Latino, Afro-Cuban, Chicano, Mexican-American:  For as long as people of Latin American descent have been a part of the U.S. they’ve been referred to by many names. What’s more, we even have different names for ourselves. In this segment of our new Somos series, we talk to writers and activists about what name they choose to identify themselves by – and why it matters.

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Explaining Somos

“Somos” is the name of a series that we are starting where we explore issues of Latino identity. We invite you to tell us how you identify yourself by making a video on youtube, posting a comment here, or leaving a message old-school style on our phone (yes, we have a phone attached to a wall!) at 646-571-1228. Don’t forget to tell us your name and where you’re calling us from. And after you post your video, tell us about it here or tweet us! We love hearing from you.

Marina Garcia-Vasquez is the co-founder and director of, a culture site and creative consultancy collective. The group aims to promote Mexican culture and heritage in a positive light through the accomplishments of Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans both in the United States, Mexico, and globally. Based in New York City, Marina is a working journalist dedicated to writing about art, design, and architecture. She is a recent graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism M.A. program in Arts and Culture and a published poet.

Roland Roebuck is a recognized DC activist nationally known as a leading spokesperson on issues that impact Latino Afro-Descendants. He has worked tirelessly to champion human and civil rights. He is a founding member of several Washington DC community organizations and has compelled national organizations and elected officials to implement initiatives that address the needs of minority groups.


Matthew Yglesias is Slate’s business and economics correspondent and author of Slate’s Moneybox column. Before joining the magazine he worked for ThinkProgress, the Atlantic, TPM Media, and the American Prospect. His first book, Heads in the Sand, was published in 2008. His second, The Rent Is Too Damn High, was published in March.

12 thoughts on “Somos: What’s In A Name?

  1. Born in Sacramento, California, and my father being from Mexico and mother from Puerto Rico, I identify as a Chicano/Boricua/Indigena. These identities, I feel, are conscious of and connect to our indigenous roots as Raza. Given this awareness, I reject the Hispanic label because, I feel, it does not acknowledge the diversity of the Latino/a experience (i.e. indigenous, mestizo/a, Afrcan, Asian, etc).

    1. I agree with Kellie. We need to be respectful and fololw the laws of our land. I believe that identifying illegal immigrants and cheap labor that these immigrants provide has shown your prejudice and inequality. These immigrants would still provide the cheap labor if they came to our country legally. There is a lot more than just simply viewing whether someone should be allowed in a country illegally. There is a lot of cost involved with this as well and as a tax payer, I would prefer to see my money go towards something else. It also cheapens the efforts of those who have striven so hard to to become a citizen of this country. The years spent waiting and the studying. And lastly Josh, I admit I have prejudice that I need to work on. I certainly hope that you realize you have the same. You had severely judged Kellie by calling her ignorant and claiming she deserves more equality than others and that is not showing equality. I did not read what you judged Kellie on in her post. I simply read that we should obey the laws of the land and if we don’t we should be accountable, whether we are Hispanic, Caucasian or any other denomination, race, creed, etc.

  2. Hello my fellow Latin-AMERICANs
    I have to say that as an immigrant from a Latin American country I don’t like the use of Hispanic or Latino because I feel that it excludes us from being Americans. While this entire hemisphere is truly American, we all know that most people refer to Americas as people from USA. We are all smart and clever at words, surely we can come up with a better term to identify us including the word American.
    On the question Maria first asked her guests: My answer would be that I first identify myself as American, i.e. USA American and then as an immigrant with third my country of origin, Mexico. 40 years ago my family was the first immigrant family in a small suburb of the now predominantly Mexican-American Dallas Ft Worth area. Because of the work my parents were in I have interacted with immigrants from countries throughout the world since childhood, married an immigrant and thus I identify with them as an immigrant.
    My experience is as unique as yours, Maria and your guests.
    Bottom line . . . let’s think of a better name for us, including the word AMERICAN.

    1. Some people in this cooenrsativn seems to think that immigrants without status have ignored the laws of this country, and that their being out of status is proof of how they have done so. Being out of status is NOT criminal offense. It is a civil offense, such as a parking ticket. Do you think it is fair that families are being torn apart for an offense as minor as a parking ticket?? I would like to share with you that many, many of the people who are out of status in this country entered with a visa and are in the process of applying for legal residency. Some folks were in status and then a glitch or lost document created a problem. Some people are refugees here from war-torn countries who are waiting to hear if they can gain asylum. Delays and backlogs as long as 25 years have made obtaining status nearly impossible. Equality under the law would require that cruel and unusual punishment tearing apart families not be leveled for civil offenses.

  3. Si los Cubanos se llaman Cubano americanos, o afro cubanos, los Latino Americannos no somos latino primro no hablamos Lati, somo sur Americanos, los de Centro A,eraica Centro Americanos, ni mucho menos que nos llamen Hispanos, somos Americanos y si vivimod en los Estados Unidos y somos ciudadano somos Estaudineses.

