I have always loved writing because I believe the “pen is mightier than the sword,” meaning words are stronger and more influential than force. One of the things I love most about the English language is the vast word choice. There are 170,000 to choose from, so why would one say, “he laughed,” when one could use the words giggle, chuckle, snicker, chortle, guffaw, roar, cackle, or snort to communicate a more accurate picture?
Words matter. Word choice is crucial because it shapes the quality of communication, affects how messages are received and interpreted, and has the power to influence others.
As it turns out, the media knows that words matter, and they are shaping the quality of communication and affecting how messages are received and interpreted, usually not in a positive way.
Think about the language used in the news around immigrants at the Mexican/American border. Here are some examples:
- “Resident nervously watches FLOOD OF IMMIGRANTS in El Paso, TX.”
- “Greater MIGRANT SURGE headed for US border.”
- Texas lawmakers react to the El Paso migrant rush: “FULL-BLOWN INVASION at the southern border.”
The messaging is clear in these examples, floods, surges, and invasions are not positive events. The media influences how we receive the message when the message has loaded language. Thinking critically about the information we consume is critical to improving the immigration issue, or any issue, for that matter.
At the National Credit Union Foundation Workshop in El Paso this October, we learned the human side of the story at the border.
Michael DeBruhl is a retired U.S. Customs and Border Protection Chief Executive. In his retirement, he is the Director of Casa del Sagrado Corazon in El Paso. He shared his experience in both capacities and shed light on misconceptions about who is coming into the US at the Mexican border. It is not only Mexican people migrating; people from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, South America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa, also come through the El Paso border. The reasons for migration vary widely and may include fleeing persecution, violence, poverty, political instability, seeking better economic prospects, or reuniting with family members, to list a few examples.
I was able to spend an afternoon at the Casa del Sagrado Corazon and learn more about the experience of the immigrants coming to America through El Paso. I had no idea that the majority of noncitizens located in Central or Northern Mexico who seek to travel to the United States use the U.S. Customs and Border Protection CBP One™ app to submit information in advance and schedule an appointment to present themselves at the below Southwest Borderland ports of entry (POEs). Did you know this? Why doesn’t the news ever talk about what is working and improving at the border?
Another thing I learned at the Casa del Sagrado Corazon is that most immigrants only stay in El Paso for a short time. They are just passing through as they wait to connect with their sponsors all over the U.S. Many only stay a few days. At Casa del Sagrado Corazon, they have a safe place to sleep, food, a set of clothes, and volunteers who are committed to serving the immigrant community. The credit union group of volunteers gave water to those waiting to get it to the shelter, sorted through and organized donated clothing, played with the kids, and folded clean blankets for the guests. The work happening here is indeed people helping people with the most basic of human needs. It was so meaningful to be part of this work, even if only for a few hours.
One of the guests at the shelter saw me looking at the kitchen. I love to cook, and I wanted to see the kitchen they worked in. I did not realize that I was holding an empty water bottle. He approached me and asked if he could get me a new water bottle. I knew enough Spanish to say, “Yes, I would like another bottle of water” (Sí, me gustaría otra botella de agua), but I didn’t want one. So, I tried to tell him, in Spanish, that I love to cook, and I was checking out their kitchen to see how they run things there. My Spanish was not great, so we struggled a bit, but at the end of the conversation, I knew his favorite dish to cook was Burritos with Machaca Guisada, and he knew that I love growing and cooking vegetables. This is another example where words matter. I did not know all the words I wanted to use in Spanish. But I used the words I did know to explain what I meant and then asked him, “How do I say that” (Como se dice) in Spanish. We had to work harder to find the words, but we made a small connection because we took time to find the words.
Because words matter … it is time to retire the use of “Illegal Alien” or “Illegal Immigrant.” It is best to use neutral and accurate terms like “undocumented immigrant” or “migrant” when discussing immigration status. Human beings are not illegal.
Because words matter … Let’s look at when to use Latino/a/x and when to use Hispanic. The key difference is that “Latino/a/x” emphasizes cultural and geographic ties to Latin America and Spanish-speaking countries, while “Hispanic” has a broader historical context and may include individuals with Spanish ancestry or ties to Spanish-speaking regions, regardless of the specific country of origin.
This may be the most important point about which word to choose: the choice of terminology can vary among individuals and regions, so it’s essential to use the terms people prefer when referring to their cultural identity.
- Refers to people with origins, ancestors, or cultural ties to Spanish-speaking countries or Latin America.
- Encompasses individuals from a wide range of countries in Latin America, including but not limited to Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, Argentina, and others.
- It can also include Brazilians because Brazil is located in Latin America, despite the Portuguese language.
- Historically used to describe people of Spanish descent, particularly from Spain.
- In the United States, the term has been applied broadly to refer to individuals from Spanish-speaking countries, including those in Latin America, Spain, and other Spanish-speaking regions.
- It has been used in the U.S. primarily for demographic and statistical purposes, including those with Spanish and Latin American origins.
The workshop challenged us to think beyond product when engaging with the LatinX/Hispanic communities we serve. We discussed intentionality in community building and dove into cultural and demographic insights. We learned how critical it is for credit unions to be relevant in this market segment. We also talked about partnering with others for greater impact. So many great organizations (inclusiv, Juntos Avanzamos, Coopera, NLCUP, and GECU) supported the National Credit Union Foundation in this incredible learning experience. If you want to see a credit union beloved by the city they serve, including its mayor, you must visit GECU. They are a shining example of how to engage the people and the city they serve. Cheers to GECU, CEO, Crystal Long, VP of Community Development, Ruby Alvarez, and the entire team at GECU for hosting this event with NCUF. This one will be hard to beat!