Even though both terms are used interchangeably, there is a difference between Hispanic and Latino. Hispanic is a term that originally denoted a relationship to ancient Hispania (Iberian Peninsula). Now it relates to the contemporary nation of Spain, its history, and culture; a native of Spain residing in the United States is a Hispanic. Latino refers more exclusively to persons or communities of Latin American origin. While there is a significant overlap between the groups, Brazilians are a good example of Latinos who are not Hispanic. Both terms were meant to refer to ethnicity, not race; however, in the U.S., they are often used haphazardly to refer to race as well. As such, personal adoption of the terms is rather low.
|Terminology||Hispanic refers to language. Hispanic if you and/or your ancestry come from a country where they speak Spanish.||Latino refers to geography. Specifically, to Latin America, to people from the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic), South America (Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, etc.) and Central America (Honduras, Costa Rica, etc.)|
|In the U.S.||Was first adopted by the United States government during the administration of Richard Nixon It has been used in the U.S. Census since 1980. "Hispanic" is used more often in states such as Florida and Texas.||The government adopted these terms because they did not have an inclusive term to identify and segregate the mixed white with black and native "mestizo or mulato people of Central and South America.|
|Derived from||The term "Hispanic" comes from a Latin word for Spain "Hispania", which later became "España". It refers to a person of Latin American or Iberian ancestry, fluent in Spanish.||The term "Latino" is shortened from Spanish latino americano, "Latin American" thus narrowing the scope of meaning to Central and South America, and Spanish speaking Carribean Islands.|
|Usage||"Hispanic" is primarily used along the Eastern seaboard, and favored by those of Caribbean and South American ancestry or origin.||“Latino” is principally used west of the Mississippi, where it has displaced “Chicano” and “Mexican American.”|
The term Hispanic is derived from the Latin word for "Spain," while Latino is derived from Spanish word for Latin but which as an English word is probably a shortening of the Spanish word latinoamericano, which in English means "Latin American."
Use in the United States
- This term is used to denote the culture and people of countries formerly ruled by the Spanish Empire, usually with a majority of the population speaking the Spanish language.
- Collectively known as Hispanic America, this definition includes Mexico, the majority of the Central and South American countries, and most of the Greater Antilles.
- The nations formerly pertaining to the Spanish East Indies are sometimes loosely included in this definition, as their cultures have some Spanish or Latin American elements.
- It was first adopted by the United States government during the Nixon administration.
- It has been used in the U.S. Census since 1980.
- Hispanic is more broadly and frequently used in states like Florida and Texas.
- Latino refers specifically to people living in the U.S. who are of Latin American nationality; the term also refers to their U.S.-born descendants. Latin America refers to countries in South America and North America (including Central America and the islands of the Caribbean) whose inhabitants mostly speak Romance languages, although Native American languages are also spoken there.
- The term Latino is restricted to immigrants and their descendants from either Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, or Portuguese speaking countries in North, Central, and South America, and it includes the French-speaking areas of Haiti, French Guiana, French-speaking Canada, and the French West Indies.
- In the U.S., the term was brought into use because the Nixon administration could not fit the racially mixed North, Central, and South Americans into an established racial group since they are mostly mestizo and multiracial following, for example, white Europeans' raping of African slaves (see also history of the term mulatto). Mestizos and mulattoes were considered inferior to whites, and the administration knew most people would not identify with the labels; as such, Hispanic and Latino labels were selected for use. Since the late 1990s, Hispanic/Latino labels were questioned and forced the Census to put a disclaimer that Hispanic or Latino were ethnic and not racial terms. However, in spite of this, government, law enforcement, and the media often utilize the terms when describing race (e.g., "One of the suspects was a white male, while the other was a Hispanic male.").
- Latino is used more often on the West Coast and especially California.
- Over 70% of Mexicans are mestizo, while Argentina has the lowest percentage of multiracial people.
- Since ethnicities cannot be correctly identified by the Hispanic/Latino labels due to the wide variety of cultural groups within North, Central, and South America, and the Caribbean (including customs, foods, traditions and music styles) some have pointed out that these labels are racial and that the only label that accurately represents their ethnicity is their nationality, which immediately identifies their cultural traditions, foods, music, etc. (e.g., Colombian, Peruvian, Guatemalan, etc.). For example, "Hispanic food" often really means Mexican food in the U.S. and does not provide an accurate glimpse of the different types of food available in the Americas and the Caribbean.
Personal Adoption of Terms
According to a survey released by the Pew Hispanic Center, only 24% of "Hispanic" adults said they most often identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino. About half said they identified themselves most frequently by their family's national origin — e.g., Mexican, Cuban, Salvadoran, etc. An additional 21% said they called themselves American most often, a figure that climbed to 40% among those born in the U.S.
Some find it offensive to be called Hispanic or Latino and prefer to be called by their true ethnic group, such as Mexican, Colombian, Bolivian, etc.
Race, Ethnicity and Nationality
We have a detailed comparison of race and ethnicity but to summarize:
- Race is a social construct based on a person's ancestry and phenotype, i.e., their appearance. e.g. Black, White, Asian, Native American.
- Ethnicity is also a social construct but is based on a person's cultural heritage. e.g. Hispanic, Greek, Latinx, African-American
- Nationality refers to a person's citizenship in a country either by birth or by naturalization. e.g. American, German, Greek, Kenyan
There is, of course, overlap between many of these. For example, Czech can be both a nationality and ethnicity. But Latino and Hispanic are clearly ethnicities; both groups comprise people of many races and race mixtures, as well people of many nationalities. Hispanic or Latino is not a race. e.g. Afro-Latinx people may identify as Black, there are many White Latinos, as well as indigenous Latino populations who are neither white nor black.