    1. Bottom line whether somoene provides cheap labor is not a reason to grant them equality under the law; laws that they choose to disrespect. An illegal person cannot expect respect or equality under those laws that suit them and ignorance on those that do not. Technically if you believe all illegal people deserve equality than the right thing to do would be to process them all under the law and deport them. Equality in the US is equal to equality under the law. Therefore the government has an obligation and a duty to enforce the law to all people whom you request be treated fairly. Just as people who wish to exploit illegal workers cannot have it both ways neither can supporters of illegals. I have a mixed opinion about ammensty and deportation however I will not sit by while people use the law and court system to further their cause while ignoring the fact that the verys laws they wish to validate them are exactly what they ignored.

  4. I really appreciate this series! Identity is something I’ve dealt with my entire life. My mother was an immigrant from Japan and my father was Chicano from working class East LA. In college I encountered Ethnic Resource Centers but still struggled with outsider feelings due to my mixed background. But, I’ve come to embrace the identity of a mixed race person. Today I research and write about figures like President Barack Obama and Tiger Woods and I hold out hope for future generations.

    1. a civil law being broken is only wtrohy of a ticket , much like a parking ticket. To be locked up for an extended amount of time to process the papers for deportation takes time with all the illegals being caught. The illegals are also considered a flight risk. If they were just given a ticket there’s no guarantee that they would show up for their court appearance. They don’t have a legal drivers license or a legal address. Besides, the paper process for deportation is held up by the case worker too for the illegal alien, trying to find a way to keep the illegal in the USA and giving them the opportunity to go through the process of citizenship legally.Paying a coyote (a person in the business to transport people across the border) isn’t cheaper than going through the immigration process legally or quicker. Do you know how many illegals die trying to cross the Rio Grande or die from heat exhaustion crossing the desert or are killed just for the money they have to pay the coyote, just so the coyote doesn’t have to help them across the border? Now that is a cruel and unusual punishment!!

  5. I think in other contries they are used to Foreigners, but in America for some raseon foreigners are usually considered jokes (especially guys), not always but usually their portrayed on T.V in a comedy style I’m not sure where your from but say for example a middle-eastern guy in America if you watch T.V our image is that of Borat or a greasy hairy guy with gold chains and lots and lots of cologne etc Asian’s are always smiling and running liquor stores etc Even for women say a Russian woman would be considered a mail-order bride.I know it sucks but it’s true!!!! America is filled with stereo types.So if your going to get a date your going to have to find someone who has a specific attraction for foreigners especially if you have an accent.

  6. I, too, am very thankful for this series. I have long known that our identity is very complicated. I struggle with this thought constantly, and remember doing so from a young age. Like your panelists, it is very contextual. My family members agreed we were Mexican American. When my parents were young activists, they were Chicano. We were never Hispanic because that denied our ancestry as mixed people. I was raised thinking I was Mexican American, but I wonder if I can still count myself as that, when it was my GREAT-grandparents that immigrated here? (My father’s side has been in NM since it was part of Spain and Mexico.) I am usually nuevo mexicana, though I relate more to Mexican Heritage than the “Spanish” heritage of Northern New Mexico. I have light skin, but do not consider myself white, but mixed (mixed from what I cannot say definitively). I will call myself Latina when I describe myself as belonging to this group that comes from an Ibero-American (as opposed to Northern European/Anglo) ancestry. I feel Hispanic negates our identity as people of color. Chicana is the politicized/activist part of my identity. My Spanish is far from perfect, and not my native tongue, but I am have a deep love and knowledge of my heritage. I guess that removal from being born in a Latin country and inability to speak Spanish fluently makes me a pocha or gabacha in some eyes. Either way, I have committed my work to serving the needs of the Latino community through the arts and education, while also opening up the perception of Latinos within American discourse. Gracias, otra vez, because I have been wondering if other Latinos(?) think as much about this question of identity as I do; and if so, what we are thinking.

  7. Wow, when I first heard Maria Hinojosa talk about the radio series, Somos, I was immediately inspired to contribute, to have my voice and those of my family heard by anyone ready to listen and to share in the shaping of our culture. I decided to grab a camera, interview family and friends, and put my video editing skills to work. This is the first installment of a video web series that I hope illuminates my culture where we find ourselves perpetually standing with one foot on each side of the riverbed.

    My cousin Richard kicks off the series explaining how ditch digging and the dusty cotton crops of the Rio Grande Valley shaped his own perspective on the life he’d been afforded. A big thank you to Maria Hinojosa for the work she does to elevate U.S. Latino perspectives and for the inspiration to create this video series! Finally, many thanks to my cousin Rich for taking the time to be interviewed and having a good time while doing it.

  8. Ok , so I checked a file on which my grandma sent me about my grandfather , I also checked on where he was born in Mexico and some of my ancestors on his side are of Spanish descent,
    So does that make Hispanic and/or Latino also?

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