Saturday, May 9, 2009

Espanhol e Português: Common Misconceptions

A few clarifications:

Portuguese and Spanish are not the same language.

Portuguese is not a dialect of Spanish.

Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish.

The word Hispanic means Spanish-speaking. Brazilians cannot correctly be called Hispanic. Latino, maybe, but not Hispanic.

Unless they are from Spain, people who speak Spanish are not Spanish anymore than Americans who speak English are English. Hispanic is more appropriate.

Not everyone who speaks Spanish in America is Mexican.

A few thoughts about Race and Ethnicity:

Ethnicity refers to culture, Race refers to our cultural constructions of the physical differences between us**. The words Hispanic and Latino refer to one's language, and therefore one's culture. Hispanic and Latino are not racial categories as people from Latin America can be of any decent: Asian, African, European, Indigenous.

Have you ever been asked to make choice like this?:

White (not Hispanic)
Black (not Hispanic)
Asian or Pacific Islander

There is something wrong with this form. White and Black are essentially racial categories, while being Hispanic or Latino refers to being from or a descendant of someone from a Spanish-speaking country. For example, it is very possible to be both Black and Hispanic. But if you are Black and Hispanic, most forms don't want you to mark that you are Black. Probably because what they mean by Black isn't race at all, but ethnicity. The cultures of Black people from Latin America and Black people from North America are very different. So what does the form really want to know? Your race or your ethnicity?

What should a Brazilian mark on this application? Well, it's up to them. But, by lumping Hispanic and Latino together, Brazilians in America disappear into the Spanish-speaking population. Why is this important? Brazilians don't speak Spanish, so, services tailored for a Hispanic population aren't going to have the same benefits for Portuguese-speakers.

Brazilians are a racially (and ethnically) mixed nation. The percentages are uncertain, but many Brazilians are of Indigenous, African, European decent. Many are a mix of all three. There is a huge Japanese population. This form doesn't capture the diversity of Latin America. Is it fair to ask Brazilians and Hispanics to deny that they are Black or White in addition to being from Latin America?

These are just a few pervasive misconceptions about race, ethnicity and language in America. Does anyone have anything else to add to the list?

**I say a cultural construction of physical differences, but the word race is controversial. Biologists have suggested that the differences between humans, skin color, etc., are so small that race does not exist at all.


Nina Oliveira said...

I really love this post. While I knew these definitions and categories created a number of issues for Brasilians. This really helped me clarify what was going on. My husband is Brasilian, he is Austrian and formly indigenous Indian who speaks portuguese. Going to an annual examine he had to pick a category to identify himself. He was/still is very upset the United States lumped so many together. Shocked Mexico/South and Central America have been selected to use the same term Hispanic/Latino/a. Reducing his language to another his does not speak. Not acknowledging his identity for what it is---what this does! It is pushing him to let his identity in Brasil go. We (Americans) feel the need to simplify. Yet there has to be a happy medium here. Keeping intact the true data/identity and keeping entry/tracking realistic.

Heather said...

I'm so happy someone even read this post! Thanks for your comment.