Many people incorrectly translate the name, “La Raza,” as “the race.” While it is true that one meaning of “raza” in Spanish is indeed “race,” in Spanish, as in English and any other language, words can and do have multiple meanings. As noted in several online dictionaries, “La Raza” means “the people” or “the community.”
Translating our name as “the race” is not only inaccurate, it is factually incorrect. “Hispanic” is an ethnicity, not a race. As anyone who has ever met a Dominican American, Mexican American, or Spanish American can attest, Hispanics can be and are members of any and all races.
The term “La Raza” has its origins in early 20th century Latin American literature and translates into English most closely as “the people” or, according to some scholars, as “the Hispanic people of the New World.” The term was coined by Mexican scholar José Vasconcelos to reflect the fact that the people of Latin America are a mixture of many of the world’s races, cultures, and religions. In contrast, the term “Hispanic” has its origins in the 1970 U.S. Census, and the term “Latino” was officially adopted in 1997 by the U.S. Government in the ethnonym “Hispanic or Latino.”
Mistranslating “La Raza” to mean “the race” implies that it is a term meant to exclude others. In fact, the full term coined by Vasconcelos, “La Raza Cósmica,” meaning the “cosmic people,” was developed to reflect not purity but the mixture inherent in the Hispanic people. This is an inclusive concept, meaning that Hispanics share with all other peoples of the world a common heritage and destiny.
And this is not just SDLRLA’s interpretation. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, “La Raza” means:
“…Mexicans or Mexican Americans considered as a group, sometimes extending to all Spanish-speaking people of the Americas.”
Furthermore, MSNBC’s online Spanish-English website, Encarta, translates the term this way:
“Hispanic Spanish-speakers in the Americas: Mexicans, Mexican Americans, or Spanish-speaking people of the Americas, considered as a group.”
The Free Dictionary, available online, similarly finds that the term “La Raza”:
“…embodies the notion that traditional, exclusive concepts of race and nationality can be transcended in the name of humanity’s common destiny.”