A few months back I was asked to write something for a client and in the copy was the term “Latinx.” I replaced it with Hispanic and had to defend my edit but ultimately won out. It can get a bit confusing that Hispanic/Latina/Spanish usage but I recently ran across something online that nailed it and thought I’d share it today. I do this in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, my Spanish ancestors, and because I’m a wordsmith and a grammar guard. Vamanos!
As much as many of us consider the terms Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish interchangeable, they are not. I’m here to educate in hopes that you will spread the word and be able to catch incorrect usage on TV, in written materials, and in every day conversations. Let’s start with Hispanic.
By definition, the term Hispanic describes someone from or has ancestors from a Spanish-speaking territory or country. I consider myself Hispanic as my ancestors were from Spain. I saw the Luna coat-of-arms in Seville’s Alcazar Palace and have family members who have traced our roots. Someone from Chile is Hispanic but their neighbors in Brazil are not. Read on…
Which brings us to Spanish, which is both a language and a nationality. According the report I read from “Good Housekeeping,” only someone from Spain is Spanish although it’s a common mistake to call a Spanish-speaking person Spanish.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it can get even more confusing.
Hispanic excludes anyone from Brazil because Portuguese is the country’s primary language, but it does include someone from Spain even though Spain is in Europe. I’m guessing this is the case with Portugal as well. Worldwide there are more than a dozen Hispanic countries and one territory, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. But are they Hispanic and Latino? Some, but not all.
Latino/Latina includes Brazil but not Spain, since Spain is not in Latin America. As for the rest of the above mentioned countries, yes, they are both Latin and Hispanic. But only Spain is Spanish.
Can Hispanics be Latino? Yes, but not someone from Spain.
Can a Latino be Hispanic? Yes, but not someone from Brazil.
Can a Hispanic be Spanish? Only if they’re from or have origins in Spain.
Then there’s Latinx, a somewhat new and what many would call woke gender neutral alternative to Latino and Latina. Only 3 percent identify themselves as such according to a Pew Research Center report. I personally don’t use it and likely never will.
Also according to the Pew Research Center, there are roughly 62 million Hispanics (reminder: someone who is from or has ancestors from a Spanish-speaking country) in the U.S., making up nearly 20 percent of our population. Mexicans lead the pack with more than 60 percent of Hispanics in the U.S., followed by Puerto Ricans and Cubans.
In 1976, Congress passed a law mandating information about U.S. residents from Spanish-speaking countries be recorded. As a result, Hispanic appears as an “ethnicity” on official forms for government, education, and employment purposes. In 1997, Latino officially appeared on government documents as an option alongside Hispanic and since 1980 Hispanic has become part of the U.S. Census and Latino has been since the 2000 census.
Note: neither appear as “race,” as it is different than “ethnicity.” In basic terms, race describes physical traits, and ethnicity refers to cultural identification. Race is biological, describing physical traits inherited from your parents. Ethnicity is your cultural identity, chosen or learned from your culture and family. Race may also be identified as something you inherit, whereas ethnicity is something you learn.
With the exception of Brazil, what all these countries and nationalities have in common is the beautiful language of Spanish. The Romance language originated from Latin and was first spoken in Spain. Of course, que no?! Today, Castilian Spanish is the most popular dialect in Europe but there are more Spanish speakers in Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, in that order. My family is fluent in it and I remember aunts and uncles and some grandparents who only spoke it. It was their first language and I will say not being totally fluent in it is one of my biggest regrets. Yes, I can get away with speaking it in Spain or Costa Rica or even locally with Spanish speakers, but I can’t consider myself fluent. Que lastima.
Hispanic: someone who is from or has ancestors from a Spanish-speaking country.
Latino: someone from Latin America or of Latin American descent.
Spanish: someone from Spain.
So there you have it: the difference between Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish. It can be a bit confusing but when you think about it, it really does make sense. In the end, aren’t we all just simply Americans with some similar and special roots? Si si!