Latino Diversity (2021) by Alberto FerrerasSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Folklorico (2003) by Bill MoffittSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Latino, Hispanic, Latinx? Why the Different Labels?
Labels help people identify with their ancestry despite the movement of borders and acquisition of lands. Even with overlapping traditions and interconnected histories, Latinas and Latinos have never used a single label to describe themselves. So how do we define these labels?
Latina/o is a flexible term
It refers to diverse U.S. communities with Latin American and Caribbean roots. It covers a variety of ethnic and cultural identities with African, Asian, European, and Indigenous ancestry. A national Latino identity offers the possibility of greater political power.
Generation and location also affect how people identify
For example, many people also prefer country-based identities. They might identify as Bolivian, Boricua (another term for Puerto Rican), or Peruvian. Some use Hispanic, which signals a connection to Spain. Others opt for Latinx, a gender-neutral form of Latino.
Latino identity has and continues to be shaped by history
Latino history is complex and has been shaped by events such as colonization, wars, immigration, and more. Learn how Latino history has shaped identity labels.
Facsimile: America by Speed (1626) by Speed, JohnSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Colonization reshaped the world
Indigenous peoples settled the Americas thousands of years before Europeans and created diverse civilizations. In the late 1400s, they met an invasion of Spanish colonizers. These communities frequently rebelled against the colonists’ abuses.
Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the Americas
From the 1500s to the 1800s, roughly 12 million Africans were trafficked across the Atlantic Ocean to ports such as Cartagena, Colombia, and Charleston, South Carolina. Like indigenous peoples, they too resisted and, when possible, escaped slavery.
Garifuna by Mikhael SimmondsSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Explore an identity label: Garifuna
The Garínagu (plural of Garifuna) are Indigenous and African descendants. In 1797 the Garínagu were expelled by British colonizers and settled on Central America’s Caribbean coast. Today, Garifuna communities live in cities like New York and Houston.
"We Didn't Cross The Border, The Border Crossed Us"
During the 1800s the U.S. engaged in wars to expand its borders. From 1846 to 1848, the United States invaded Mexico. By the end of the conflict, the United States had doubled its size. Within the newly conquered land were approximately 115,000 former citizens of Mexico.
Cabinet photograph of 4 adult males, 4 adult females, and 3 adolescent females. (Around 1885) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Historic Label: Californio
Californios are descendants of the Spanish and Mexican settlers who colonized California in the late 1700s. Until the Mexican-American War, a small group of Californio families owned much of California’s land and large herds of cattle.
Bombardment of San Juan, Porto Rico [i.e. Puerto Rico] (1898) by Admiral SampsonSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Spanish American War
After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the U.S. took over Spain's remaining colonies in the Americas and Pacific. U.S. military and business interests would shape the future of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and many other Latin American countries.
Club Borinquen at Benjamin Franklin High School photograph (1940s) by Leonard CovelloSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Explore an identity label: Borinquen
Before colonization, Indigenous Taínos named Puerto Rico Borikén, or Borinquen. Boricua, derived from Borinquen, is a way to say Puerto Rican. Some Puerto Rican organizations use “Borinquen” in their names to acknowledge their heritage.
Latino Immigration Stories
During the 1900s diverse immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean escaped violence and political instability. Others came for work or to reunite with family. Millions of Latin American and Caribbean immigrants have tried to make new lives in the United States.
Feria de las Flores in New York (2018) by Kike CalvoSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Where do Latinos and Latinas migrate from?
In the United States, Mexicans account for 62% of the Latino population. Puerto Ricans are next at 10%, followed by Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, and Colombians. Venezuelans are the fastest growing U.S. Latino group, up 76% from 2010 to 2017.
Labels used most often among Latinos to describe their identity, 2017 (2022) by National Museum of the American LatinoSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Identifying by Country of Origin
On average, half of Latinos most often choose identity labels that reflect their country of origin or heritage. This includes terms such as Colombian or Puerto Rican. Many identify with multiple labels. Hispanic or Latino was used by 23%. Another 23% most often used American.
Harlem West-Indian Day Parade (1950-1963) by Cecil LayneSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Explore an identity label: Panamanian / West Indian
The label West Indian comes from “West Indies,” a name for Caribbean islands which have colonial roots. In the mid-1850s many west Indians migrated to Panama for work building the railroad and canal. Today, many Panamanians and Panamanian Americans are of West Indian descent
Identity Grows from Movements
Latinos have worked to expand and shape American democracy by fighting for and exercising their civil rights. As a part of these movements new identity labels are created as a way to express pride in Latino culture and identity.
Chicana por mi Raza (Chicana for my people) (Around 1970) by Amado Maurilio PeñaSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Explore an identity label: Chicana
Chicana is an identity label used by Mexican American women and girls, especially in California and the Southwest. “Chicana” has origins in the 1960s Chicano movement, allowing women to advocate for self-empowerment, gender equality, and community uplift.
Identity is evolving!
How people identify and the labels they use have changed over time and they are evolving today! Latinos, especially Latino youth are finding new ways to identify. What is the future of Latino identity?
Pride Fest in Los Angeles (2021) by Mario TamaSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
Contemporary Label: Latinx
In recent years a new term, Latinx, (or Latine in Spanish) has emerged. This is a gender-neutral form of Latino meant to be inclusive of other gender identities within the LGBTQ community.
Google trends for “Latinx” in the U.S., June searches from 2014 - 2021 (2022) by National Museum of the American LatinoSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
There was a notable uptake in searches for Latinx after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June 2016. After the shooting “Latinx” was widely used in media coverage about the traumatic event. Latino Identity has changed over time, so what is next?
The impact of Latino Youth is yet to come! (2021) by Alberto FerrerasSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
The Impact of Latino Youth is Yet to Come!
Mark Lopez of the Pew Research Center speaks about the demographics of Latino Youth in the United States.