Arabs and Hispanics

Arabs and Hispanics are groups invented for sociological and political reasons, determined solely by what language they speak. Although each group utlimately stems from a common people, the groups today are geographically dispersed and ethnically diverse. Iraqis, Saudis, and Algerians are all Arabs but are probably more different than they are similar. Same with Spanish, Mexicans, and Chileans.

What’s the point in using these categories to identify people?

It is a group of people who share some common social characteristics. So why pretend that the group doesn’t exist?

For the same reason when I was little I spoke Serbo-Croatian and now I would speak Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian or Montenegrin.

Seriously it’s just a matter of self-identification

In the OP example about a third of the people in Iraq are not Arabs but Kurds. A lot of Algerians are Berbers and most are mixed Berbers and Arabs.

I know Native Americans that will self-identify as Latinos or Hispanics, because they were born in Mexico and speak Spanish, even though they don’t have one drop of European blood in them.

The terms are “invented” just as a convenient way to classify data. For instance in the USA, Spanish is more and more important. I see many jobs now saing Bi-Lingual required, especially in H/R.

If you ever called a Cuban a Mexican or a Puerto Rican a Dominican you will see they will correct you quickly. But the fact they speak Spanish is useful for the government to know as they need to provide services.

A hundred years ago in major urban areas it was common to have a lot of languages spoken. But it wasn’t classed as English was a common device of learning. Now with broadcast media such as it is, and immigrants having quick connections back to their country they don’t lose it.

In my mum’s day when her family came here, they never expected to ever go back to Yugoslavia for any reason. They severed ties and became Americans. Now, immigrants through Internet, cheap phone rates, and airplanes can keep in touch and visit their homelands, so the connection stays alive.

But it’s really SELF-identification and who asks.

For instance, if an American would ask me my background I would say Serbo-Croatian. But if an Australian asked me, I’d say “I’m an American.”

Or like the term “Yank” outside of the USA a “Yank” is anyone from America.

Inside the USA a “Yank” is someone from the north part of the country.

If you’re in the north part of the USA a “Yank” is someone from New England

(Yes, I know those aren’t hard and fast rules, but you get the idea)

The thing is people think if you group things it must always be for a bad reason like to discriminate, and while it CAN be used for that, it can also be used for good things too. Like taking a driver’s test in various languages

My point is that by definition, they share one characteristic.

Grouping people by languages is a really good idea if your interest in them is what language they speak. Such a grouping isn’t discrimination per se. But generalizations are made based on that grouping that are often misleading. An Iraqi Shiite doesn’t really have much in common with a Saudi Sunni. In fact, the dialects are so different they might not even be able to communicate if they don’t speak Modern Standard Arabic. So where is the benefit in classifying both as Arabs?

In politics there is discussion of the Hispanic vote as if Spanish speakers vote as a bloc. But I think what they really mean is North American Hispanics. I’m not sure that an immigrant from Mexico would have the same political interests as someone from Argentina.

So I am wondering why this categorization persists in situations where the issue at hand is much broader than language.

What’s the point of using “white” as an identifier? What’s the point of using “European”?

I’d dispute that but even if it were true, so what? If there’s a group of people who share a common characteristic, aren’t they entitled to a group identity? How many characteristics do they have to share before you’re willing to acknowledge their existence?

Actually, though I’ll defer to those better informed than me, I believe Gulf Arabic and and Iraqi Arabic are closely related and pretty mutually intelligible. My understanding is that you’d have many more issues between Maghreb dialects and Eastern dialects.

At any rate one could say the same thing about the Kurds - the much more geographically entwined Sorani and Kurmanji dialects are generally referred to as being largely mutually unintelligible, virtually separate languages.

However circular it may sound, one of the biggest reasons Arabs are categorized as Arabs is because they self-categorize that way. Hence the existence of such organizations as the Arab League and such political philosophies as Pan-Arabism.

ETA: In the ME this may be in part related to emerging anti-Turkish nationalism in the 19th century, in North Africa to tension between Berber and Arab. Arabic’s use as essentially a liturgical language probably also plays a unifying role. Whatever the reason it seems a fairly well-accepted group at this point, so internally logical or not, it pretty much is.

You’re being contradictory here. If these dialects are indeed dialects, then they have something in common. If they actually had nothing in common, then they wouldn’t be dialects of the same language. If linguists do indeed classify these dialects as subsets of Arabic, then both Iraqi Shiites and Saudi Sunnis have at least one thing in common–which is the language Arabic.

Of course, the term Arabic isn’t used solely in this sense (although it can be). Like most words in English, it has multiple meanings depending on the context. So, there is a historical definition of Arabic, a political definition of Arabic and an ethnic definition of Arabic. Given the migratory patterns of various groups in the Middle East throughout the Middle Ages, it’s not unreasonable to find various things in common among the various groups in that region.

I have never heard the term Hispanic (or Latino) used to refer to Spanish speakers generally in the US. I have always heard it used to refer to people of mixed Native American-Spanish or African-Spanish heritage who can trace their ancestry to Spanish speaking countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Yes they would. And no they wouldn’t. They have some issues in common and some issues not in common. Have you really not been following the US political debate over Latino immigration?

