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When It Comes to Working with Multicultural Clients – What’s in a Name?

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By The Gonzales Group

RISMEDIA, July 31, 2008-Our society has been asking ourselves questions like this since the seventies when the government adopted terms such as “Hispanic” to organize population statistics and to monitor compliance to Affirmative Action laws. Interestingly, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as one might expect.

Hispanic or Latino

Choosing one term over the other sometimes means taking a political, social, and even a generational stand. Stereotypically, those who call themselves Hispanic are more assimilated, conservative, and young, while those who choose the term Latino tend to be liberal, older, and sometimes radical.

A recent tracking poll by Hispanic Trends, Inc. wanted to put the identity issue to rest once and for all by asking registered voters which term they preferred “Hispanic or Latino.” The result was something of a surprise: a majority preferred the term Hispanic.

Asian or Oriental

Asia is the largest of the continents with more than half the world’s population. Literally speaking, all of its inhabitants are Asians. In practice, this term is applied almost exclusively to the peoples of East, Southeast, and South Asia as opposed to those of Southwest Asia such as Arabs, Turks, Iranians, and Kurds who are more usually designated Middle or Near Easterners.

Indonesians and Filipinos are properly termed Asian, since their island groups are considered part of the Asian continent, but not the Melanesians, Micronesians, and Polynesians of the central and southern Pacific, who are now often referred to collectively as Pacific Islanders.

One thing is certain, you want to avoid using the term “Oriental” which is used to describe things related to the countries of the Orient such as food or carpet. It is generally viewed as offensive by people of Asian descent to be described as such.

Black or African American

The term African-American is a source of pride for many, even though Africa is a continent, not a country. Many African-Americans who visit Africa have reported that they are made aware by native Africans that they are American. Nevertheless, they remain proud of their African heritage.

Norm Goldstein, stylebook editor for the Associated Press (AP), noted that AP style of terms has changed with usage over the years, as “Black” became the preferred term in the 1970s, replacing “Negro,” much as “Negro” had previously replaced the term “colored”.

The term “African American” was first suggested in 1988 and endorsed by Jesse Jackson at a civil rights summit in 1989, Goldstein wrote. He added, “Studies since have indicated a strong majority of Blacks prefer the term Black, rather than African-American, Afro-American, or Negro.”

Obviously, the best thing to do is to refer to the person by name. However, that is not always possible or practical. Most people want to be referred to by terms they have chosen, not labels selected by others outside their group.

If you find yourself in a situation where you would like to ask an individual about their ethnic heritage, ask them. Most people are flattered and will be happy to tell you about their country and culture.

For more information, visit www.thegonzalesgroup.com.

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