Proposed national museum name ought to replace American Latino with Hispanic American

Smithsonian
By Manny Ruiz
Co-Publisher, The Hispanic PR Blog

In case you haven’t heard, President Obama this week appointed several prominent Hispanics to the “Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of the American Latino.”  Among the appointees are entertainment mogul Emilio Estefan and lawyer-activist Abigail Pollak (here’s the press release).  There’s no guarantee this will happen but the potential name of this national museum jarred me to think about which term would best describe this monumentally important museum: American Latino or Hispanic American.  Personally I’m pulling for letting Obama know that the better name for this museum should be the National Museum of Hispanic Americans. 

Many of you may know that the word Hispanic and me have some history together.  After all, Hispanic is part of the name of the company that I co-founded in 2000 and last year sold to PR Newswire, Hispanic PR Wire.  With the exception of two other companies I subsequently co-founded (LatinClips and ConTexto Latino), I have strongly favored putting the word “Hispanic” in most of  my business ventures.   The word Hispanic popped into the Hispanic PR Monitor newsleter (2001), Hispanic Digital Network (2003), Hispanic Market Pro (2005) and now this, the Hispanic PR Blog (2009).

The truth is that most of the time we Latino Hispanics don’t like either.  We almost universally identify at heart as Mexican-American or Cuban-American first and foremost.  The dilemma government and private organizations face however is that they don’t have the marketing dollars to get more granular than in broader terms.  Hence the dilemma of which term to use: Hispanic or Latino. 

If you want to know why my choice is Hispanic you should know that it wasn’t always so clear to me nearly 10 years ago when I started Hispanic PR Wire.  Even though I had co-founded the “Hispanic Practice” of Porter Novelli, I wasn’t sure which term to choose to describe a service that at that time mostly focused on distributing press releases to U.S.-based Spanish-language media (it’s evolved to do much more now under PRN).   At the time I thought that if I selected the word Hispanic for our name I was going to upset many Spanish-language media that held strong to the word Latino.  I fully expected this to be issue from Texas west to California.  Conversely, I was afraid of using the term Latino because I knew that in the East Coast most Spanish-speakers were of Caribbean descent that heavily favor the term Hispanic.   I was so unsure that I went as far as registering the domain names for both HispanicPRWire.com and LatinoPRWire.com. 

The clouds finally parted in 2000 when I casually browsed the Internet and found a since lost story about a survey that a national business media organization did regarding the two terms.  What startled me about the findings was not that the word Hispanic was overall considered most acceptable by Latinos surveyed across the U.S. but that even in states like Texas and California it was more popular than Latino by double digit percentages.  That’s all I needed to bless the company with the name, HISPANIC PR WIRE. 

Am I endorsing the term Hispanic over Latinos always?  Not necessarily.  In the case of naming a national museum, a national campaign or an initiative that servesthe needs of Hispanics, yes, I am.  In terms of communicating via speeches or press releases both terms could and should be used interchangeably.  This is the best practice approach for press releases and most all forms of communications.

We could get into all sorts of heated discussions about what some Chicanos say makes the term Hispanic sound racist because it relates much more to Spain than Mexico, how the word Hispanic’s popularity is likely the product of the Census questionaires that first mass marketed the term, etc…  We would be losing the point.  If we do get this great big national, Smithsonian-style museum for Latinos, I hope it’s called the National Museum of Hispanic Americans.  That’s my vote.  What’s yours?