How do Latinos Prefer to be Identified? (Hint: Not as Latinos) Asks Study

Most Hispanics don’t use the term "Hispanic" or "Latino" to describe themselves, according to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

A majority, 51 percent, of Hispanics say they usually identify themselves by their family’s national origin – preferring, for instance, to say they’re Mexican or Dominican or Cuban or Colombian, rather than “Hispanic.”

Considerably fewer, 24 percent, say they prefer the broader term. About as many, 21 percent, say they prefer simply “American” to identify themselves.

Asked which they prefer – Hispanic or Latino -- slightly more than half say they have no preference. But of those who said they do have a preference, 33 percent favor Hispanic to Latino, which was chosen by just 14 percent.

Another finding, which perhaps influences the preference of many of the respondents for a narrower identifier than “Hispanic,” is that a majority see Hispanics as being a highly diverse group culturally, rather a homogeneous one, according to the report, titled: “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity.”

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By a ratio of two to one, or 69 percent vs. 29 percent, Hispanics say that the population of more than 50 million have “many different cultures rather than a common culture,” the study shows.

At the same time, they see themselves as different from other Americans, the report said.

“About half (47 percent) say they consider themselves to be very different from the typical American,” it said.

U.S-born Hispanics, who make up nearly half of this ethnic population, identify more strongly with Americans in general than immigrant Hispanics.

On the issue of language, nearly 90 percent of Hispanics say it is important for immigrants to learn English if they are to succeed in this country. But they also believe that future generations of Hispanics should be able to speak Spanish along with being proficient in English.

The survey was conducted between November 9 and December 7 of last year; 1,220 randomly selected Hispanics were interviewed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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In 1976, Congress passed a law requiring the federal government to categorize data under the term Hispanic, a classification that originated in this country and essentially is not used outside of the United States.

The Pew report notes that "it was the first and only time in the nation's history that an ethnic group had been singled out in this manner."

"Government agencies also collect data on whites, blacks and Asian-Americans," the report continued, "but unlike Hispanics they are all categorized by the U.S. Census Bureau as racial groups. Hispanics are categorized as an ethnic group -- meaning they share a common language, culture and heritage, but not a common race."

In the Pew survey, Hispanics also displayed diversity in their views – sometimes leaning toward liberalism, other times toward conservatism, depending on the issue.

On the subject of abortion, Hispanics hold a more conservative view than the general U.S. population, the report said.

More than 50 percent of Hispanics oppose abortion, saying it “should be illegal in most or all cases,” the study shows. In the general U.S. population, 41 percent share that view.

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Nearly 60 percent of the general U.S. population says that religion is “very important” in their lives; nearly 70 percent of immigrant Hispanics expressed that sentiment.

But among U.S.-born Hispanics, the role of religion in their lives is not as pivotal, the study said.

Less than half – 49 percent -- of U.S.-born Hispanics said that religion is very important to them.

But Hispanics showed again that they cannot be put in a neat little box on the issue of politics, either.

While they share many characteristics of conservative Americans, 30 percent described their political views as liberal or very liberal – compared with 21 percent of the general public.

Indeed, some 70 percent of Hispanic voters cast their ballots for Barack Obama in 2008, but they have showed they’ll give their support to a Republican candidate who appeals to them.

George W. Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 presidential elections.

Follow Elizabeth Llorente on Twitter@Liz_Llorente

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