Hispanic or Latino? Poll respondents weigh in
Richard Jaramillo self-identifies as a Latino, though he is OK with being called Mexican-American, Hispanic, even Chicano.
"Hispanic is generally how government classifies us, so I'm used to checking that box," the Salt Lake County resident said. "It is an odd thing to come to terms with because you have so many terms to use. The race category considers us white, even though I don't consider myself white."
The Pew Hispanic Center released a report Wednesday that explores the issue of self-identity and found that 51 percent use their family's country of origin to describe their identity while 24 percent use Hispanic or Latino to describe themselves.
But when pinned down between the choice of Hispanic or Latino, respondents chose the former by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Still, the majority 51 percent said they didn't lean with a preference to either term.
The Pew Hispanic Center surveyed 1,200 Latinos, of which 436 were native born. The poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.
The 64-page report was wide-ranging in its findings, including whether Latinos share a common identity with other Americans.
Respondents were split evenly, with 47 percent saying they were a "typical American" and 47 percent saying they are very different to a "typical American."
The numbers who say they are a "typical American" jump to 66 percent when asked of a native-born Latinos while only 34 percent of foreign-born Latinos believe they are a typical American.
Jaramillo, who is native born, said the definition of a typical American is constantly evolving and varies from generation to generation.
"A cultural experience is one that's mingling and the ever-changing nature of it is what makes America what it is," Jaramillo said. "You see the signs of how the Latino experience food, culture, music has sort of permeated the mainstream. It's not Los Angeles, but it's still happening here."
Arturo Morales-Llan, who is a U.S. citizen in Utah County but was born in Mexico, said he's careful about not emphasizing Mexican culture in the house. He said his 16-year-old daughter didn't have a quinceaÃ±era a traditional right of passage in large swaths of Latin America that observes the transition to womanhood. He also doesn't celebrate Mexican holidays.
A soccer fan, he said he wouldn't root for Mexico in the World Cup if the United States was already eliminated from the tournament. "I'd root for whoever was the strongest team, I guess."
But he said 80 percent of what he eats in his house is Mexican food.
"I never ask my wife to make it, but she enjoys it," he said. "So it's what we mostly eat in our house and I like it."
He said he seeks to embrace and observe U.S. customs only, though at what point Latino customs become part of the American fabric can be hard to sort out when Bud Light is a major sponsor of Cinco de Mayo and "The Most Interesting Man in the World" is an Ernest Hemingway knockoff pitching the Mexican beer, Dos Equis, over the airwaves.
"America is a melting pot," he said. "We have pizza that is supposed to be Italian and we have sushi, which is Japanese, and we eat Chinese food. That is all part of the American experience."
Census figures show Utah with a growing Hispanic or Latino population of 13 percent, more than 366,000 people. That's up from 9 percent or more than 201,000 in the 2000 Census. That spurt has led to more Latino-owned businesses and consumers.
Juan Manuel Ruiz, president of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, came to Utah 20 years ago from his native Mexico and said when he first arrived, there was almost a novelty approach to seeing people who weren't white in the community.
"Twenty years ago, being Latino was being the same as Japanese or Filipino," Ruiz said. "I was just one member of a small group that was adding diversity to the state."
He said the atmosphere was more welcoming, he believes, because people didn't feel threatened by larger numbers of people entering the state. He said now, with illegal immigration rhetoric from politicians, people are more fearful to express themselves through language and culture.
The report tackled language, too.
According to the study, 87 percent of Latinos believe that to succeed in America, English must be learned. But 95 percent also believe it's important for them to maintain command of Spanish as well.
But Ruiz said he sees some Latinos "embarrassed" to speak Spanish in public for fear of being looked down upon by non-Spanish speakers. He said with the proliferation of enforcement-only immigration laws and hostility toward immigrants without proper documents, there is fear and a desire to not be targeted.
"It has added to the polarization of the issue," Ruiz said, "to the point that there's also some passive-aggressive behavior."
The survey noted that 60 percent of Latinos say that can carry on a conversation in English either "well" or "very well" with an almost identical number, 61 percent, saying they can read English similarly well.
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To read the report, go to http://tinyurl.com/7ujvaxp
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