The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are frequently tossed around by the United States government and the media. But, what exactly is the difference between these two labels?
The term “Hispanic” generally refers to any descendent from a Spanish-speaking nation of Latin America, while the term “Latino” refers to any descendent from a Latin American nation where the main language spoken is derived from Latin (Brazilians and Haitians, for example, speak Portuguese and French, respectively, which are both Latin-based languages).
It is important to note that the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” do not denote a particular ethnicity or race. Instead, individuals who fall under the label “Latino” or “Hispanic” share a common cultural/language background.
A 2006 Pew Hispanic Center survey uncovered that 48% of Latino adults normally identify themselves by their country of origin first as opposed to Hispanic or Latino. In terms of a preference for the Hispanic or Latino label, a 2008 survey by the Center found that 36% of those questioned prefer the term “Hispanic,” 21% prefer the term “Latino,” and the rest stated no preference.
Tips for Using the Terms “Hispanic” and “Latino”
Although both terms are considered acceptable by most people, some individuals or groups may show a keen preference for either “Latino” or “Hispanic.” An effort should be made to identify and respect these preferences.
When possible, use specific references such as “Mexican” or “Cuban-American” or “Costa Rican immigrant.”
“Latino” and “Latina” may be used as both an adjective and a noun.
The New York Times style guide defines “Hispanic” as “descended from a Spanish-speaking land or culture.” However, there is debate over the definition and usage of this term. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “Hispanic” as “of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain or of Spain and Portugal.” So, should Brazilians and Portuguese speakers be lumped into this category as well? Are Spaniards considered Hispanic, too?
In most cases, Brazilians are not categorized as “Hispanic,” but they may be accurately referred to as “Latino.” Spaniards are not generally considered Hispanic or Latino, since the use of these terms is normally reserved for descendents from countries in the New World. You can reduce ambiguity by using a more specific label, as previously stated.