What's The Difference Between Hispanic And Latino?

Brilliance | Dec. 15, 2017

The terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are often used interchangeably, but they don't mean the same thing. Understanding the difference between the two can help you better relate to the many cultures that fall under their umbrellas.

Language vs. Geography

In the broadest sense, "Hispanic" refers to those with a Spanish-speaking background and "Latino" refers to those with Latin-American heritage. Put another way, "Hispanic" is about language; "Latino" is about geography. Both of these terms are used almost exclusively to describe those living in the United States. The good news is that if you do use them interchangeably, you have a good chance of being right: the majority of Latinos are also Hispanic, and the majority of Hispanics are also Latino.

Exceptions To The Rule

It's the instances where a person is one but not the other that add complexity to the issue. Take Brazil, for example. Brazil is a country in Latin America, so Brazilians are Latinos. But Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish, so they're not Hispanic. On the contrary, people from Spain speak Spanish, so they're considered Hispanic. But Spain is not in Latin America, so the Spanish are not Latino. (The adjective "Spanish," it should be said, only refers to people from Spain). Things get more complex still when you consider that the root word for "Hispanic" is "Hispania," the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula. Because the Iberian Peninsula also contained Portugal, one could argue that people of Portuguese-speaking descent—like Brazilians—are also Hispanic.

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