Difference between Latino and Hispanic

The 2010 Census asked the perennial question that was first introduced in the 1970s: Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin? The available check boxes were as follows:

  • No, not of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin
  • Yes, Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano
  • Yes, Puerto Rican
  • Yes, Cuban
  • Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin—print origin—for example: Argentinean, Colombian, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Spaniard, and so on. ___________________

For the 2010 Census, this question was asked of individuals living in the United States and their response was based upon self-identification. Additionally, the Census clarified the fact that race and ethnicity are separate and distinct concepts, and therefore two different questions were asked. To be Latino or Hispanic is a matter of ethnicity not race. Also, the Hispanic or Latino origin question is not a question about place of birth. For example, people of Mexican origin may be born in Mexico, the United States or other countries, and this is true for all of the detailed groups. This question also excludes people from Brazil and aims specifically at people’s origin from Spanish- speaking countries.

Difference between Latino and Hispanic

Even though the terms Latino and Hispanic are usually used interchangeably, many people have a stronger preference of one over the other. The term Hispanic may refer more to the heritage, nationality group or lineage. It can also refer to the person’s country of birth or that of the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. A person who identifies him or herself as Hispanic may be of any race. In fact, the definition of Hispanic or Latino used in the 2010 Census was as follows: “Hispanic or Latino” refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

The term Latino may refer more to a cultural aspect. The Latino culture encompasses multiple characteristics such as language and traditions. Usually, people identify themselves as Latino when they have been born and/or raised in the United States while their parents, grandparents or ancestors were born in a Latin American country. Also, the term Latino is strongly adopted by people who believe they are bi-cultural.

Why is it important to know who is Hispanic or Latino?

This data is necessary for research that underlies many policy decisions at all levels of government to implement and evaluate programs, or enforce laws, such as the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and more. Both public and private organizations use Hispanic or Latino origin information to find areas where groups may need special services and to plan and implement education, housing, health and other programs that address these needs.

According to the 2010 Census, 308.7 million people resided in the United States on April 1, 2010, of which 50.5 million, or 16 percent of the total population, were of Hispanic or Latino origin. Please note, that these numbers may not include all the people that reside in the United States but may not have completed the Census. The Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million between 2000 and 2010, accounting for more than half of the 27.3 million increase in the total U.S population.

Which term should we use: Hispanic or Latino?

Since it is a matter of self-identification, it can be difficult to choose what term to use when referring to this population. Interestingly enough, people battle over more than these two terms. To play it safe here are some pointers:

  1. Don’t assume people are Hispanic or Latino based on their looks. Before you even chose what term to use, the most important thing is not to assume people are Hispanic or Latino because they “look” ” like it. Looks can no longer solely define someone’s origin.
  2. Do not refer to all of them as Mexicans. Even though in 2010 people of Mexican origin comprised the largest Hispanic group, representing 63 percent of the total Hispanic population in the United States, it is important to acknowledge that the remaining 37 percent of Hispanics are not (or do not identify themselves as) Mexicans.
  3. Usually, it is safer to use the term Latino more than the term Hispanic because the term Latino may encompass much more than the place of origin. To be Latino/a means being part of a community and a culture. It is more than belonging to a geographical location.

At the end of the day, don’t worry too much about these terms, as long as you come from a good place with good intentions, you will not offend someone by referring to them as Hispanic or Latino. We all know these terms are confusing. That being said, if you really feel conflicted about it the best advice I can offer is to ask the person what term he or she prefers, and then you’ll know.




  1. The author has come around and getting more informed. Two years ago on my post http://ixmaticommunications.com/2009/08/14/latino-or-hispanic/#respond This is what she said “Sofia Keck says:
    August 14, 2009 at 7:05 PM

    The Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and other Hispanic/Latino organizations have done extensive research about the words Latino and Hispanic and many conclude that the terms are becoming less controversial with time.

    I belong to Hispanic organizations and Latino organizations and see no difference in their core values.

    As anything else, it is just a matter of personal preferance.”

    • Mari, Thank you for your comment. I’m not sure what you mean by “The author has come around and getting more informed.” I don’t see how my comment from 2 years ago conflicts with my post today.

  2. Ana says:

    The U.S. Office of Management and Budget introduced the term “Hispanic” into the official government lexicon in 1978.

    In the late 1980s, Hayes-Bautista and Chapa introduced the term “Latinos,” applying the name to persons residing in the U.S. whose ancestors are from Latin American countries.

    Typically younger people like to be call Latino because it is not a goverment lable. With that said I typically use Hispanic/Latino. This makes it more inclusive.

