Words matter. Let’s take a look at the following sentences:
The Hispanic community was the fastest growing minority population in the United States from 2000-2007.
From 2010-2014, there was a decrease in Latino immigration.
While these two statements may sound related there is actually a significant difference between them. Can you guess what it is?
Here’s a hint: the difference lies in two particular words.
The words Latino and Hispanic, while often used interchangeably, are not the same thing. Simply stated, Latino refers to any Latin American country, while Hispanic refers to specifically Spanish-speaking countries. So while someone can be Hispanic AND Latino, the terms tell us different information. For example, a native of Brazil or French Guyana would be considered Latino, but not Hispanic; whereas a native of Spain would be Hispanic, and not Latino.
In Spanish, the word Latino in its earliest form serves as a descriptor for anyone who spoke Latin, such as inhabitants of the Roman Empire. It can also be used to describe countries and cultures associated with romance languages (Italian, Portuguese, French, Spanish, etc).
In English, it has taken on a more specific meaning. As a result of a notable increase in immigrants from Hispanic countries, the word Latino was officially adopted in 1997 by the US government as another way to identify Spanish-speaking populations.
Even with these small differences, the words have become synonymous in American culture when referring to Spanish speakers. Census surveys offer choices of “Latino or Hispanic” as one option, and politicians frequently use both words to refer to the same group. More important than semantics, though, is the way these words are used to describe actual human beings.
For some populations, the word Latino is more preferable because it emphasizes a cultural and personal identity that separates them from Spain and honors their history in Latin America, whether as natives or descendants. Recently, the word “Latinx” has emerged as a gender-neutral way of referring to Latino/as. It is worth noting that Hispanic/Latino refers to ethnicity, and not race or skin color.
The terms Latino/Hispanic don’t just refer to immigrants, though. Native Spanish speakers born in the United States often prefer an identifier that encompasses the complexity of their cultural heritage. Known informally as “hyphenated Americans,” these citizens may choose terms such as, “Venezuelan-American” or “Cuban-Dominican-American” to describe themselves. The combinations are endless—and they don’t just have to include Hispanic countries!
As with any label used to describe a group of people, it’s important to be aware of nuances in language because words do matter. FundLatinos aims to create a space for growth and community that is inclusive of many identities–whether you identify with Latino, Hispanic, Latinx, or another word–with the common goal of helping each other move forward.
What do the words Latino and Hispanic mean to you?
Do you identify as a hyphenated American? What countries do you relate to?