Hispanic Heritage Month, Indigenous People’s Day, and Identity: Person-First Language

Two women dancing in the traditional Mexican Folkloric style with colorful skirts
Two women dancing in the traditional Mexican Folkloric style with colorful skirts
Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

We wanted to offer a few definitions to explore some relevant overlaps between Hispanic Heritage and Indigenous People’s Day (which each include systems of European colonization).

We started with these definitions to explore concepts of identity and culture with the understanding that none of our many complex identities are mutually exclusive! A framework of cultural humility teaches us that the expression of identity originates from the perspective of the Self and our construction of self-understanding. Typically, identity originating from the perspective or label of others may not align with self-perception, and can often result in racialized or identity-based stereotypes that historically have been experienced within various systems of oppression. 

Hispanic: Related to the people, culture, and countries that were originally colonized under the Spanish Empire Learn More

Mexica: Related to the people and cultures under the Mexica Empire: Learn More

Latino/a/e/x: A term referring to groups of people with cultural ties to Latin America. Learn More 

Indigenous: The earliest-known inhabitants of an area, and their descendants, particularly one that has been colonized by a now-dominant settler culture. Learn More

Native American: Refers to the Indigenous peoples of the land and territory now known as the United States (also including what is now known as Canada, Mexico, and Central America) prior to European contact and colonization. Learn More

How do we navigate communication around identities? One simple perspective to consider is people-first language, which refers to linguistic prescriptions describing a person before the “condition” a person has, or a label defining what or who a person “is.

Examples of People-First Language: 

  • A person who uses a wheelchair (versus a “disabled or handicapped person”)
  • A child who bites (versus “the Biter”)
  • A child struggling to get needs met or behave in safe ways (versus “a defiant or difficult child” or a “bully”)
  • A person with Autism (versus an “Autistic person)
  • A Black person, or a person who is Black, or a person descended from enslaved Africans, or an African-American person

While this framework of People-First Language originally emerged out of communities of people with different abilities, it is also important to consider that some communities prefer identity-first language because some characteristics (including race and cultural heritage) are inseparable parts of our identity.

Quite simply, we can always consider the WHOLE PERSON rather than just a person’s visible identity, and question whether a marker of identity is actually beneficial or necessary. Our goal is to always use language reflecting the full and complete humanity of each and every human being

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