What’s the Difference Between Hispanic and Latino?
What’s the meaning of Hispanic? Is it the same as being Latino? These two terms are often confused between each other and generate debate about their true meaning. Do you know the difference between Hispanic and Latino? If you don’t, don’t sweat it because I’m here to clarify!
First, let me tell you the quick difference:
- Hispanic refers to people who are descendants of Spanish-speaking populations
- Latino refers to people who were born or are descendants of Latin American populations, but not necessarily Spanish-speaking.
Both terms are widely used in the United States to describe ethnicity and identity.
In this blog post, I’m diving deep into the difference between Hispanic and Latino. Join me as I take you on an educational journey where I’ll revisit the origins, impact, and the similarities the terms Latino and Hispanic share.
The Meaning of ‘Hispanic’
The English word Hispanic derives from the Latín word “Hispanicus,” which referred to people living in Hispania in the Iberian Peninsula during the Roman Empire. Today you know this territory as España (Spain). At that time—as well as now—being Hispanic referred to people who spoke Spanish or were descendants of Spanish-speaking lineage.
Hispanic people often share cultural similarities, but this doesn’t mean that they’re the same race. In fact, the term Hispanic doesn’t refer to race at all. It refers to ethnicity and identity that can be shared between people of different races.
The term Hispanic was first used in the United States and gained popularity in the 1970’s during the Nixon Presidency. It was used by the U.S. Census Bureau for classifying people who came from countries where Spanish is often spoken such as Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Before the term Hispanic was used by U.S. authorities, the only options were to identify as white, black, or other.
Today, the term Hispanic is still widely used in the eastern United States in places like Florida and Texas.
The Meaning of Latino
The term Latino is short for Latinoamericano (Latin American). Similar to the term Hispanic, it doesn’t refer to race, as the American continent is home to more races than you can imagine. This wide collection of cultures includes a variety of languages and native dialects that don’t come from the Spanish language.
Latino was officially adopted in 1997 to complement the word Hispanic as a form of identifying people who were living in the United States and spoke Spanish or belonged to a Spanish-speaking household. The term Latino became an ideal identifier for those who spoke Spanish but had indigenous or Afro-latino roots, which allowed them to remove their identity from an unwanted connection to the Spanish colonizers. Latino, as a term, focuses more on the native culture without considering any European influence brought by Spanish conquistadors in the past.
People who identify as Latino have roots from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, French-speaking Caribbean nations, Central America, or South America.
The Major Difference Between Hispanic and Latino
The major difference between Hispanic and Latino is that the term Hispanic is based on language, while the term Latino is based on geography.
While plenty of populations within Latin America are both Hispanic and Latino, you’ll see that clear distinctions exist between the two identities throughout the world.
Latino But Not Hispanic
People from North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America are Latino because they live within Latin America, but because not all of them speak Spanish, they’re not all Hispanics.
Countries like Brazil, Honduras, and French Guian don’t speak Spanish, and so they identify as Latino but not as Hispanic. The various races of Latinos include mestizos (mixed), of Asian descent, Indigenous, and Black and in many cases these ethnicities have their own language, totally unrelated to Spanish. For example Guatemala, has over 22 different Mayan languages, making most of the population of Latino descent, not Hispanic.
Hispanic But Not Latino
The Spanish-speaking population of Spain and Equatorial Guinea are Hispanic, but not Latino, due to their geographical location. Another good example of a non-Latino Hispanic is someone whose parents emigrated from Spain and moved to the United States—this person would identify as Hispanic because of language purposes but couldn’t identify as a Latino since they have no originating roots from Latin America.
In many cases, identifying as Hispanic but not as Latino is a personal choice, especially with people who may vary in their race and where they’re from. A white person from Puerto Rico and a brown-skinned person from Guatemala may call themselves Hispanic but the only thing they may have in common is the language, not necessarily Latin American heritage.
Using the Terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’ Today in the United States
Both of these terms are widespread in the United States and continue to evolve in their usage. People now have the right to choose their own identity, making both the Hispanic and Latino identifier an option in the US Census.
A major impetus in the ever-evolving definition of these words is due to many people choosing the term ‘Latino’ as their race. In fact, this is in response to a great number of people who identify as Mexican-American or Chicano, which has led others to make the distinction that while they are from Latin America, they’re not from Mexico. Instead, as a ‘Latino,’ they’re born in the United States with Latino roots.
Even when some don’t understand the complex difference between Hispanic and Latino, you’ll find that when it comes to choosing a race, plenty will choose to identify as Hispanic, even though it’s not a racial category. So even if according to authorities and to the Royal Academy of Spanish, Hispanic and Latino refer to ethnicity, in practice both terms can refer to race when used.
10% of the 400 million people of the world who speak Spanish are from the United States, and it’s a society destined to continue evolving due to migration and transformation of the collective identity of communities. Making the terms Hispanic and Latino highly important for this diverse portion of the population, and guaranteeing their meaning in practice may continue to change.
Controversy Surrounding The Term ‘Hispanic’
The term Hispanic isn’t as common as it used to be, especially among younger generations. Young people believe the term Hispanic has baggage and can carry racist and negative connotations.
Since the term comes from Spain, many believe it is Eurocentric, colonialist, and that it denies the indigenous heritage of Afro-Latinos and mestizo populations.
The term is less and less popular as time passes, and if you venture outside the United States you will notice people from Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, or any other Spanish-speaking Latin American country don’t use the term.
Latinx: A New Take on Identity
The term Latinx has been gaining more and more momentum in the past years. It’s a gender neutral term used to refer to a person of Latino or Latina descent. It has become common in members of the LGBTQ community and its advocates have fully embraced it. The term is also meant to include a group of Latino men and women, without falling into using the term Latinos, which is masculine, making it more inclusive and non-discriminatory.
This is yet another difference between Hispanic and Latino to take into account—that there is no gender neutral definition for the term Hispanic. Latinx is one of the first ethnic groups claiming their right to defend the traditions and cultures of Latin America. What’s more, the term Latinx is recognized by the Royal Academy of Spanish as well as by Webster Dictionary.
Do You Understand the Difference Between Hispanic and Latino?
Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between Hispanic and Latino, you’re more equipped to comprehend certain people’s choice of identity and their origin. In the end, all cultures of our globalized world must be celebrated and embraced—and our differences are what makes us so rich, diverse, and chaotically beautiful.
What’s your take on the difference between Hispanic and Latino? Did you already know some of these facts or was this information completely new to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and know your experience in using both terms. Leave me a comment and let’s start a conversation!
Want to learn more about Hispanic and Latin American culture? Check these out!
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