What is the difference between Latino and Hispanic?


The terms Latino and Hispanic are somewhat controversial, and many people are divided on how they should be applied. Many within this population prefer the term Hispanic, whereas others prefer Latino. In addition, some experts recommend that people should use the term Latino while others suggest the term Hispanic. It is also interesting to note that geographical position may correlate with a preference of terms. In South Florida, for example, where the majority of Latinos/Hispanics are of Cuban heritage, the term Hispanic is generally preferred, as it is in other regions of the United States such as Texas and New York. The designation of Latino, however, is more often used in southeastern states such as North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Beyond citing geographical and personal preferences, defining the terms can be very controversial in and of itself. Who is a Hispanic, and who is a Latino? The Dictionary of the Real Academia Española (2010), considered by many to be the official register of words and concepts in the Spanish language, defines Hispano as someone who belongs to or is related to Spanish-speaking countries. Individuals of Brazilian and/or Portuguese descent, though geographical neighbors to those in Spanish-speaking nations, have a different linguistic and cultural heritage. The U. S. Census, however, currently includes Brazilians and Portuguese within the Hispanic population, as the statistical trend suggests that many people of these two heritages use the term to describe themselves (Passel & Taylor, 2009). In essence, however, the term Hispanic is more generally defined as an individual whose native language is Spanish.

The term Latino, on the other hand, is used to describe people of European or American descent whose languages derive from Latin itself (Real Academia Española, 2010). This definition obviously includes not only citizens of every nation in Latin America and Europe whose primary language is either Spanish or Portuguese, but also technically all people whose native languages derive from Latin, such as the French, Romanians, and Italians. However, this concept is not generally applied in the United States when referring to such individuals. Therefore, in this website I use the terms Latino and Hispanic interchangeably (with a slight preference for the more encompassing Latino) when I refer to the people of Latin American or Spanish heritage. And when I say Latinos, I am obviously referring to the female population as well…Latinas!

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