Hispanic or Latino? Why it matters
By Francesca Mcguire: 11/10/15
Beny Poy, a junior from the Bronx, N.Y., is used to making an impact on the University at Albany campus. He’s a Resident Assistant and Senator for Dutch Quad, a member of the campus club MAP (Minorities and Philosophy) and was the Assistant Residential Director for this year’s EOP Summer Program.
However, last month he made an impact at UAlbany that will live on for years after he graduates. Poy helped draft and present a bill to the Student Association that changed the UAlbany recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, to the more inclusive Latino Heritage Month.
Last February, Poy and Christopher Ortega, the co-sponsor of the bill, studied abroad in Cuba where they connected to their Latin roots. They came back to the United States with a renewed sense of pride. They began to recognize the cultural barrier that Hispanic Heritage Month creates.
“In Cuba I learned what it means to define yourself and the empowerment of certain terminology,” Poy said.
Upon his return, Poy began to take various classes in the Caribbean and Latin American Studies Department at UAlbany. The classes offered insight regarding what it means to be of Hispanic descent versus Latin descent.
He described the use of the term Hispanic as an identity for those who have heritage coming from the Iberian Peninsula, speak Spanish, and have Spaniard heritage.
“It generally means those who are Puerto Rican, Mexican or Dominican,” Poy explained.
According to Poy, the American government uses this identity to easily group people together for the census.
The term Latino refers to those within the Latin American region.
“Using Latino is almost like an umbrella,” Poy said. “ It’s a regional reference that even includes Brazilians, for example, who are typically excluded from the term Hispanic.”
Poy, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican, also maintained that Hispanic is considered a “top-down terminology,” whereas Latino is considered “bottom-up.”
“Identifying as Latino is a form of self-empowerment,” Poy said, citing this as something he learned in his Latinization of U.S. Cities course.
To change the UAlbany recognition of the month, Poy first went to the department of Latin American and Caribbean studies. He quickly received support from professors and a letter from the department chair, Pedro Cabán. He also gained support from the director of the Educational Opportunities Program, Maritza Martinez, and from Fuerza, the largest organization on campus that celebrates Latino culture.
After drafting the bill, the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, which for the last decade has celebrated Latino Heritage Month instead of Hispanic Heritage Month, backed Poy.
To Poy’s relief, the bill passed unanimously. However, there was one amendment.
“The bill was slightly changed to be inclusive to Latinas as well,” Poy said. “Simply because the word Latino is more specific to males.”
Hispanic Heritage Month will now be celebrated as Latino and Latina Heritage Month, to include both women and men of Latin descent.
Although Poy celebrated the bill being passed on the UAlbany campus, he sees it as simply the first step in changing federal recognition of an important month. He and Ortega hope to spread the change to the entire SUNY system, New York state, and maybe one day the federal government.
Next year will be Poy’s senior year at UAlbany, and he has a lot to look forward to in the month celebrating his heritage.
“I hope to see a lot more diversity in the Latin culture that is celebrated,” he said.