UDLAP, University of the Americas Puebla
- 13 May 2021
Accurately understanding the differences between the terms ‘Hispanic‘ and ‘Latino‘ can feel tricky to many people. There are many diverse definitions of these two terms and their interpretations vary a lot. It can be quite confusing for a person to deduce the meaning of the terms correctly.
The diversity of both of these terms is enormous. There are many layers to the definitions of these terms and it can be quite confusing for a person to correctly point out the difference.
Broadly, Hispanic is used to refer to people with their heritage linked to the Spanish language and the Spanish speaking countries.
Latino refers to people with origins from Latin American countries.
Apart from the confusion between Hispanics and Latinos, the difference between Hispanics and Spanish also gets frequently overlooked.
Hispanics refer to people with their roots belonging to a Spanish speaking country. When we’re talking about origins, Spanish is used to refer to a person who is from Spain, i.e., their nationality is Spanish. Of course, Spanish is also the language spoken in Latin America and Spain.
Spain had colonized many countries in Latin America, so the people of these countries are referred to as Hispanics, as they have a Spanish heritage. For example, Mexicans, Argentinians, Colombians, among others are considered Hispanics.
They can also be considered Latinos, as they are each part of a Latin American country.
So going by the traditional definition, Mexicans can be classified as both Hispanics and Latinos. Mexico is primarily a Spanish speaking country so Mexicans would be considered Hispanics. And, as Mexico is a Latin American country, its people can be regarded as Latinos as well.
It can be confusing to pick one term to refer to people who come from a Spanish speaking Latin American country. Technically Mexicans are both Latinos and Hispanics.
Of course, this also refers to every other Spanish speaking country in Latin-America.
The term Latino is associated with the geography, which includes people from Latin America, the term used to describe the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
Brazil is located in Latin America and thus, its people would technically be called Latinos, if one goes by the traditional definition.
More often than not, the term Latinos is used to describe Spanish speakers. But the fact is that not all Latinos speak Spanish. Latin America although consists of a majority of Spanish speaking countries, the Latin American population is not entirely Spanish speaking.
Brazilians primarily speak Portuguese. Brazilians, therefore, would ideally be referred to as Latinos and not Hispanics.
Even though Hispanics and Latinos have common elements like language, both groups are highly diverse among themselves and cannot be accurately defined by one label.
Latin America is culturally and ethnically extremely diverse and classifying the people of this region under one term is a gross generalization.
Although, the usage of the terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’ is more popular in the U.S than in any other country in the world, knowing the difference between the two is crucial when you are traveling to Latin America.
So to get the definitions straight:
Due to the ambiguity of these terms, many people choose not to use either Hispanic or Latino to identify themselves. They’d rather be referred by their nationality, i.e., Mexican, Colombian, Argentinian and so on.
How people identify themselves depends on their personal viewpoints and preferences. To avoid any confusion or misunderstandings, it is always a good idea to just politely ask a person how they want to be identified as.