Thursday, May 17th, 2012
The short answer is both.
When discussing the Hispanic market or Latino voters I often use these two terms interchangeably. Recently while speaking on reaching the Trillion Dollar Hispanic Market an audience member asked what the difference is between the two. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to cover this complex topic during my lecture, but it is an excellent questions that merits an explanation.
For the most part it is acceptable to use Hispanic or Latino to refer to the US population who identify with the Hispanic ethnicity. However they do have distinct meanings and designate different groups when applied specifically.
Hispanic originally referred to people who came from Hispania, or the Iberian peninsula. Now its meaning has broadened to include people who live in areas previously under Spanish rule, most notably Central and South America. The most defining Hispanic element is the Spanish language, which is why we now use the term to refer to anyone whose primary language is Spanish.
Latino encompasses natives of Latin America and people of Latin-American descent, now living in the United States, although South Americans rarely call themselves Latino. The millions of indigenous people throughout Latin America who didn’t adopt the Spanish language or culture and are an exception to this definition (this answer is a little longer because Spanish colonization was complicated and its legacy is a mosaic).
It gets a little confusing now because a Brazilian qualifies as Latino but not necessarily Hispanic because Portuguese is the national language. Likewise a Filipino could technically be considered Hispanic if Spanish if their primary language and they choose to identify as such. Even the US government has differing definitions of what it means to be Hispanic or Latino (they do not distinguish these terms for census or other ethnic data collection purposes).
For thoroughness’ sake, Chicano is another term which refers specifically to Mexican-Americans. Chicano/Chicana was originally a derivative of the name Spaniards gave to native Mexicans. Mexican civil rights leaders in the 60′s redefined Chicano in its modern context by removing the negative connotation and using it to proudly reassert their ethnic identity. Because of its origination Chicano alludes to the indigenous tribes of the Americas and so incorporates the native peoples who do not identify as Hispanic or Latino.
So in America at least, understanding the finer points between Hispanic and Latino is not always necessary to apply these terms to the fastest growing minority in the US. It is important to note however that neither “Hispanic” nor “Latino” refers to a race
, as a person of Latino/Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race.” Stay tuned for my upcoming blog: What does a Latina look like for more insight. http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/c2kbr01-1.pdf
It must be said that any of these terms is a better choice than calling someone Mexican if you’re not sure where they’re from. A person’s country of origin/ancestry is personal and has many cultural implications attached to it. So if you are not sure if Mr. Dominguez is Salvadorian or Puerto Rican it is a safer bet to stick with Latino or Hispanic. If in doubt just ask or get to know a little about his family!