Literature Review 1
Running Head: LITERATURE REVIEW
Cynara M. Medina
Literature Review 2
Academic research frequently begins with an idea; it can be one so vague and broad that
oftentimes it seems impossible to explain clearly, or to make it sound worth pursuing. This might
be especially true for new researchers, who are still learning the craft, as they may also be
puzzled by questions about methodology, theory, significance, appropriate language, bias,
plagiarism and style manuals, or they may be overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of literature
in their field of interest.
This is a brief literature review on the subject of Hispanic identity. Its purpose is to
uncover how the term Hispanic originated, how it became popularized, which forces were
influential in its adoption, and what are some of the critical views on its legitimacy.
To carry out this review, I conducted a search for articles using article databases available
through Alden library (CommAbstracts, Communication Abstracts, Academic Search Premier,
JSTOR, and Social Sciences Index). I defined the search parameters through the keywords
Hispanic, ethnicity, identity, cultural identity, media, ethnic media, and Hispanic-American,
which were used alone or in combination to limit the number of articles retrieved. For example, a
search for cultural identity using Academic Search Premier uncovered 1284 articles; however,
adding the term Hispanic reduced this number to 25 articles, and limiting the search to only peer-
reviewed journals further reduced this number to 18. I repeated this procedure for each database.
The results ranged from a maximum of 670 articles retrieved from JSTOR, by using the key
words Hispanic, media and identity, to a minimum of 9 retrieved from Communication Abstracts
with the same keywords.
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For this review, 7 articles were chosen. It must be noted that all of these were available
on-line; nevertheless, on-line availability did not determine selection of a particular work, since
print versions of the same material were also available. Instead, the main criterion was relevance
to the topics under analysis.
The term Hispanic originated in the 1970s as a category used by the US Census Bureau
to refer to individuals who “trace their origin to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South
America, and other Spanish cultures.” (OMB, 1997, Multiple Responses to the Hispanic Origin
section, ¶ 2). This category emerges in the political context of the civil rights movement,
affirmative action and other laws intended to address discrimination; it is a product of the need to
identify and quantify a particular minority in such a way as to generate larger numbers than those
resulting from counting Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans as individual groups
(Gimenez, 1992). By the late 1970s, Hispanic began to be used in lieu of more politically-
charged labels like Chicano, or denominations like Spanish-American and Mexican-American,
which were considered inaccurate for two reasons: the first label privileged a European
ascendancy while denying the Native American ethnic component, and the second label denied
that other Latin Americans were coming into the United States, fleeing from civil war,
dictatorships and political instability (Calderon, 1992; Gomez, 1992; Rodriguez, 1997; Oboler,
Gomez (1992), in an exploratory study, analyzes the role of Mexican-American political
elites, defined as “those who stand out in a social group, whether because of their financial,
educational, or leadership positions” (p. 50), in the adoption of the term Hispanic. Her findings
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indicate that Mexican-American politicians and political activists began using the term because
(1) the term makes room for everyone; (2) the term was commonly used by their constituencies;
(3) the term was a means to create a united community that could be regarded as a political front;
(4) the term lacked the militant connotation of Chicano, and thus signaled moderation and a
desire to cooperate.
Even though Hispanic is broadly used nowadays to describe people of Latin American
heritage, critics continue to question the legitimacy of the term, beginning with questions about
its origin as a homogenizing census category. However, critics argue that people of Latin
American origin are not homogeneous; they can come from any country in Latin America; they
can be of any race; they can stem from any socio-economic class, and they will not necessarily
share a common history (Calderon, 1992; Rodriguez, 1997; Oboler, 1992).
Oboler noted the relevance of class in the Latin American immigrants’ decision to self-
identify as Hispanic. Her 1992 study found that middle class informants were more likely to
recognize the term Hispanic as derogatory, yet they used it to self-identify since Hispanic is used
in the United States. Contrastingly, working class informants were more likely to reject the term
[Working class informants] clearly saw it as identifying a group of people with negative
attributes, and they implied that these people had nothing to do with them. Not
surprisingly, many informants simply distanced themselves from the term and asserted
their sense of self in terms of their continental and national origins (p. 23).
Diversity has made the Spanish language the predominant marker for Hispanic identity
(Davila, 2000; Rodriguez, 1997), since more than any other characteristic, language is something
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tangible that Hispanics “share”. On this subject, research indicates that media have played an
important role, by popularizing the term (Gomez, 1992), and that more than any other media
outlet, Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the U.S., has been vital in
the construction of the Spanish-only version of the Hispanic (Davila, 2000; Rodriguez, 1997).
Rodriguez (1997) considers that Spanish-language media, as well as marketing and
audience research conducted by Hispanic professionals, have constructed the “Hispanic
audience” through the use of the label Hispanic, and have devised “a unitary conceptualization of
the Hispanic audience that emphasized the primacy of the Spanish language as a common
characteristic of all people of Latin American descent living in the United States.” (p. 290) By
homogenizing the audience, Spanish-language media, the marketing industry and audience
researchers can create a package that can be sold to potential advertisers as a “good investment”
(1) As a group, Hispanics were younger than the general population and so ripe for
instilling “brand loyalty;” (2) Hispanics had larger households than the general market
and so bought more food, disposable diapers and many other consumer items; (3)
Hispanics spoke Spanish, patronized Spanish language media, and so were easily
“targetable” through for example, SIN’s television stations (SIN was the only U.S.
