, 51% of respondents preferred terms referencing on their family’s country of origin while 24% preferred Hispanic or Latino. Another 21% preferred to simply be labeled “American.”

Responses by generation

Preferences on these labels varied dramatically from generation to generation. While first generation (foreign-born) respondents preferred a label based on their country of origin, acceptance of such a label drops dramatically the longer a respondent’s family has been in the US. After three or more generations Hispanics prefer the label “American”  by almost a two-to-one margin. The results also indicate that interest in the Hispanic/Latino labels is low regardless of how long their family has been in America.


Historically, Hispanics have been categorized by the Census and other government agencies as an ethnic group because they share a common language, culture and heritage, but not a common race. And, Hispanics agree.

Perceptions of Race

As the figure shows, only 26% of Hispanics consider their race to be Hispanic or Latino while 36% consider themselves White, 10% consider themselves Black, and 26% put themselves into some other race. These results reflect the fact that people in the Spanish-speaking world come in a wide variety of colors and moving them to the U.S. doesn’t change how they perceive themselves.

Typical Americans?

Typical American?My favorite question was whether or not this group considered themselves “typical Americans.”  Hispanics were evenly split on this question with 47% calling themselves typical American and another 47% saying they are very different from typical Americans.

If you look at the figure on the right (click on it if you want to see a bigger version) you can see that Hispanic perceptions of their typical-ness varies by income, generation, education, and language differences. For example, Hispanics with incomes of  $75,000 or more consider themselves typical (even though this is well above the typical American income).

I would love to see how many “typical” Americans consider themselves typical or how typical Hispanics feel when researchers are not calling them up with a survey that focuses on being Hispanic. I don’t think that most Texans consider themselves “typical” Americans and might give similar answers if you called them up with a survey about how they felt about the label of being a “Texan.”

“Hispanics” are a tough subject for lectures and textbooks. On one hand, we know that the label is so broad that it is almost useless. On the other hand, people with their roots in Spanish-speaking countries are a rapidly growing part of American political life. People from Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and South America are tremendously important in understanding the changes to Texas and American politics–even if they have little else in common.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: