The making of ‘Latinos’

The making of ‘Latinos’

In early November 2004, I was sitting in my Hong Kong office sifting through the results of the just completed elections when I saw that two Hispanics had been elected to the U.S. Senate: a Mexican-American from Colorado, Ken Salazar, and a Cuban-American from Florida, Mel Martinez. Even more eye-popping was the fact that Hispanics had given George W. Bush 43 percent support across the country. As editor of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal’s Asia edition at the time, I usually wrote about Asian matters, but I decided this time to write an op-ed celebrating all these trends. The result was “Hispanics for Jorge,” published on November 8, 2004.

While the piece was in editing I received a phone call from some guy on the news side of the paper in New York who had noticed the piece in the queue and informed me that I had to change all the references from Hispanics to Latinos. My response was something like “Huh?” Something seemed to have changed stateside during the nine previous years, when I had been posted to Hong Kong and Brussels. Yes, he went on, he had convinced the news-side editors at the paper that the politically correct way to describe Hispanics was as Latinos, because “this is what they themselves use.”

Surely when they speak Spanish they do, I responded, but why are we going to take a phrase from Spanish and pluck it into English? We don’t say “I’m going to Paree” or “Berlusconi is the Italiano prime minister” unless our purpose is affectation. Worse, the purpose was more of the same politically correct minority coddling that was doing so much damage to the coddled.

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