What does “Hispanic” Mean?

I’ve heard many stories about the origins of the term “Hispanic” in American politics. Some say the term was created during the Nixon administration others claim it was the Regan administration who wanted to better define immigrants and offspring from Latin America and Spain instead of the popular term of “Spanish Speaking Americans.” Clearly this was not an ideal term as not all Hispanics/Latinos speak Spanish.

Grace Flores-Hughes tells the Washington Post that the term was a product of the Regan Administration. She tells the story why Hispanic won over Latino/Latina in the eyes of the federal government, discusses Sotomayor and affirmative action in the Washington Post: Meet the woman who coined ‘Hispanic’ for feds.

According to Flores-Hughs trying to define the growing group of Mexican-Americans and others from Latin America and Spain became the task of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the 1970’s.

Q: So you and others in your office joined a committee to come up with the best name.

A: It was very contentious. Others were pulling for the word “Latino.” I wanted “Hispanic.” And I was the youngest one in the group. They said: “ ‘Latino’ and ‘Latina’ is what we all are, that’s why we should be called that.” But to me the only way to accurately count us is by using the term “Hispanic.”

When I was growing up in South Texas, they used to call me Latin American, and I wasn’t Latin American. So we wouldn’t answer on the forms because we’d say: “We’re not Latin. We’re Spanish.” That’s when “Hispanic” started coming up…

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