Originally published on Mic and republished here with their permission.
Illegal, criminal, threatening, family-oriented, hard-working, patriotic — these are the contradictory words used to describe Latinxs.
They demonstrate an inconsistency we Latinxs know all too well: Even as marketing industries popularize our music, food, holidays, and fashion, Latinxs remain commonly misunderstood and discriminated against.
People of Latin American descent are regularly flooded with repetitive questions about who they are as a people and as a culture.
Whether the queries come from racist Twitter users or ignorant, yet well-meaning colleagues and classmates, such comments only serve to homogenize disparate and unique cultures – and “other” Latinxs in our society.
Even with good intentions, saying such things is discrimination.
To help put some of these stereotypes to rest, here are some of the most common misconceptions, questions, and remarks people make too often about Latinxs.
1. Not All of Us Speak Spanish
Most recent migrants are fluent in their home tongue, so it’s no surprise that the majority of first-generation Latinxs speak Spanish.
But that’s not true for all Latinxs.
By the second generation, their use of English rises as their Spanish usage drops, and by the third generation, most Latinxs are English-dominant.
Many prefer to speak Spanglish, using both Spanish and English in one sentence or giving English words Spanish accents.
What’s more, not all Latinxs come from Spanish-speaking countries or communities.
Brazilians, for example, speak Portuguese, while Haitians (yes, Haiti is a Latin American country) speak Haitian Creole. Then there are those who come from the hundreds of indigenous groups across Latin America and the Caribbean, bringing with them their own native languages.
Equally important: Most of us don’t actually speak Latin.
2. Speaking English with an Accent Doesn’t Make Us Unintelligent
On the contrary, studies show that people who speak two or more languages are actually smarter than those who do not.
Not only does bilingualism mean one can communicate with a greater number of people, but it also can actually improve cognitive skills unrelated to language.
According to the New York Times, being bilingual improves the brain’s executive function, allowing people to ignore distraction and stay focused so they can better and more quickly solve problems and perform difficult tasks.
3. Spanish, Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, Mexican – Which One Is It? Not That Simple
Because these are labels that were forced on Latinxs upon their arrival to the US, the answer as to how people from different Latin American countries identify varies depending on who you ask.
With that in mind, here’s a primer:
Spanish people come from Spain, so it would be incorrect to refer to someone from Latin America or the Spanish-speaking Caribbean as Spanish.
Hispanic, on the other hand, refers to people who descend from Spanish-speaking countries (Brazilians and Haitians, for example, wouldn’t be considered Hispanic).
It’s important to note, however, that many people from Spanish-speaking countries resist the Hispanic categorization, viewing it as a marker that connects them directly to their colonizers – that is, the Spanish.
Instead, they may prefer Latino, which, while referring to all the countries in Latin America, including Brazil and Haiti, also ties these people together through a history of colonization.
Latinx is similar to Latino, but the “x” erases gender, making the category inclusive of men, women, agender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and gender-fluid people.
Finally, it bears repeating that people in Latin America neither refer to themselves as Latinx nor Hispanic. These, again, are words placed on them soon after their arrival in the US.
For many people in Latin America, they are just Cuban, Ecuadorian, Bolivian, or whichever country or indigenous population they belong to.
4. Latinxs Don’t All Look the Same
In fact, they are one of the most racially diverse ethnic groups in the world.
Despite media portrayals of olive-skinned Latinas with curly hair and curvy bodies, Latinxs can be black, with Afro-textured hair, brown, Indigenous, Asian, light-skinned, and straight-up ethnically ambiguous.
5. Speaking of Race, Not All Afrx-Latinxs Come from the Dominican Republic
Latin America is home to one of the largest African-descended populations outside of Africa.
Brazil, for instance, is the second blackest country in the world.
There are millions of Afrx-Latinxs across Colombia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, Peru and—yes—the Dominican Republic.
6. The Only Thing More Diverse Than Our Hues Is Our Culture
When people tell Latinxs that they love dancing to Latin music or eating Latin food, we’re never really sure what they’re referring to.
We know by “Latin” they mean “Latino,” but even that’s not enough to brief us on whether they dance bachata or cumbia or if they’re in the mood for arroz con gandules y pernil or pupusas.
Those dances, rhythms, and dishes are all as different as the cultures they belong to.
Wrapping everything of Latin American descent into one category – Latinx – erases the major political, economic, racial, and cultural differences of each country.
7. Most Latinxs Aren’t Undocumented
Mainstream coverage of the Latinx community is basically limited to issues of crime, immigration, and illegal border-crossing.
As such, it’s not surprising that more than 30% of non-Latinxs believe a majority of Latinos are undocumented.
But that’s simply not true: In fact, just 17% of Latinxs in the US are undocumented, and that number is actually dropping.
8. Puerto Ricans and US-Born Latinxs Are, In Fact, US Citizens
In July 2013, singer-actor Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at the 84th MLB All-Star Game. Just a few months later, 11-year-old Sebastien de la Cruz gave his rendition of the national anthem at the NBA finals. Both performances were met with protests, and the Puerto Rican megastar and Mexican-American youth were called “un-American” and “illegal aliens.”
But both of these performers are US citizens.
Considering some people have clearly forgotten elementary school social studies, here’s a refresher:
Any child born in the United States is automatically a US citizen, regardless of their last name. And while Puerto Rico is not a US state, the 1917 Jones Act granted citizenship to all Puerto Ricans, whether they were born in the continental US or on the island.
9. Contrary to Popular Belief, We’re Not ‘Welfare-Sucking Hispanics’
A 2012 poll released by the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Latino shows that 51% of non-Latinxs believe “welfare recipient” describes Latinxs very or somewhat well.
While it’s true that many Latinxs may be struggling to make ends meet and benefit from their right to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), they are not the “welfare queens” or “welfare-sucking Hispanics” they are so often portrayed as.
In fact, the majority of SNAP recipients are actually white.
Raquel Reichard is a Latina feminist, freelance journalist and social media strategist. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, Mic and Cosmo for Latinas, and she has written and edited for newspapers in Washington D.C. and Orlando, Fla. Check out her website here and follow her on Twitter @RaquelReichard.
Search our 3000+ articles!
Our online racial justice training
Used by hundreds of universities, non-profits, and businesses.
Click to learn more