What Is The Difference Between "Hispanic" and "Latino?"

September and October is recognized as National Hispanic Heritage Month.
September and October is recognized as National Hispanic Heritage Month.


The term “Hispanic” refers to somebody who speaks the Spanish language. Hispanics are people from or with ancestors from Spain, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Brazilians are not considered Hispanic, however, because they speak Portuguese.


The term “Latino” refers to the geographic origin of somebody. Latinos are from or have ancestors from Latin America which includes: Mexico, Central America, and South America. In this case, Brazilians are considered Latino, but people from Spain are not.

Differences Between "Hispanic" and "Latino": Usage of the Words

The two words are used interchangeably by many people, including organizations like the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Transportation. In the US, a regional difference divides the words. "Latino" is used more often on the west coast and "hispanic" is used more often on the east coast. In 1970, the US census included the term “Hispanic” for the first time in an attempt to create a common racial and ethnic definition for this group of people. The term “Latino” was added to the census in 1997. In 2000, the terms “Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish” were used. Including this information is a way of identifying the instances of poverty, poor education, and discrimination in these communities in order to obtain government funding for programs aimed at social justice.

People have been using the term “Latino” longer than “Hispanic.” The French first used the phrase “Latin America” in the 19th century to denote the independence of Mexico from Spain while also showing the connection between the two countries. In this sense, the Latin race described people with roots in all of the romance language speaking countries. This meaning identifies people from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Romania as Latinos. Therefore, when the US census included the term “Latino” in 1997, it received several criticisms.


Interestingly, in a survey conducted to identify preferences of the terms among Spanish speakers in the US, the majority responded that they actually prefer to be identified by their country of origin. When respondents were required to choose, about one-third chose the term “Hispanic” and only 14% chose the term “Latino.” Young adults (ages 18 to 25), and older adults prefer to be identified as “American.”


After including “Latino” on the US census, the use of both terms has been heavily criticized. The biggest critique is that “Hispanic” and “Latino” are broad descriptions that the government has forced onto minority groups. The words do not permit specific self-identification and in fact, leave out many individuals. Some groups, particularly in California and other western states, once argued that “Hispanic” was not inclusive and campaigned for the use of the term “Latino.” Today, however, roughly 65% of registered voters prefer the term “Hispanic” and only 30% identify as “Latino.”

A miscommunication between the US Census Bureau and media outlets led Brazilian Americans to believe that the 2020 census would classify Brazilians under the “Hispanic/Latino” category. This news was met with outrage as the majority of Brazilian Americans did not agree with this classification. The US Census Bureau released a statement that including Brazilian Americans as Hispanic or Latino had never been their plan. Additionally, the use of these terms excludes people of indigenous descent who do not fall under the traditional definitions of Latino or Hispanic. In an attempt to address these exclusions, the 2020 census will include 28 distinct groups under the “Latino/Hispanic” category. These groups will include the countries of origin.


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