The worst Latino racial slur is still a mystery for some

The word has popped up recently, amid a rise in hate crimes against Latinos.

Many people of Mexican descent can vividly describe the moment they heard the Latino racial slur “beaner.” As a child or a young adult, it stung. To them, it said: “You’re not American, and you never will be.”

While its use seemed to have been waning, the word has popped up in the news recently.

Last spring, Google searches for the term spiked when a Latino man revealed that a Starbucks barista in Southern California had written “beaner” on two cups he ordered, as a way of identifying him. The incident, which Starbucks said it would investigate and prevent in the future, occurred shortly before the coffee chain closed its locations for a day of anti-bias training.

Then, on Jan. 1, The New York Times used “beaner” as an answer in its crossword puzzle. (The clue referred to baseball: “Pitch to the head, informally.”) The Times apologized.

Such uses of “beaner” are particularly troubling at a moment when hate crimes against Latinos have been rising. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, anti-Latino hate crime increased 176 percent in major U.S. cities in the three weeks after the 2016 presidential election.

“In the period around election time, the group that saw the highest percentage increase of attacks were Latinos,” said Brian Levin, director of the center, who has not researched the use of “beaner” specifically.

While the Times was criticized for using “beaner” in its crossword, the initial apology from crossword co-editor Will Shortz received almost as much heat.

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