What’s the Difference Between Hispanic and Latino?
Hispanic, Latino. What’s the difference? Do you know?
Well, it’s a bit tricky.
Research centers and the US government use both terms without distinction and as synonyms. You might’ve even heard people refer to themselves as both.
But are they really the same? Are Spanish people Latino? Should all Latinos call Hispanic too?
We know. That sounds confusing.
For example, the 2010 US Census listed both words in the same check box. It was made specifically for people from Spanish-speaking countries, yet it did not exclude Brazilians.
Here’s another thing to consider:
People born in Latin America or of Latin American descent prefer to state their countries of origin instead of saying they’re Hispanic or Latino.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the meaning of each term and where they come from.
We’ll also give you all the information you need to understand the difference between Latino and Hispanic.
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Defining the Terms: What Do Latino and Hispanic Means?
According to National Geographic, the word “Hispanic” comes from the Latin term Hispanicus, which means “Spanish” or “related to Spain.”
Romans used the name Hispania for what we know now as the Iberian Peninsula.
“In the United States, in the 19th century, the term “Hispanic” was used to describe people of Spanish descent who settled the Southwest in the days before US annexation,” the author wrote.
Until the 20th Century, “Hispanic” was used mostly for things related to Ancient Spain.
But let’s ask the Spanish now!
The Spanish Royal Academy also indicates that Hispanic refers to or belongs to Hispania.
So, we can safely say that “Hispanic” is for all those with Spanish ancestry coming from the Iberian Peninsula. This means Spain and Portugal.
So far, no one has mentioned Latin America or the Spanish language, do you see?
When we search the definition of Latino, however, we realize that it gets trickier, as the Real Academia Española has several meanings:
- Relating to the towns of Lazio, or cities with Latin law
- A person who speaks languages derived from Latin
- A person who is of Latin American or Hispanic origin and lives in the United States of America
Returning to that National Geographic article, the term “Latino” is short for Latin American. It was first used when a series of former Spanish colonies declared independence in the 1850s.
In other words, they were no longer Spanish but Latin American.
In September 2022, the US Pew Hispanic Center published a study that showed how the Hispanic or Latino population of the United States prefers to be called and how they identify themselves.
The study argues that approximately 62.5 million people (19% of the total US population) identified as Hispanic in the 2021 census.
In other studies carried out in the United States, participants were asked to say which of the following four categories they would choose to base their identity on:
- Place of origin
- Hispanic or Latino
- Another option
The majority preferred to list their places of origin—meaning Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, etc.
After all, “Latino” is a broader term that often overlooks people’s identity or preferences.
What do you prefer? Even if you don’t identify as “Hispanic” or “Latino,” we think it’s an exciting exercise. Are you an American? Do you feel you can relate more closely to your city of origin than the whole country?
Something similar happens with Latinos.
Talking About Identity
Cristina Mora, a sociology professor who researched and studied the history of the term “Hispanic,” says, in this interview, that in the ’60s, before this idea was thought up, people identified using their nationality.
Mexicans, for example, have different cultures, needs, and issues than Puerto Ricans. Same as someone from Oregon and someone from New York. They’re just different.
Here’s a curveball. In the ’60s, people started using “Chicano” to refer to US citizens of Mexican origin.
Have you heard about UnidosUS? This amazing organization helped introduce the term “Hispanic” in the US. Before that, they were mostly considered “White.”
Censuses carried out in the US in the 1970s finally had a “Hispanic” category in them. But many also added subcategories for people who considered themselves “Hispanic” and Mexican, Cuban, Colombian, Guatemalan, etc.
People began ditching “Hispanic” because of its ties to Spain and colonization and started using “Latino.”
But we’re not done! By now, we’re sure you’ve heard of the term “Latinx.”
According to Merriam-Webster’s website, the origin of “Latinx” dates back to the early 2000s as a word to describe Latin Americans who also consider themselves gender-neutral.
After all, the “o” in “Latino,” though, is meant to be an inclusive letter, in the Spanish language, it’s also a masculine word, in the same way as the “a” in “Latina” is feminine.
Quickly “Latinx” gained momentum.
Nevertheless, a Gallup poll from 2021 found that only 4% of Hispanic Americans use Latinx.
So, here’s a quick summary.
People born in Latin America or of Latin American descent are “Latinos,” this includes Brazilians but excludes Spaniards. Spanish speakers are “Hispanic,” which includes Spaniards but excludes Brazilians and people born in Latin American countries that don’t list Spanish as an official language, like Guyana or Haiti.
But even that’s not written in stone. Here’s why:
Misconceptions and Stereotypes
Now that defined both terms let’s look at some examples.
Are Mexicans Latino or Hispanic?
What about Brazilians? Are they Latino, even if they don’t speak Spanish?
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Latinos and Mexicans are two different things. Yes, Mexicans are Latinos, but Latinos come from many other countries across Central and South America and the Caribbean.
We recommend you take an interest in people’s stories and ask them what they would like to be called.
For example, people with indigenous backgrounds might frown upon being called Latino, as the term often excludes their experiences and heritage.
Also, the 62 million Hispanics in the US have different histories and origins and are part of multiracial communities. Often, they transcend the outlines of these two words. So, it’s always a good idea to ask and show empathy.
Here’s another example:
In the 2011 Survey of Latinos, data shows that 62% of first-generation immigrant Hispanics often use their country of origin to define themselves.
For second-generation immigrants, this falls to 43% and 28% for third-generation immigrants.
Additionally, the same data shows how these people use the term “American” to describe themselves.
Only 8% of first-generation immigrant Hispanics think they’re American.
35% of third-generation Hispanics think they’re American.
And up to 48% of third-generation Hispanics describe themselves as Americans.
And, remember, they were all born in the US.
You can always go back to the definitions we provided above. However, different people use them differently, which is why it’s so confusing.
One day you might run into a Colombian who calls himself “Hispanic.” Then you might meet a Spaniard who calls herself “Latina.” Then you might meet Guatemalans and Salvadorans living in the US who call themselves “Americans” and are friends of people with a Mexican background who prefer to be called “Chicano.”
But now that you know the basics, we encourage you to talk to your friends and ask them how they identify themselves.
Let’s Learn Spanish and Get Closer to the Hispanic and Latino Cultures!
By now, we bet that you know what Hispanics and Latinos are, but one thing’s for sure: Spanish is widely used in Latin America and Hispanic countries!
So, if you can speak Spanish, you can easily travel across over twenty countries!
If you are planning to go to Mexico, Argentina, Spain, or even Equatorial Guinea, which is in Africa, you’ll need to learn Spanish. At Homeschool Spanish Academy, you can learn it with the help of our certified Spanish-speaking teachers.
Our sessions are online, flexible, and individualized! We offer a free trial class if you want to take a peek before you sign up and pay.
Click here to check our prices. Remember, we have programs tailored for all ages. It doesn’t matter if you’re Latino, Hispanic, American, or Martian! We’re here for you!
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