What Is The Difference Between the Terms Latino and Hispanic? And What about Latinx?

Embracing diversity in the U.S. - What makes a Latino, Hispanic, or Latinx?

National Hispanic Heritage Month 2021

Have you ever been confused about the terms Hispanic and Latino? We often hear the terms Hispanic and Latino used interchangeably. Also, some regions in the United States use Latino/Latina more commonly, and some use Hispanic as a more general term.


The terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" can be complex and contradictory at times because these two terms refer to ethnicity and shared culture rather than descriptors of race similar to the terms White, Black, or Asian. They are groups based on shared culture rather than physical features. But it is also broader than ethnicity, which can make the terms even more confusing.


Hispanic usually refers to someone who is a native of or descends from a Spanish-speaking county. Latino is typically used to identify people who hail from a country in Latin America.


A person can be both Hispanic and Latino, but not all Latinos are Hispanic. Conversely, not all Hispanics are Latino. Latinx is a gender-neutral term that refers to a Latin American Descent.


Before we get more confusing, let's take a look into each term with some examples.



Who is considered Hispanic?


Hispanic refers to a person from, or a descendant of someone from, a Spanish-speaking country. In other words, Hispanic refers to the language that a person speaks or that their ancestors spoke.

For example, Spaniards are considered Hispanic but not Latinos since Spain is a Spanish-speaking country but not a Latin American country.

The term Hispanic has been widely rejected due to its ties with Spanish colonialism.


How did the word "Hispanic" originate?


Before 1970, those of Latin American descent were considered Spanish-speaking, having Spanish origin, or white on the census. But all that changed in the seventies, as activists began lobbying the U.S. Census Bureau to create a broad, national category that included all these communities. The result was the creation of the term "Hispanic," first introduced in the U.S. Census in 1970.


The term "Hispanic" was adopted by the U.S. Federal Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Directive No. 15 in 1977. It defined Hispanic as "a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South America or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.


"It wasn't just activists, and it wasn't just bureaucrats. It was certain figures like Telemundo, Univision, who had a huge vested interest in connecting their audiences across the country and having those audiences across the country see themselves as one market," explains G. Cristina Mora, a sociology professor at UC Berkeley and author of Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New American.


Who is considered Latino?


Latino refers to geography: It is short for Latino Americano. It emerged between 1908 and 1821 as the Latin American countries became independent, then it disappeared by 1920 and re-emerged in English in the 70s.


Latino refers to a person or a descendant of someone from a Latin American country. Latinos may be White, Black, Indigenous, Asian, Etc.


For example, Brazilians are considered Latinos because Brazil is a Latin American country, but they are not considered Hispanic because their native language is Portuguese, not Spanish.


Why do some people identify as Latinx instead of Latino or Latina?


The emergence of Latinx coincides with a global movement to introduce gender-neutral nouns and pronouns into many languages whose grammar conventions have traditionally use male or female constructions.


The "x" in Latinx replaces the male and female endings "o" and "a" that are part of Spanish grammar conventions. This term comes from American-born Latinos who want to be more inclusive and gender-neutral.



Why is the term "Latinx" not common to used?


Although it was first introduced in the United States more than a decade ago, it's not yet been used as a common practice. There are still debates around the term because it is a term that primarily points to U.S. English speakers and some people say it ignores the Spanish language and the origins of gendered form.