Are Latins only in Latin America?
Are Latins only in Latin America?
Short answer: no. For a more complete answer, keep reading!
Who Put the Roman in Romance
In Spanish, latino technically refers to someone (or their descendant) who was from ancient Latium, a region in central-western Italy, and whose language was Latin. Interestingly, Latium is the original name of the territory that eventually founded Rome, and so Romans were in fact Latinos.
More broadly speaking, the term latino refers to a person who belongs to the cultures of the romance languages, which branch out from the Latin language and civilization of Rome. This means that all Italians, French, Spaniards, Romanians, and Portuguese, as well as all those Latin Americans whose language is Spanish or Portuguese are latinos. Conversely, an English-speaker from Belize would not qualify as a latino for the simple fact that English is not classified as a romance language.
Long History of Latino Identity
Latinx (the oft-used, modern, gender-neutral variation of latino) identity includes a variety of races, because Latin America has been shaped for the last five centuries by European imperialism and colonization, wars, and migration. Its long and complex history is an amalgam of native people, European colonization, African slavery, and global immigration patterns. Due to the transatlantic slave trade, about 130 million people of African descent live in Latin America. Many countries and communities throughout Latin America have deep African roots, including Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Dominican Republic, and Cuba, to name a few.
Why Latin America?
The use of the term “Latin America” dates back to the mid-1800s, when French Emperor Napoleon III sought imperial control over Mexico. He and his ministers wanted to bridge Mexican and French cultures through a shared sense of latin identity, and so the name was born.
As a geographical region, Latin America encompasses a total of 26 nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean where the official, predominant language is Spanish, French, or Portuguese. Although Spanish is and was one of the dominant languages in the U.S., the United States is not technically considered part of Latin America.
Interesting note: if Quebec were to break away from Canada and become its own nation, it would become part of Latin America.
¿Como se dice “Latin America”?
There are two equally proper ways of translating “Latin America”: América Latina and Latinoamérica. Both terms are appropriate to refer to the western-hemisphere nations in which a language derived from Latin is spoken. (Nations where English and Dutch are spoken primarily are not part of Latin America.)
If you want to refer only to those nations where Spanish is the official language, then the term for that is Hispanoamérica. Why is that you ask? The answer is that Hispano simply means that which is related to the Spanish language. Spain, Mexico, and Argentina are part of Hispanoamérica—but Brazil is not.
What if you want to exclude the French-speaking regions of Latin America and include Brazil? There is a word for that (though I’ve never actually heard it used in conversation): Iberoamérica. “Ibero” means “that related to the Iberian peninsula” which includes Portugal. Though it has fallen out of common use, Iberoamérica refers to the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking nations of Latin America.
What’s So Romantic About the Romance Languages?
Romance languages are the continuation of Vulgar Latin, the popular, colloquial Latin spoken by the commoners of the Roman Empire, as opposed to the classical form of the language spoken and written by the upper classes.
The term Romance comes from the Vulgar Latin adverb “romanice,” which translates to “in Roman.” There are presently 23 Romance languages spoken in the world today, including Catalan, Corsican, Galician, Ladin, Lombard, Sardinian, and Venetian as some of the more obscure examples. There are even six Romance-based creoles and pidgins, including Haitian Creole. While the “romance” in romance language isn’t actually referring to the stereotypical sex appeal of the “Latin lover,” this family of languages does arguably roll off the tongue in a more sensual way than, say, German, Mandarin or even English.
Spanish is #1
The top five Romance languages with the most native speakers are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian. Spanish is number 1 with approximately 470 million native speakers worldwide!
Latino is a Spanish word that has entered the English language.
The words Latino, Latina, and Latinx are used to describe people from Latin America or their descendants. Although Latinxs speak Spanish, they may dislike the term “Hispanic,” which is too closely associated with Spain, the country from which so many conquistadors came to rape, pillage, kill and steal.
The contemporary definitions of these terms currently in use are:
Latino: a U.S.-born Hispanic who is not fluent in Spanish and is engaged in social empowerment through Identity Politics. “Latino” is principally used west of the Mississippi, where it has displaced “Chicano” and “Mexican American.” English is probably their first language.
Latin: an abbreviation for “Latin American,” or Latinoámericano in Spanish (written as one word), a Latin is a person who was born in Latin America and migrated to the United States. Technically, Brazilians are Latins (not “Latinos”), because they speak Portuguese, which is a Latin language.
Regardless of his or her immigration status, a Latin is a foreign-born worker for whom English is a “foreign” language and who lacks the cultural fluency taken for granted by those born and raised in the United States. Spanish, Portuguese, or an indigenous language is their mother tongue.
What about “Hispanic”?
“Spanish Americans” was the term used widely in the nineteenth century. It morphed into “Spanish-speakers” and “Spanish-surnamed” for most of the twentieth century. “Hispanic” was introduced officially in 1970 by the Nixon administration. Today the term “Hispanic” covers people of a variety of ethnic identities who have origins in Spanish-speaking countries (i.e. Spain and Latin America). Every Latino is a Hispanic, but not every Hispanic is a Latino. Hispanic is the more inclusive term.
So, Is It Latino or Hispanic?
In 1997, the US government officially adopted the term “Latino” as a counterpart to the English word “Hispanic.” Until then, Hispanic had been used in an attempt to classify people living in the U.S. who were Spanish speakers or of Spanish heritage, ancestry, or descent. Now, with the use of the word “Latino,” with a capital L, this bureaucratic category has been enlarged to include people of non-Spanish descent. These semantics are somewhat irrelevant in the end, as the U.S. Census Bureau counts both Hispanics and Latinos in the same category.
The definition they provide defines a “Hispanic” as:
A person of Latin American or Iberian ancestry, fluent in Spanish. It is primarily used along the Eastern seaboard, and favored by those of Caribbean and South American ancestry or origin. English or Spanish can be their “native” language.
A Note on Indigenous Languages
Prior to the European conquests, it is estimated that there were as many as 1,750 indigenous languages in Latin America. Just in Mexico, nearly 70 distinct indigenous languages (364 total dialects) are still spoken. There are 22 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala. Several million Mayan people still speak their dialects as a first language throughout Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. Nearly 4 million people in Peru today still speak the ancient Incan language Quechua.
Want to Learn More About Latin America?
Check out our blog post on A Brief History of Latin America, then sign up for a free class where you can practice Spanish while you talk with one of our native Guatemalan teachers about Latin American culture and customs!
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