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Today in the US, people from Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas are called by various names: Hispanic, Latino, Chicano, etc. What was the term used by Americans for such people in the 1800s?

If you answer the question, please also let me know if the term you give is/was considered derogatory, so I'll know if I have to be careful to put it in the right context.

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Interesting. As I worked my answer, it changed a lot, and ended up completely different from what I thought it would be. That's the mark of a really good question in my book. +1 –  T.E.D. May 16 '12 at 13:58
When you downvote, it's best if you leave a comment explaining why. This helps improve the quality of questions on the site. –  Joe May 16 '12 at 16:47
what about just calling them "people"? Why are Americans so obsessed with putting race labels on people while at the same time claiming to be a melting pot and not care about race? –  jwenting Apr 18 '13 at 6:44
@jwenting, make that a question, and you might get some great answers. As a comment, it just sounds snarky. –  Joe Apr 19 '13 at 2:55
@Joe make that a question and it gets downvoted a hundred times as being "racist" by the same people who claim to be colour blind and don't want to get it rubbed in their face that they're anything but. –  jwenting Apr 19 '13 at 5:29

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There just weren't a lot of such people in the US in the 1800's, at least until the Mexican/American war. No census bothered to count them, which is a pretty good indication right there. At the beginning of the century the census just counted "free white", "slave", and "free colored". After the Civil war, they dropped slave, and split non-white into "black" and "mulatto" for a while, then "mulatto" was dropped and "indian" was added, then at the end of the century "Chinese" was added.

That gives you a pretty good idea of how the 19th century mind looked at the composistion of the USA.

In the 70's where I grew up in Oklahoma it was common to refer to "Mexicans". Some would say this was reasonable due to that country's preponderance in what we call the "Hispanic" demographic today, while others considered it a kind of ugly ignorance. The later attitude won out, and referring to groups of people as "Mexicans" is now considered offensive by a lot of people. I still today get in trouble sometimes for referring to "Mexicans" on my soccer team, even though the people I am referring to are in fact Mexican citizens.

However, this clearly goes further back. The first attempt by the census to count this demographic back in 1930 was in fact a new "race" category called "Mexican". The 1890's are just as close to 1930 as 1970 is, and they most likely didn't invent that "race" name on the spot. So I think its fair to extrapolate that in the later 1800's this was probably already going on, and in fact "Mexican" was being used for what today we would call "Hispanic".

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I agree, "Mexican" or "Cuban" was the common term I heard when I was growing up and what my Grandparents used. Most of the derogatory terms I've heard about from earlier eras centered around Catholicism (papist, etc.). –  jfrankcarr May 16 '12 at 17:50
Disagree. Here in the Northeast, any Spanish speaking immigrant was known as Spanish, regardless of their country of origin - Spanish Harlem (actually Peurto Rican), the old Spanish Bakery in Providence (actually Dominican), etc - trying to run down something more definite. Will post an answer once I do. –  RI Swamp Yankee Apr 18 '13 at 4:02

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