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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.