Differences Between Hispanic & Latino

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Are you from Latin America and confused when filling out a form that has the option Hispanic/Latino? Or are you American and don't understand the difference? This lesson clarifies the difference, which is a topic of both cultural and geographic interest.

Being Confused Makes Sense

Fernanda is from Colombia and currently lives and studies in the US. She has to fill out a form at the university. The form has the option 'Hispanic/Latino'. She is confused because, being from South America, she knows that no one in Colombia uses the Spanish equivalent terms to refer to people who live in Latin America. The equivalent terms are hispano for a male and hispana for a female (ees-PAH-noh or ees-PAH-nah). Also, latino for a male and latina for a female (lah-TEE-noh or lah-TEE-nah). Whatever the case, she checks the 'Hispanic/Latino' option.

When Fernanda asks, no one at the university seems to know the difference. Let's clarify it, but just note from this section that we do not capitalize the Spanish terms for Hispanic/Latino.

Differences Between Hispanic and Latino

The reason why Fernanda has never filled out a form with the option 'Hispanic/Latino' is that this is the first time she's living in the United States. The terms were coined in the US to try to categorize individuals who come from Latin America, or América Latina, which includes countries beginning with Mexico in North America all the way down to Chile in South America. Additionally, the nearby Caribbean island countries, such as Cuba, are often grouped with Latin America. Why is it called América Latina? The answer is because the majority of countries in Latin America speak a language with roots in the language latín (Latin), such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French. With this information in mind, let's now clarify the basic difference between Hispanic and Latino.

First, a Latino/Latina is a person of Latin American descent living in the United States. Let's take Fernanda. She is from Colombia, which is in Latin America. She now lives and studies in the US but she is of Latin American descent. Thus, you can say she is Latina. Note, there are a few countries that lie in Central and South America but whose citizens generally would not be considered latinos, including the English-speaking countries of Belize and Guyana as well as the Dutch-speaking country of Suriname.

Now, a Hispanic is a person who speaks Spanish, whether that person's origin or background is in Latin America or Spain. Also, Fernanda speaks Spanish. Thus, Fernanda is also hispana.

Now, let's take a different example. Have you heard of Salma Hayek? She was born in Mexico and speaks Spanish. Thus, she is both categories we usually see on US forms: 'Hispanic/Latino'.

Translation: Adriana Lima is a Brazilian model. She speaks Portuguese, which means she is not Hispanic.

Now, let's go with famous actress Penélope Cruz. She speaks Spanish and was born in Spain. Thus, while she may be stuck ticking the option 'Hispanic/Latino', under which of these two specific categories would she fall? If you said that she is Hispanic because she speaks Spanish but not Latina because she was born in Europe, then you answered correctly.

For the sake of accuracy, please remember that some countries in Latin America do not speak Spanish. You have Brazil (Portuguese) and French Guiana (French), for instance. People from these countries are Latino because their country is in Latin America, but they are not Hispanic because they do not speak Spanish. Now, let's discuss the aspect of race.

Translation: David Bisbal, singer from Spain, is Hispanic as he speaks Spanish, but he is not Latino.

Race Is Unrelated

In Latin America just like in Spain, you can find a variety of races. For instance, in countries that include but are not limited to Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela, you find the indigenous people whose ancestors originally lived on the continent before the Spanish colonization. Think of Native Americans to understand the relation.

Also, you have people who have predominantly white European genes. Also, the mixture between the Spanish and the indigenous means that the region has many mestizos, which is the Spanish word to refer to this mix. There are also black people in Latin America. In short, race is very diverse in Latin America and in Spain. However, race is not related to the category 'Hispanic/Latino'.

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