The following glossary items are adapted from a list prepared by Rosa María Santana for inclusion in the NAHJ publication,“Latinos in the United States: A Resource Guide for Journalists.” To see the full listings, refer to the NAHJ resource guide—the creation of which Knight Ridder funded—and the association’s Web site (www.nahj.org).
Aztlán: Refers to mythical land occupied by Aztecs. Chicano activists in the 1960’s and 1970’s referred to Aztlán as the land Mexico lost to the United States during their war, which now encompasses the U.S. Southwest.
Balsero: Spanish term for Caribbean immigrants who arrive in the United States via rafts. Most often applied to Cubans, but also applies to Dominicans who cross to Puerto Rico.
Barrio: The term could stereotype predominantly Latino neighborhoods, so whenever possible, use the name of the neighborhood in news reports to be more precise and specific. Use with caution, unless quoting directly.
Bodega/Colmado: Corner grocery stores in the Northeast, usually owned by Puerto Ricans or Dominicans.
Bracero Program: In 1942, in the midst of World War II, the United States and Mexico adopted the “Bracero Program.” It allowed thousands of Mexicans to enter the United States to labor as temporary workers in the agricultural industry. The program ended in 1964. Many Chicano activists in the 1960’s objected to this program because, they said, Mexicans were brought into the United States to toil in manual back-breaking work, but were not given opportunities to better their standard of living.
Chicano/Chicana: A term for Mexican Americans popularized by activists during the 1960’s and ’70’s civil rights movement. It was meant to reflect Mexican Americans’ dual heritage and mixed culture, their presence for centuries in the United States, and their right to be American citizens.
Coyote: Person paid to convey undocumented immigrants across the U.S./Mexico border. [There are regional usages that might vary from this definition.]
Hispanic: A catch-all ethnic label describing people in the United States who are either themselves from a Spanish-speaking country or whose ancestors were from a Spanish-speaking country. “Hispanic” is controversial among Latinos who view it as a government-imposed label. The U.S. federal government created the term and first used it in the 1980 Census to ensure a more accurate count of individuals in the United States who are of either Latin American or Spanish heritage. The term “Hispanic” is an ethnic label, not a race of people. While reporting, be mindful that some ethnically identify themselves as “Hispanic,” while others prefer the term “Latino,” or choose to be ethnically identified by their country of origin, e.g., of Colombian descent. In reporting, it is best to ask the person or group how it wants to be identified.
Hispanic Heritage Month: Observed in the United States from September 15 to October 15.
Illegal alien: Avoid. Alternative terms are “undocumented worker” or “undocumented immigrant.” The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) uses this term for individuals who do not have documents to show they can legally visit, work or live here. Many find the term offensive and dehumanizing because it criminalizes the person rather than the act of illegally entering or residing in the United States. The term does not give an accurate description of a person’s conditional U.S. status, but rather demeans individuals by describing them as “aliens.”
Illegal immigrant: Avoid. Alternative terms are “undocumented immigrant” or “undocumented worker.”
Illegal(s): Avoid. Alternative terms are “undocumented immigrant” or “undocumented worker.” Immigration: When reporting migratory trends of immigration, avoid inflammatory words like deluge, flood or invasion. Best to use neutral terms, e.g., arrival.
Immigrant: Similar to reporting about a person’s race, mentioning that a person is a first-generation immigrant could be used to provide readers or viewers with background information, but the relevancy of using the term should be made apparent in the story. Also, the status of undocumented workers should be discussed between source, reporter and editors because of the risk of deportation.
La Frontera: Spanish for the border between the United States and Mexico.
La Migra: Slang Spanish term for Immigration and Naturalization Service agents and the INS in general. Used by several Latino groups.
Latino/Latina: An umbrella ethnic term describing people in the United States who are either themselves from a Spanish-speaking country or whose ancestors were from a Spanish-speaking country. The U.S. Census Bureau first used the term “Latino” in the 2000 Census and applied the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” interchangeably, though “Hispanic” is a controversial term among some Latinos who view it as a government-imposed label. Also, the term “Latino” is an ethnic label, not a race of people. In Spanish, Latin America is referred to as “Latinoamerica.” Subsequently, the term “Latino” is used in Spanish to describe the people of Latin America. “Latino” applies to men, boys and mixed gender groups (i.e., the Latino community); “Latina” applies to women and girls. While reporting, be mindful that some prefer to identify themselves as “Hispanic,” while others call themselves “Latino” or choose to be identified by their country of origin, e.g., Cuban American. In reporting, it is best to ask the person or group how they want to be identified.
La Violencia: English translation is “the violence,” and it refers to the Colombian civil war resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 Colombians. “La Violencia” was exacerbated by the April 9, 1948 murder of charismatic Liberal Party leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, who championed the cause of urban and rural workers. “La Violencia” occurred between 1946 and 1966.
Maquiladora: Assembly factory, using low-cost foreign labor, located in the Caribbean and across the Mexico-U.S. border.
Marielito: Refers to a Cuban refugee who arrived in a massive migration in 1980 when Castro allowed thousands of Cubans to leave the island from the port of Mariel.
Mexican American: U.S. citizen of Mexican descent. No hyphen. (In English, hyphenate if use as adjective.)
Naturalization: Act making a person a U.S. citizen who was not born with that status. An application toward U.S. citizenship is an application for naturalization.
Permanent resident: The status of a person who, after qualifying, is registered by the Immigration Service. This status allows a person to live permanently in the United States, to work, and to accumulate time toward U.S. citizenship. Permanent residents have an identification card commonly called a “green card.”
Quinceañera: A long-standing Christian custom in Latin American countries and among Latino families in the United States celebrating a girl’s 15th birthday. The event has the religious symbolism of a Jewish bat mitzvah, as well as the splendor of a debutante ball. The name is from two Spanish words: “quince,” 15, and “años,” years.
Santería: Santería is an old religion with much symbolism. It originated among the Yoruba people of Africa and was introduced to Cuba during the slave trade of the 1500’s. The worship customs of the enslaved African Yorubas fusing with the Spanish colonial Catholicism of Cuba led to the birth of Santería. The African religion underwent severe transformations in Cuba in order to survive. Santería has images of saints similar to Catholicism and is prevalent throughout the Caribbean Islands. It is still practiced today by people from all walks of life.
Santero/Santera: Respectively, a priest and priestess in the religion of Santería.
Spic: Avoid. Derogatory word used for all Latinos. Highly pejorative, offensive term. The word is a racial slur.
Tejano/Tejana: Person of Mexican descent from Texas.
Undocumented immigrant: Preferred term to “illegal immigrant,” “illegal(s)” and “illegal alien.” This term describes the immigration status of people who do not have the federal documentation to show they are legally entitled to work, visit or live here.
Undocumented worker: Preferred term to “illegal alien,” “illegal immigrant,” or “illegal(s).” This term describes the immigration status of people who do not have the federal documentation to show they are legally entitled to work, visit or live here.
Wetback: Avoid. Derogatory word referring to individuals of Mexican descent and is derived from the crossing of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande into the United States. Highly pejorative, offensive term. It is considered among the worst of racial epithets.