Spanish-language television network at the time) (p. 290).
Davila (2000) criticizes the notion of a monolingual Hispanic block, as one that
“eliminates and marginalizes cultural differences in the name of “universal similarity,” among
and across Latino subgroups.” (p. 80) Furthermore, she argues that Univision’s use of “Walter
Cronkite Spanish” – a type of Spanish completely stripped from regional accent – limits the
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definition of Hispanicidad to the ability to speak “correct Spanish.” However, as Davila points
out, Walter Cronkite Spanish is not really devoid of accent; it is mostly a version of the Spanish
spoken by the Mexican upper classes in the Distrito Federal. The preference for this particular
type of Spanish is determined by the fact that “Mexican Americans constitute 65 percent of all
Hispanics and that it is Mexican soap operas and programming that dominate the U.S. Hispanic
airwaves, [therefore] it is Mexican language, accent, and mannerisms that are generally favored
as the embodiment of generic Hispanicity.” (p. 85)
Beyond Davila’s arguments, there are at least two additional factors that undermine the
monolingual Hispanic stereotype. The first one is that many Hispanics are bilingual, either
because they learned English as a second language, or because they were born and educated in
the United States. The second factor, also addressed by Davila, is that many Hispanics routinely
speak Spanglish, even though “concerns over language purity subordinate the status of everyday
language, particularly Spanglish, as faulty speech” (p. 86). The recognition of the first factor has
led to the emergence of bilingual publications for Hispanics (Johnson, 2000), and to the use of
English proficiency to subdivide the Hispanic market between the affluent, and the not-as-
affluent (Rodriguez, 1997), while the second factor has led to the use of Spanglish on TV, albeit
“selectively as a “condiment,” and mostly limited to comedy shows.” (Davila, 2000, p. 87)
Even though the term Hispanic is widely used, questions remain about its legitimacy and
appropriateness. Critics point out its homogenizing nature, since Hispanic glosses over the
differences among the people of Latin American descent it is meant to describe, and perpetuates
the stereotypes associated with Hispanics. However, the homogenization that the term achieves
has made it an ideal way for media, marketing and audience research professionals to “package”
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and “deliver” the audience to potential advertisers. This, in turn, has further popularized the use
of the term, although not necessarily for self-identification or without misgivings.
Revisiting the Lit Review: What I’ve learned since 2006.
Since writing this short review, I have worked on several research projects, and the
literature review is still a daunting task. Nevertheless, I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way.
First, I learned how to use RefWorks, which is an online citation management system, to store
my references. It certainly makes the task of organizing articles, books, and individual chapters
easier, and it speeds up the process of generating the reference list for any essay I write. Also, I
started my own citation database, using Excel, to back up everything I use on a regular basis, just
for added security. Putting reference lists together is a time consuming process, and no one wants
to lose days of work, or be set back for not having several options available.
Another important thing I do now, which I did not necessarily realize in 2006, is to look
at the references that other authors list for their works. It is the easiest way to recognize the key
literature in the field. For example, if scholars publish a critical cultural piece on myths, more
often than not they cite Barthes’ essay Myth Today, which is included in Mythologies. What I
often do is to use one article as the starting point to locate at least three additional essays, which I
feel would enrich my own perspective.
Finally, since I read a lot, I often find myself stumbling upon provocative essays or books
that fit into the work that I’m trying to do. For example, lately I have been reading books on
history and on war strategy. I found a good parallel between a book by John Lewis Gaddis called
The Landscapes of History, and works on media representation. I now include Gaddis among the
scholars I cite to explain what representation is. In doing so, I feel my work becomes more
Literature Review 8
complex, and it keeps me open to what I can learn from other disciplines as well as from Media
In the final analysis, everyone has different strategies to draft their literature review, and
no single author will give you a comprehensive one. However, a good literature review should
show your grasp of the research and how it has evolved. It should help you craft a strong
argument, and it should place you, as a writer, within a field. For me, the best thing about it is
that it helps me discover where I fit in as a scholar, and how I can contribute, through my own
research, to a richer understanding of the topic.
Calderon, J. (1992). "Hispanic" and "Latino": The viability of categories for panethnic unity.
Latin American Perspectives, 19(4, The Politics of Ethnic Construction: Hispanic, Chicano,
Davila, A. (2000). Mapping Latinidad: Language and culture in the Spanish TV battlefront.
Television & New Media, 1(1), 75-94.
Gimenez, M. E. (1992). U.S. ethnic politics: Implications for Latin Americans. Latin American
Perspectives, 19(4, The Politics of Ethnic Construction: Hispanic, Chicano, Latino...?), 7-
Gomez, L. E. (1992). The birth of the "Hispanic" generation: Attitudes of Mexican-American
political elites toward the Hispanic label. Latin American Perspectives, 19(4, The Politics of
Ethnic Construction: Hispanic, Chicano, Latino...?), 45-58.
Johnson, M. A. (2000). How ethnic are U.S. ethnic media: The case of Latina magazines. Mass
Communication and Society, 3(2/3), 229-248.
Oboler, S. (1992). The politics of labeling: Latino/a cultural identities of self and others. Latin
American Perspectives, 19(4, The Politics of Ethnic Construction: Hispanic, Chicano,
Office of Management and Budget (1997). Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of
Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. Retrieved September 11, 2006, from
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Rodriguez, A. (1997). Commercial ethnicity: Language, class and race in the marketing of the
Hispanic audience. Communication Review, 2(3), 283-309.