Hispanic, Latino, Chicano? Students see identity and success linked
By Claire Caulfield
As the number of Hispanic and Latino students in Arizona continues to grow, some students currently enrolled at community colleges and universities are questioning where they fit into the student landscape.
“If they don’t feel welcome or supported, they won’t engage with their school community and they’re more likely to drop out,” said Baltazar Hernández, a senior at Arizona State University.
That is one of the reasons Hernández joined Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan de ASU, an on-campus club that unites students of Mexican or Latin American descent. Hernández’s mother is Mexican-American and his father emigrated from Mexico to Arizona. Hernández said this put him in an awkward position when he tried to define his identity.
“I was asking myself, ‘Am I Hispanic? Mexican? Am I Latino?’” Hernández said. In the end, Hernández said he settled on Latino and Chicano. Latino because his ancestors are Latin American and Chicano because “it means I’m advocating for my people politically.”
Hernández said he has issues with the world Hispanic, mostly because many feel the term was “given to all brown people,” Hernández said.
The term “Hispanic” was first used by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1970 to refer to “a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.”
Nancy Godoy, curator and librarian of Chicano/a Research Collection at ASU, said there are distinct differences between Hispanic, Latino and Chicano.
“Hispanic and Latino are broad terms used to describe people who are from or have ancestors from Mexico or Latin America,” Godoy said. “Chicano is a political term usually used by Mexican Americans that originated in the 1970s during the Chicano, civil rights movement and ethnic studies movement.”
Michael Adame, a junior at Northern Arizona University identifies as Latino, Chicano and American but said he sometimes hears another term: “mestizo.”
“When we talk to our Mexican brothers and sisters they say, ‘Oh you’re mestizo.’ That means like you’re mixed, but you’re not fully Mexican,” Adame said. “But if I go talk to someone who’s American, they’re like, ‘You can’t be American because you’re brown’.”
Mestizo is Spanish for “mixed” and is commonly used in Latin America to refer to a person of both indigenous and European descent, according to the Pew Research Center.
Finding others that understood this struggle of ethnic identification helped Adame stay involved and succeed in school.
“Once I found M.E.Ch.A I was able to branch out and connect to other organizations,” Adame said. “And I feel like without connecting to those multicultural clubs on campus, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and honestly I probably would have went back home to Phoenix.”
Jesus Rubalcava, president of the Arizona School Boards Association, said he sees the importance of self-identification to student success.
“I do believe it does help that because of the ethnic studies I think this as a motivation to consistently attend school and within these groups they motivate each other to help themselves become better students and then in the long run they become better members of society because of it,” Rubalcava said.
These issues could become more pressing as Latino and Hispanic students make up more and more of the student population. In 2004, Arizona schools became “majority-minority,” as less than 50 percent of the K-12 population was white. In 2014, Hispanic and Latino students account for more than 40 percent of the state’s K-12 population, according to the Arizona Department of Education.
Hispanic high school dropout rates are at a record low, and the number of Hispanic students ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college has more than tripled since 1993, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, a study from Excelencia in Education found that in 2013, 20 percent more white adults hold an associate’s degree or higher than Hispanic adults.
“Unfortunately, many Latino families see graduating high school as the end of an education,” said Rubalcava. “While a high school graduation is worth celebrating, there needs to be more movement forward.”
Ulises Lopez agrees. He was born in Mexico, and currently attends Gateway Community College in Phoenix, Arizona. He said Latino families need to be more aware of the resources available to them and that student-run support systems exist.
“It’s great to have a group of students who understand my background,” Lopez said.
Even though Lopez is an active member of the Hispanic Student Organization at GCC, he identifies as Mexican or Mexican-American. When surveyed by the Public Insight Network on identity, only five of the 11 students in GCC Hispanic Student Organization said they identify as Hispanic. Most prefer Latino or Chicano.
Lopez said he thinks the combination of Latino recognition in the classroom and campus support groups will encourage more Hispanic, Latino and Chicano students to pursue higher education and graduate.
“If our community is able to come together and show we’re passionate about education, we can close the gap,” Lopez said.
Claire is a junior at the Cronkite School studying broadcast journalism and political science. She grew up in Idaho where she developed a passion for radio and podcasts at a young age. In addition to her time with the PIN Bureau, she also works as a news intern for KJZZ and produces podcasts for The Downtown Devil.