Before 1970, the US Census Bureau classified Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants as whites. Each community of Latin American origin would go by their nationality and by the region where they lived in the United States. But all that changed in the seventies, as activists began lobbying the US Census Bureau to create a broad, national category that included all these communities. The result was the creation of the term “Hispanic”, first introduced in the US Census in 1970.

Then it was up to Spanish-language media to get the word out. The network that would later become Univision released this series of ads calling on “Hispanics” to fill out the 1980 Census. The ads feature “Hispanic” sports stars and… Big Bird:

By the 1990s, Univision was creating the images and sounds associated to Hispanics in the US. The 1990 Census ads feature the likes of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz telling Hispanics to fill out el censo:

Maria Hinojosa interviews author and scholar G. Cristina Mora about origins of the term, the people who crafted it, and what it actually means to be Hispanic in the United States today.

Videos courtesy of Univision Communications and the Univision News library in Miami, Florida. 

Photo courtesy of El Telecote archive on Found SF 

46 thoughts on “The Invention of Hispanics

  1. I will never mark the “Hispanic” box or the “Latino” box. This is an attempt at the “racialization” of people who come from Spanish-speaking countries. It serves to marginalize and isolate people from Spanish-speaking countries from the rest of the U.S. population. As a white (European descent) U.S. citizen who happened to have been born in Cuba, I do not see why I should have to self-identify as somehow different than any other member of the white race in this country. For that matter, why should a Black U.S. citizen who happened to be born in a Spanish-speaking country have to self-identify as different from other Black Americans? The same for those of indigenous / Native American background. The result of the “Hispanic” and “Latino” labels is disempowerment, invisibility, and perpetual “foreignness”. It is frustrating that some people from Spanish-speaking countries actually believe it is to their advantage to identify as such. They are sadly mistaken. Do you ever see representation in the English-speaking media? It’s rare — the “Hispanics” have been segregated to the Spanish media. Separate is never equal folks.

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