Hispanic? Latino? Spanish-American?
What exactly is the difference between these terms? Which is 'correct'?
... are questions we are asked all the time as our clients begin to address the opportunities
and needs presented by the rapidly-growing Hispanic population of the United States. Unfortunately there is
not yet a clear 'correct' answer - but the following explanation should help to clarify the debate!
- Hispanic: the term 'Hispanic' came into mainstream use after it was used by the
US Census in 1980 as one of the choices for describing ethnic origin. Today in the US it has come to denote 'from Spain'
or 'from a Spanish-speaking country'. Originally the term derived from 'Hispania', the name given by the Romans to
the whole of the Iberian peninsula, which includes all of modern-day Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar, so
technically the implication 'Spanish-speaking' is not correct, and this is the major source of debate.
- Latino: the term Latino specifically means 'Latin-American', a term coined by the French in the late 19th
century in order to include the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas under an umbrella which included themselves
(in order to legitimize colonial influence). Modern definitions of 'Latin America' vary, but the most widely-accepted usage
includes the 20 Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of central and South America, but excluding French-speaking
Canada and Dutch-speaking Caribbean islands.
Other terms regularly (mis-)used are 'Latin' (which refers to the language of the Ancient Romans, and now to all
peoples descended from the Romans, including the French, Italians and Romanians as well as the Spanish, and is plain
wrong in this context), 'Spanish-American' (a perfectly reasonable term, but which is often wrongly used
as the 'translation' of 'Hispanic', and which does not encompass the full Hispanic population of the US),
'Spanish-speaking American' (problematic for the same reason as Spanish-American).
So what is correct? Since Hispanic technically does include some non-Spanish speakers, from a linguistic perspective
it is the most accurate term. Latino is preferred by many Hispanics in the US who hail from Latin-American countries,
however, since they feel it
distinguishes them from immigrants directly from Spain, but to complicate matters further, 'Latino' would include
people from a Latin American country but of Asian descent!
The only truly 'correct' and non-offensive way to refer to individuals is therefore to refer to their
actual country of origin, and to refer to their language specifically. From a business perspective, the term Hispanic is correct (not Latino), and
for practical purposes Spanish is the first or second language of the overwhelming majority of Hispanics in the US.