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What’s the Difference Between “Hispanic” and “Latino”?

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“Hispanic” and “Latino” are often used interchangeably, but do they mean the same thing? Answering this question is quite complicated. Below, we’ll clarify the difference between “Hispanic” and “Latino” so you can learn when to use these terms.

White text over green background read "Hispanic vs Latino."
Some Hispanics can be considered Latinos and vice versa, but this isn’t always the case.
“Hispanic” vs. “Latino”: Quick Summary

Hispanic and Latino are complex terms that greatly depend on the individuals using them to identify themselves. Recently, Hispanic has been used to refer to someone with origins from a Spanish-speaking country. In contrast, Latino can refer to someone with origins from a Latin American country (usually Spanish-speaking, but not always).

If you were to look up the definitions of Hispanic and Latino online, you’d probably conclude that the words are synonyms.

But are they?

The answer depends on who you ask.

In recent years, there has been a widening divide between Hispanic and Latino—one of these terms focuses on language, while the other focuses on geography. However, they can sometimes intersect, making the correct usage of these words difficult to understand.

Below, we will give you a brief and simplified overview of what Hispanic and Latino mean and also go over gender-neutral terms Latinx and Latine.

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Sometimes, “Hispanic” and “Latino” can be used interchangeably; other times they cannot.

What’s the Difference Between “Hispanic” and “Latino”?

Hispanic generally refers to someone who was born in or has ancestry from a Spanish-speaking country. It can be used as an adjective or a noun. Latino is short for “latinoamericano” (which means “Latin American”) and refers to someone born in or with origins from Latin America—any country from Mexico down to the tip of South America, including the Caribbean. Latinas is the term used for Latin American women.

With those definitions in mind:

  • Someone from Spain is Hispanic but not Latino (because Spain is a Spanish-speaking country, but is not in Latin America).
  • Someone from Brazil is Latino but not Hispanic (because Brazil is in Latin America but not a Spanish-speaking country).
  • Someone from Panama can be considered both Hispanic and Latino (because Panama is a Spanish-speaking country located in Latin America).

Simply put, the term Hispanic focuses on language, whereas Latino focuses on geography. However, these definitions are an oversimplification. For example, Cuban-Americans typically refer to themselves as Latinos (or Hispanics), seeing that Cuba is a Spanish-speaking country in the Caribbean.

However, Haitians don’t always identify as Latinos, even if Haiti is indeed a part of Latin America. The same holds true for people from Jamaica, The Bahamas, and other Caribbean countries that don’t primarily speak Spanish. Keep in mind, though, that some people from these countries do stick to the objective definition of Latino and have no problem identifying themselves as such.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the US Census Bureau uses both terms interchangeably. On the other hand, Pew Research states that Hispanic is limited to Spain, Puerto Rico, and all countries where Spanish is the only official language, and Latino includes all countries in Latin America, regardless of the language spoken. We warned you it was complicated.

It’s important to note that the definitions above provide the general distinctions between Hispanic and Latino. The real-world usage can be more nuanced. The complexity behind these terms and the importance of the variations in how people identify themselves should be recognized and respected.

“Latino/a” vs. “Latine” vs. “Latinx”

If you’ve seen the terms Latinx and Latine, you may wonder what they mean and where they came from.

To understand their origins, you should know that Spanish is a gendered language, meaning almost all nouns have a feminine or masculine form. Words in the feminine form typically end with “-a,” while those in the masculine form end with “-o.”

For example, hermanos means “brothers, whereas hermanas means “sisters.” In contrast to English, which has a gender-neutral word for a brother or sister (sibling), Spanish does not. If one has two brothers and three sisters, they are referred to as hermanos.

This can be problematic for feminists, non-binary, and genderqueer people who don’t want the masculine form of words to be considered the default. This is how the terms Latinx and Latine—which originated in the US—came to be.

However, many people claim that this supposedly inclusive phrase is anything but, as Spanish does not usually contain words that end in “-x,” making the pronunciation of Latinx awkward and challenging for Spanish speakers. Critics of Latinx also claim it’s a disrespectful phrase forced upon Spanish speakers by Americans. Latine is another gender-neutral term that is easier to pronounce and refers to people with Latin American heritage.

Several surveys show that Hispanic and Latino Americans prefer to be called Hispanic or Latino/a, rather than Latinx. In short, some people embrace these terms, while others do not.

Which Should You Use: “Hispanic” or “Latino”?

It’s vital to note that a vast number of countries, cultures, and races are lumped together under the labels “Hispanic” and “Latino.” Someone Hispanic or Latino can be of any race.

Increasingly, some people prefer to opt for more specific terms that explicitly identify their heritage and ethnicity, like Mexican American, Dominican, Jamaican, and many others.

If you must choose between Hispanic or Latino, keep the general distinctions in mind:

  • Hispanic focuses on language and refers to people with origins from a Spanish-speaking country.
  • Latino focuses on geography and refers to people from Latin America.

As previously stated, there can be overlaps. If you’re writing about someone, and mentioning their background is necessary, ask them how they prefer to be identified.

Remember, clear and accurate communication is paramount in an increasingly interconnected world. Misunderstandings can arise not just from the misuse of certain words but even from the simplest writing errors. That’s why using LanguageTool as your multilingual writing assistant is a good idea. Not only will it check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors in over thirty languages and dialects, but it can also optimize tone and style. Whatever language you’re writing in, make sure your text is flawless. Try LanguageTool today—it’s free!

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