Since the categorization is not only about language, the categorization persists. I have trouble understanding why you think the limited and specific definition you are using is the only one that can be used.

If you seriously want to understand this, go visit a college library and look up some of the stuff written about nationality and ethnic identity. The theory behind this stuff is pretty complicated, and there are no answers that will fit on a message board. But the debates involved are pretty fascinating, and there is a lot of good stuff that has been written.

Just to add: there are specific issues where I think it’s fairly meaningless to talk about “Arabs” or “Latinos,” since those groupings aren’t really meaningful within the context of those specific issues. But there are other issues where it makes quite a bit of sense. If we’re talking about the Modernismo literature/poetry style then it makes sense to discuss Latino/Hispanic/Latin American culture. Similarly, I don’t see how you analyze a political movement like pan-Arabism without discussing Arabs.

OTOH, sometimes people try to use these groupings where they don’t belong, such as with the Democracy Domino Theory that was argued with respect to the Iraq invasion. It probably doesn’t make much sense to lump say Morocco and Iraq together when trying to analyze internal domestic politics.

But not everybody whose primary language is Arabic is an Arab, only a subgroup. Specifically, those who spoke Arabic before Islam came along: the ethnic group from whose name the language’s name derives. “Arab” is more similar to “Celtiberic” than to “Hispanic”.
And the reason these categorizations exist is the same reason any other human categorization exists: our mental need to classify. So long as it doesn’t move from “organizational labels” to “pigeonholes” or gets used in no-true-Scotsman unreasoning, it’s all fine.

This is a total hijack, but speaking of Arabs and Hispanics, one thing that needs to be pointed out to Americans who are paranoid about Islam taking over is that Mexicans aren’t Muslims.

I’m afraid you’re mixing apples and oranges here. Hispanics is a “recent concept”, no more than two hundred years old at the very best. Arabic is an ancient one, which perfectly covered a language, but also a culture, and a geopolitical concept. Comparing them to Hispanics is inane, Celts would be a much more appropriate comparison. One main language with different dialects, a common culture but with some great local differences, and a sense of belonging to the same group. It is not an artificial construct, or, if it is, it has been vetted by history.

No, one of the definitions of Arab are those who speak Arabic as their native tongue. It’s ethnicity as defined by linguistics. Which is one way to do it. It’s a similar concept to the Chinese, a number of closely related but at times mutually unintelligible dialects united by politics.

One could contrast Arabian vs. Arab I suppose, but gradations quickly become blurry as Bedouin migration spread Arabian genes far and wide.

Just to make things even more confusing, you can have self-identified Arabs that speak little or no Arabic, like many Afghan Arabs, who trace their identity via descent ( whether spurious or real ), but have lost much of their Arabic.

When I re-read the quote you included I realized I was not clear. When people talk about Hispanics living in the U.S., they generally mean Spanish-speaking immigrants from North and Central America, moreso than from Spain, for example. I did not mean that the term Hispanic applies only to Spanish speakers in the U.S.

Well, yes, and that is really my point. I don’t know why we would take language as a basis for grouping people and then assume that they are common in many other ways in which they may not be.

How can you miss it? But almost all of that debate is driven by illegal immigration from Mexico.

I don’t think it is the only one that can be used, but my understanding is that’s the denotation. I am eager to be better informed. :slight_smile:

That’s a pretty good question. There seems to be some sense in identifying non-whites in the U.S. as a group disadvantaged by discrimination by the majority white population, such as for purposes of Affirmative Action. But whites are a very diverse group. Saying that non-whites are disadvantaged doesn’t imply that you can generalize that all whites are elite and privileged, or say much else about what they all have in common.

It does make sense in certain narrow applications; they seem to have enough in common economically have formed an economic bloc with a common currency. But, of course, Greeks, Italians, French, etc., all have diverse and distinct cultures. People often make generalizations about Europeans as well that are not related to the things they truly do have in common. Unfortunately, Americans have a tendency to do this more than others; Europeans are seen by many Americans as lumped together as “those people over there somewhere who are different from us.”

Your first statement contradicts your second. Hispanic isn’t just what language they speak. As you mention in the first paragraph, it’s people from a specific area as well. Would it make more sense to you if the term “Latin American” was used instead of “Hispanic”? I hear the 2 terms used pretty much interchangably, except I would be surprised to hear someone from Brazil called Hispanic.

And why not? The terms Latino and Hispanics is the short form of Latin Americans and Hispanic Americans. And those are geographical entities, rather than racial terms. Are you surprised if you call a Black born in the United States of America an American? Or if you call a Asiatic born in Canada a Canadian? If so, why you wonder a Latino could be of Indigenous origins, given that term reffer to Latin America, and not to the Latin race?

Ferdinand and Isabella had a pretty good crack at ridding Spain of ‘furriners’

  • although it looks as if Arabs converted to christianity
  • The Spanish Inquisition was the tool for winkling out reverts amongst others

Calling Spanish Arabs is like saying - Oh the British are just Germans

Sometimes, depending on the topic of conversation, the defining characteristics are “us” and “those d###ed gringos”. In which case “Hispanic” is convenient shorthand.

I would imagine that there are many topics of discussion in which Moroccans and Syrians find themselves in the "Us"category and the rest of the world in the “Them” category.