Hispanic or Latino? Fill in the blank

Dan Grech Sep 26, 2007

Hispanic or Latino? Fill in the blank

Dan Grech Sep 26, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been sending out a little extra work to millions of Americans this month… The EEOC is the government agency that investigates claims of workplace discrimination — to help do that, every year the EEOC sends out surveys on race and ethnicity.

And this time around, there’s something new: After 40 years, the box that used to say simply “Hispanic” has been changed to “Hispanic or Latino.”

We sent Marketplace’s Dan Grech out from behind the America’s Desk at WLRN to find out what’s in a name.

DAN GRECH: Besides terminology, Hispanics and Latinos are split by race, country of origin, even fluency in Spanish. Diversity consultant Carmen van Kerckhove says these divisions impact everything from marketing to hiring to workplace discrimination.

CARMEN VAN KERCKHOVE: Certainly, people will begin to argue about who is Latino enough, who is Hispanic enough, who really counts, who doesn’t count… because then you’re dealing with the allocation of resources.

Pollster Sergio Bendixen asked 1,200 registered voters which term they preferred. Hispanic won out by a margin of 2 to 1 — but those who preferred Latino said they found the term Hispanic offensive.

BENDIXEN: Many people of Mexican or Latin American descent do not have a very good image of the Spanish conquistadores. Therefore they reject the term Hispanic.

Marketers watch this debate closely — Hispanic consumers are expected to spend $928 billion this year. And with continued immigration, that number’s expected to top a trillion dollars by 2010.

But how can companies hope to reach this fast-growing population, if they don’t even know what to call them? Bendixen works with businesses to find ways to market to this prized group. And he’s found Hispanics and Latinos have some things in common.

BENDIXEN: Two things keep coming up: They give personal relationships a lot more importance; they also will tell you they’re not all about work and making money, but that they’re more willing to sacrifice financial success and career success for just the enjoyment of life.

The Hispanic-Latino distinction also impacts the workplace. Until this year, the EEOC survey only had a box for Hispanics. Many Latinos checked the box “Other.” By broadening the category to “Hispanic or Latino,” the EEOC will get a clearer picture of what strides the overall group has made in the workplace. And it will help determine whether they’re being denied promotions or getting paid less.

Carol Miaskoff is a lawyer at the EEOC. She says the agency’s survey has a flaw: It asks employees to identify their own race or ethnicity. But some employers won’t care what box a person checks.

MIASKOFF: They’re going to look around and they’re gonna say, “Who looks Hispanic or Latino?” And they’re gonna say, “Gee, I don’t like that kind of person. I’m not going to give that guy a raise, I’m going to let that guy go,” whatever.

The issue of identity really hit home for me when I sat down to fill out the EEOC survey. I can check only one box, but two seem to apply. So I asked Miaskoff for guidance.

GRECH: You have my picture in front of you, right?

MIASKOFF: I do, I do.

GRECH: Could you describe what I look like?

MIASKOFF: Well, you look like a Caucasian guy, brown hair, lightly complected.

GRECH: Which box would you check for me?

MIASKOFF: I would say white.

GRECH: Well, I have something to reveal, which is that my father is from Spain.

MIASKOFF: Um hmm, right. So that means that you are Hispanic… Um, but as I say that, I’m stopping myself short, because I just told you this new approach is self-identification, right? So if you were sitting down to do this form, you would have a decision to make.

Well, I may not look Hispanic, but I speak Spanish, I’m a citizen of Spain, and I identify with many Hispanic values. So I guess that settles it.

I’m Dan Grech, “Hispanic or Latino,” for Marketplace.

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