Latino VS Hispanic – What Is The Difference?

Even though both terms are used interchangeably, there is a difference between the terms Latino vs Hispanic.

The usage of both terms has changed and adapted itself to a wide range of geographical and historical circumstances. The term that was used first was Hispanic.

Hispanic” is a narrower term which only refers to persons of Spanish-speaking origin or ancestry, while “Latino” is more frequently used to refer more generally to anyone of Latin American origin or ancestry. 

So, the term Latino includes people from Mexico, the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic), South America (Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, etc.) and Central America (Honduras, Costa Rica, etc.)

Latin America Map source

The term Hispanic includes persons from Spain and Spanish-speaking Latin Americans but excludes Brazilians (who speak Portuguese).

On the other hand, the term Latino excludes persons from Spain but includes Spanish-speaking Latin Americans and Brazilians.

Linguistic map of Latin America. Spanish in green, Portuguese in orange, and French in blue. source

Both Hispanic and Latino are generally used to denote people living in the United States with Spanish-speaking descent. Outside of the United States we don’t speak of Latinos; we speak of Mexicans, Cubans, Brazilians, and so forth.


The term Hispanic is derived from the Latin word for “Spain” (Hispania). 

Latino is derived from the Spanish word for “Latin” (Latino) but which as an English word is probably a shortening of the Spanish word Latinoamericano, which in English means “Latin American.”

History in the US

U.S. Army South celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month source

The term Hispanic was first adopted by the United States government during the administration of Richard Nixon. It has been used in the U.S. Census since 1980.

The government adopted the term Latino in 1997, and it was used in the 2000 census because of its popularity. The government adopted these terms because they did not have an inclusive term to identify and segregate the mixed white with black and native mestizo or mulato people of Central and South America.

Some Hispanics in the western United States preferred the term Latino, therefore the term was changed to Hispanic or Latino.

“Hispanic” is used more often in states such as Florida and Texas and the East, whereas “Latino” is used more often on the West Coast and especially California.

Here’s a little more on the topic, with a nice flag chart.

My Experience

As a person from Mexico, I fit into both terms, and have called myself both Latina and Hispanic but only in the US or when speaking English. I probably use the term Hispanic more, or I just say that I am from Mexico. Depends on the context and the type of conversation.

I feel like Latinos are Americans with Latin ancestry, whether they were born in the US or not. Like this poll demonstrates:


The adoption of the term Latino by the US Census Bureau in 2000 and its subsequent media attention brought about several controversies and disagreements, specifically in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Regarding it as an arbitrary generic term, many Latin American scholars, journalists and organizations have objected to the mass media use of the word “Latino”, pointing out that such ethnonyms are optional and should be used only to describe people involved in the practices, ideologies and identity politics of their supporters. They argue that if Hispanic is an imposed official term, so is Latino, since it was the French who coined the expression Latin America (Amérique latine) to refer to the Spanish, French, and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere, during their support of the Second Mexican Empire. (source)

Do you prefer Latino, Hispanic or either? If you are not one, which term do you use more often?

6 thoughts on “Latino VS Hispanic – What Is The Difference?

  1. I wrote about this last month. Personally I hate both because it’s a label that homogenizes millions. At its core, Latino and Hispanic are colonial identities (there’s a reason why the French supported ‘Latino’ and ‘Latin America’ when they invaded Mexico). It ultimately erases the myriad of racial diversity found within Latin America. Both are a monolithic identities that aim to simplify a complex group.


    1. I just read your piece. I like your thoughts.


  2. This blog post has fit in with my university module so well! Just this week I have been reading texts which refer to Hispanic and Latino interchangeably for Spanish speaking community in the USA. Thank you on the much needed clarification! Great post.


  3. I’m brazilian and really hate both denominations. Calls me of <> is pretty offensive and I really find a lot of brazilians who feels exactly like me. We have a special affection for our neighbors of ”Latin America” (South, Central and North America – in Mexican case), but I deffinely don’t see myself in others ”latinos”. Don’t exist identification with history, culture… Brazilians states are similarly close cultural and historical than Argentina and Mexico are each other. I mean… Inside Brazil, we have our own cultural ”shades”. Because, of course, each state here could be a country, with a particular accent, cultural and historical differences… São Paulo is bigger than UK. Mato Grosso do Sul is bigger than Germany. Rio de Janeiro is bigger than Denmark… to name a few considered of medium height


    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’ve never been to Brazil and I’ve only met a couple Brazilians in my life so I don’t really know much about how they feel. I understand what you’re saying.


  4. The terms Hispanic and Latino are – in my opinion – erroneous terminology to categorize those of us who originate from Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, etc. and inclusive the Caribbean.

    In order to elaborate, I think it is first important to analyze and define these terminologies.

    Latino originates from Latin: the language, culture, and peoples who originate from Europe, the Mediterranean, precisely Rome and Italy. Inclusively it can be expanded to that that developed and expanded from that same root – Spain, France, Portugal, Romania, etc.

    Hispanic originates from the region, culture, and Latin peoples (read previous paragraph) from Hispania (Spain) and its diaspora (people that transported, immigrated, invaded, and established itself. In this continent, but did not originate here).

    Both of those populations described above are foreign to this continent. They are European, Caucasian, White: they have no link, claim, or roots – either genetic, social, cultural, or claim to these lands prior to 1492. They are peoples whose cultures originated from elsewhere, and identify with Spain as “la madre Patria”.

    Lets return to and reiterate my first phrase that indicates that these terminologies are erroneous to categorize those of us who ORIGINATE from Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, etc. We are not European, Caucasian, White nor are we immigrants, invaders, or transplants.

    We originated in this continent. Genetically, we descend from native races. Our cultures and civilizations – Canjobal, Zapotec, Quechua, Mixtec, Nahuatl, Purepecha, Mixe, Kiche, Aymara, Yucatec, Huastec, Kekchi, Kakchikei, Zoque, Mixtec, and many hundreds more – developed and flourished independent of any European, Latin, or Spanish influence. Although after 1492 our cultures have adapted and have been influenced by various foreign stresses throughout the centuries, and our races have mixed, our cultures and traditions are rooted in our millennial old pre-Columbian/pre-Hispanic heritage. The root of who we are is here, not in Europe.

    The Black/African presence and influence in the Caribbean during the Colonial Era – the time when our modern culture of “mestizaje” began to forge – was more numerous than that of the European/White inclusive in Colombia, Mexico, and many parts of Central and South America where it is officially not recognized. Why is it that we prefer to identify with the European aspect?

    Now, with no intention to exclude or offend, if you are Argentinian, Uruguayan, Costa Rican, Paraguayan, Chilean or among the minority of Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Peruvians, Dominicans, etc., that do claim to be of European origin, and do not descend from any Indigenous/Native and/or African heritage, and perceive yourself set apart, then all this does not pertain to you.

    By taking on the Latino/Hispanic label, we are denying the existence, presence, and heritage if an entire continent. It is cultural genocide. Politically, by taking on these foreign labels, we are being robbed and denied our natural and legitimate claim to these lands, we are converted to foreigners.

    I believe that in order to classify us correctly, first we must clarify if we are asked for our race, nationality, ethnicity, or cultural heritage, for each is very different. Second, there must be a clear definition and explanation of what is meant by each. Third, instead of trying to find one label that bundles us all together, allow all individuals to identify themselves and respect it.


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