American Heritage Dictionary
  • Petitioned New American Heritage Dictionary

This petition was delivered to:

New American Heritage Dictionary

American Heritage Dictionary

    1. Gaylon Alcaraz
    2. Petition by

      Gaylon Alcaraz

      chicago, IL

December 2011


After the American Heritage Dictionary added in the term "anchor baby" without indicating that it was a derogatory and offensive term, Gaylon Alcaraz started a petition asking the dictionary to label the term as offensive, or to remove it entirely. 

After reading a blog post by Immigration Impact that criticized the dictionary's "neutral" definition - and hearing from hundreds petition signers, the dictionary changed the definition to label the term as offensive. 

This was a quick victory, thanks to the rapid response of people like Gaylon and the staff at Immigration Impact. Now that the dictionary defines this as an offensive term, maybe news outlets and politicans will stop using it in their coverage and comments on immigration. 


This petition is in response to the inclusion of the racial epithet "anchor baby" in the fifth edition of the New American Heritage dictionary. Although the editors justify its inclusion by arguing that the dictionary is a "value-neutral space,” the definition reads:

anchor baby n. A child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially such a child born to parents seeking to secure eventual citizenship for themselves and often other members of their family.

We would like to point out to the editors of the dictionary that legitimizing a derogatory and offensive term does not promote a “value-neutral” space. The term is racially laden because it is based on a historical debasement of the reproduction of immigrant women and devalues children of undocumented immigrants who are born in the United States. Largely used by those who would like to recall the 14th Amendment to the United States (which grants citizenship to children of migrants born on U.S. soil), it promotes the belief that immigrant women utilize their reproduction to establish a connection to U.S. citizenship and that the children born here are pawns in an effort to unify immigrant families. The definition included in the dictionary presents the so-called "anchor baby" as a “neutral” fact, not as what it is: an image created by and used solely by anti-immigrant nativists who aim to keep unwanted immigrants from entering the United States.

"Anchor baby" is a racialized term, and its utterance is an act of hate speech. In including this term in the dictionary the editors have enacted and legitimized racial thinking targeted at immigrant women. While the dictionary's editors claim that they have presented the term as value-neutral, that is an impossible option. The meaning of the term "anchor baby" only exists as part of a larger racist, sexist and classist discourse that criminalizes immigrant women and stereotypes their reproductive behavior. It also demeans and devalues the 4.5 million U.S. born citizen minors who have at least one undocumented parent and who might encounter this definition in their classrooms. As a dictionary which claims to promotes the "correct" usage of language, the New American Heritage is encouraging the use of a term that is deeply offensive, racist and politically laden. By printing it, the New American Heritage Dictionary is complicit in expressing and spreading these nativist ideas- there is no other possibility.

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