  3. Joyce says:

    I was born and partially raised in the island of Puerto Rico, yet I hate these terms. My maiden surnames are very “Hispanic”, and thus, everytime I went to a government agency or to the doctor, and my name got called, whoever called me would look at me with a WTF face (he/she would look me from top to bottom in a surprised way) and asked me “so, are you Ms. _____, and I would reply “yes”. They would say things like “oh, but I though you were from (insert weird sounding Eastern European/Middle Eastern country)”, or “whoa Ms._____ I’d pictured you much shorter, darker, and with less understanding of (insert any computer related term in here)”. I had suffered from tons of prejudice because of those terms, just to have people telling me things like what I mentioned above. BTW, this is me: http://img707.imageshack.us/img707/1594/boredn.jpg I’m almost 5’10″ and I speak about five languages.

    However, with my new last name, the prejudice seemed to be gone!

    • Hello Joyce, Than k you for your comment and for sharing your experience here. You are correct, it is not ok to assume that someone is Latino or not based on their last name or on the way they look. I was born and raised in Guatemala and as you mentioned people sometimes believe that as a Guatemalan I am supposed to look different. You raise a very important point which is the prejudice some people suffer because of this. In the article I mentioned:

      Don’t assume people are Hispanic or Latino based on their looks. Before you even chose what term to use, the most important thing is not to assume people are Hispanic or Latino because they “look” ” like it. Looks can no longer solely define someone’s origin.

      I believe your comment makes this assumption more complete. Don’t assume people are not Latino based on the way they look. Thank you.

  4. Basque-Spaniard says:

    Latino=Cames from Latin Language. The language of Roman Empire.
    Hispanic= Comes from Spanish. Spain’s culture.

    The Spaniards like me, were the conquerors of America. And we impose our culture there.
    In the moment of the spanish colonies there were three races:
    Spanish/Spaniards: High-Class in the government and a minority.
    Spanish-Indians: Medium-class and a mixture between Spaniards and Indian women.
    American-Indians: Low-Class and the mayority of the population of america.

    I think that all the questions are anwered.

    • Cervantes Galán says:

      Originally yes “Latino” referred to the people of the Latin languages… However in the U.S. today it refers to the people of Latin American origin/heritage and no longer includes certain Latin languages such as Italian and/or French (save for Haiti)… It does still include Portuguese and of course Castilian… You are correct in stating that “Hispanic” is specifically used by those people who are derived from any and all of the 19 Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas which were colonized by Spaniards “like you”. The Spanish, along with the many different Native American tribes and civilizations (referred to as “Indios”) as well as the Western-African slaves brought over by the Españoles or “Conquistadores” were the template which mixed over the course of the last 500+ years to create “La Raza Cósmica” or simply “La Raza”… While you included “Criollos” (Spanish/Spaniards born and raised in the Americas), and “Mestizos” (Spanish-Indians) and full blooded American-Indians in your list… You forgot to include: “Mulatos” (Spanish-Africans), Africans, and “Zambos” (Indians-Africans) in your list… There are of course many more mixtures in la Raza’s genetic makeup, but these which we have mentioned are the primary ones… Solo digo… Gracias btw for helping create La Raza… we appreciate it very mucho… Que viva!

  5. Jassury says:

    Ok so I need further clarification. What if someone was born in a Spanish speaking country in Central America and their heritage (parents & grandparents) is that of the same country and they all speak Spanish. Based on your definition this would make them Hispanic correct?

    On the other hand the individual inspite of being born in a “Spanish speaking country” were raised in the US, but again parents are from a “Latin American country.” Which according to your definition above this makes them Latinos as well correct?

    So what does that make this individual?

    • Thank you for your questions Jassury, all the definitions and concepts presented in this article come from various reliable sources of information and as you can see from some of the other comments and maybe other articles out there these questions still have somewhat confusing answers. The most important sentence to me of my post is the following one:

      “Since it is a matter of self-identification, it can be difficult to choose what term to use when referring to this population.”</em

      Also, if you really feel conflicted about it the best advice I can offer is to ask the person what term he or she prefers, and then you’ll know.

  6. Manuel Soares says:

    I am Portuguese born in Africa. Until I came to the US I considered myself Latino. Latino means that your language comes directly from Latin, thus Italians, Romanians, Portuguese Spanish etc are Latin cultures. Now my parents were born in the Hispanic peninsula.
    Now you tell me that I am neither Hispanic nor Latino. Because, I am not from a previously Spanish South / Central American country. We the Portuguese know that The Spaniards were Brutal assholes back in the days. But those that justify special treatment of one group compared to another.

    • Hello Manuel, thanks for commenting on this article. Please note that I am not telling you that you are neither Hispanic nor Latino. However, I apologize for the confusion. What I am telling the readers is that it is a matter of self-identification. You mentioned that until you came to the US you considered yourself Latino, what do you consider yourself now? All the concepts shared in this article are there for you to come to your own conclusion, that said, my conclusion was:

      “At the end of the day, don’t worry too much about these terms, as long as you come from a good place with good intentions, you will not offend someone by referring to them as Hispanic or Latino. We all know these terms are confusing. That being said, if you really feel conflicted about it the best advice I can offer is to ask the person what term he or she prefers, and then you’ll know.”

