ARIZONA NEWS

Hispanic Heritage Month in Arizona means more than you might realize

Sep 15, 2021, 4:45 AM | Updated: 9:08 am
(Photo by Craig Hudson/ Getty Images)...
(Photo by Craig Hudson/ Getty Images)
(Photo by Craig Hudson/ Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Hispanic Heritage Month is not just about celebrating familia, fiestas, and culture.

It’s more than that.

Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for Arizona State University’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, said it’s about learning who Latinos are.

In Arizona, they make up more than one-third of the population.

“We tend to focus really on Mexican American communities because that’s the majority of the population that comprises our state,” Fonseca-Chávez told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “But we have large populations of Nicaragüenses, Central Americans, Caribeños.”

Some are recent arrivals while others have been here for generations.

Fonseca-Chávez pointed out there are several eastern Arizona towns where Hispanics migrated in the late 1800s from New Mexico. She added mining communities in Globe and Miami also had large Hispanic populations.

“They’re not at the height of the copper boom anymore, but if you travel through those towns you’ll see a lot of Latino murals on the walls, you’ll see a lot of remnants of that time,” Fonseca-Chávez said.

The Latino population in Arizona has not stopped growing over the last decades. In fact, they now make up half of the state’s K-12 public school students.

The terms Hispanic and Latino are often used to describe this population. Fonseca-Chávez explained the U.S. Census Bureau created Hispanic in 1980 to describe people from Spanish-speaking countries, but it left out people from Brazil where the primary language is Portuguese.

“Latino was intended to really encompass all of Latin origin communities throughout the world,” she said. “That seems to be the more contemporary and preferred term that folks like to use.”

In the past decade, the term Latinx has been gaining popularity. Fonseca-Chávez noted Spanish is a historically gendered-language that carries masculine and feminine endings to many words.

“So what the Latinx term is intended to do is to get rid of any kind of binary implications, to not gender the language that we’re speaking and not gender the things that we’re speaking about,” she said.

A survey by the Pew Research Center asked Latinos how they describe their identity. It found most prefer to use their family’s country of origin. Another survey showed only about a quarter had heard of the term Latinx and just 3% of them use it.

Fonseca-Chávez added there are some Spanish speakers who prefer the term Hispanic or hispano. She said the term is popular in New Mexico.

“We also have folks in Arizona who prefer to be referred to as Mexican Americans rather than Chicanos,” she said.

“So I think that those regional and statewide sort of identifiers are as important as recognizing Hispanic, Latino or Latinx.”

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Hispanic Heritage Month in Arizona means more than you might realize