      My husband was born in NY and raised in San Francisco. His parents were born and raised in the US as well and some of his ancestors come from Germany. He speaks Spanish fluently, he learned it in Dominican Republic and in Madrid. He considers himself as he calls it “a gringo with a Latino heart” not only because he speaks Spanish or because he married me but because he loves the Latino culture. Is it OK for him to say he is half Latino? We could potentially talk about this for hours. The term “Latino” may mean different things to different people and that should be OK. Thanks again for your comment Manuel, it was definitely very interesting.

  7. Hank Estrella says:

    So, what if you are born in a South American country, barely speak Spanish, barely understand or follow the Latin or Hispanic culture, and was raised in the US from 4 or 5 years old and on, has rarely if ever dated a Hispanic, Latina, or Spanish girl, and never had any Hispanic, Latino/a or Spanish friends…..And just recently married an American Caucasian Super woman. are you considered a Hispanic, Latino or Spanish? I am confused. And if I am confused, how will my kids feel and think? Hmmmm.


    • Sadie says:

      well you would first be considered an american, with your ethnicity being whatever country you were born in. you don’t really have to use these terms, i mean my family is from italy, we don’t say european or anything like that, just italian. so if you’re from brazil, just say you’re brazilian. i wouldn’t say you were spanish, because i was always under the assumption that means you’re from spain. so between latino or hispanic, you could choose either one, or you could choose neither. and as for what your kids will think, there’s no need to tell them you’re hispanic or latino or any word you don’t feel comfortable using or don’t feel a connection to. so like i said, just tell them whatever country you were born in, if it’s brazil tell them you’re brazilian. seriously though, if you don’t feel connected to any of these words, don’t use them. if anybody ever asks your ethnicity, just use the country you were born in.

  8. Erika says:

    “Is it OK for him to say he is half Latino?”
    How interesting! This reminds me of the song by Morrissey: Irish Blood, English Heart.
    It makes me think of adopted kids. For example, a caucasian family from the US (no heritage named) who adopts an Asian baby kid for instance, and never leaves the US ever again. The kid grows in the US, in the american culture all the way until he becomes an adult. He surely considers himself an American, right? That’s all he knows.
    I consider myself hispanic, I was born and raised in Mexico, and I have been living in the US for almost 12 years and I still hold the majority of mexican values, culture, traditions, etc…
    Also, I’m with you that you cannot call a person hispanic or latino just by their looks. Often, I’m told I look Japanese, I’m 5’4″, light skin color, skinny, high cheek bones… And when I tell people I’m from Mexico, they get shocked, and tell me that I don’t “look” Mexican. Anyway, I guess I’m not the only one with this type of story out there. It’s sad, we’re a very large population (Hispanic/Latino/Spanish, etc) and many encounters with people around the world seem to be way off reality. I don’t blame them either, it’s not really their fault, but it wouldn’t harm to get a little more informed.
    Thanks for a great article!

  9. Cervantes Galán says:

    All Hispanics are Latino but not all Latinos are Hispanic… Hispanics are the 19 Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas (and their descendants living in the states or outside said countries) while Latinos include these 19 nations as well as Brazil, Haiti, Spaniards, etc.)… Viva la Raza mi Gente!

  10. Christina says:

    My anscestors were spaniards, native american, Irish, and honestly the list could go on. I am from New Mexico and considered myself Hispanic not Latino. Being from New Mexico people mistake me for being Mexican constantly. I come from a family rich in spanish culture which I share with my adopted son, who is Caucasian. The culture he will grow up with is a Hispanic culture and this is the box I check for him. Imagine the confused looks we get from people when my blonde haired blue eyed boy tells them he’s Hispanic. I embrace my culture and I want him to embrace it as well, without prejudice.

  11. John says:

    I believe that there is a difference because like you said “Latino” is for LATIN COUNTRIES but “Hispanic” is for SPAINARD COUNTRIES. You know what here’s a test you see for youself.
    Spain- Hispanic; both have SPAN IN THEM.
    Mexico- Mexican; both have MEXI IN THEM.
    ?- Latin; NOTHING
    Exactly nothing fits therefore it is and should not be pared up with Hispainc because they are both different. One is for ONLY SPAIN and the other for LATIN COUNTRIES duhhh.
    Also think where did Spanish originate from oh yeah SPAIN duhhh. I find it absurd and ludicrous that just because both HISPANICS AND LATINOS ARE TAN COLORED THEY AUTOMATICALLY GROUP US TOGETHER WHICH IS RACIST.

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