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Latino or Hispanic

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©IXMATI Communications, 2023. The unauthorized use or duplication of this material without permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mari D. González or IXMATI Communications with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

By Mari D. González

Last year, I wrote a paper for school on the meaning of the terms Latino and Hispanic according to the people being categorized. Aside from the literature review, I interviewed eight self-identified Latinos or Hispanics and these were my findings.

Since its inception by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 1977, the term Hispanic has been both controversial and accepted by different circles to categorize people with ancestry in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries of the Western hemisphere. Some argue that choosing one label over the other is a matter of assimilation while others choose a label to state pride of having developed an agreeable ethnic identity. Several authors (Martin, 2005; Acuña, 2000; Gonzales, 1999; Rodriguez, 2007) acknowledge the political implications behind the choice of a specific label. Martin (2005) in particular proposes to analyze the term Latino in the context of “reinterpretation” of an existing name that has sprung from political movements dating back to the 1960’s (p. 397). Other researchers (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005; Rodriguez, 2007; Davila, 2001) recognize a different and significant dynamic – the capitalizing of the consumer power through the use of the label Hispanic which is representative of a common linguistic indicator.

The term Hispanic is inaccurate because is not perceived by the receivers as representative of their “broader culture” and because it implies that “all” Latino/Hispanic speak Spanish. The term Hispanic does however speak of the Spanish colonization from which the Spanish language was instituted. Yet, not all people who live in Latin America speak Spanish such as the many Indigenous people across the continent. The term Hispanic however, is seen as convenient through the use of census data to make the case for the allocation of funds that support language-based social service programs and for marketers and advertisers to sell Spanish media programs by arguing that if not all, the majority of Hispanics prefer to speak Spanish.

Individuals who are more aware of the labels’ socio-politics argue that neither the term Hispanic nor Latino applies to them because they want to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes more commonly attached to Mexican immigrants and people of Mexican descent who have dealt with a second colonization by historically being categorized as second-class group since the time their first-class citizenship rights were stripped off them in the nineteen century when the U.S. west border moved further south.

Californians in contrast to New Mexicans prefer using the term Latino(a) when given the choice between Latino(a) and Hispanic. For more educated Californians, “Latino” is the new Chicano in that it evokes their indigenous roots, a shared history of struggle and the colonization of the people in Latin American countries. Latino as a term is self-appropriated; it comes from the people which might have been the legacy from the Chicano movement. It is not surprising that Latinos in California are more aware of the political connotation of the term Latino because Chicano studies departments are at many state universities in the Southwestern United States, particularly in California.


  1. Ericka says:

    Hi, Mari! As you know, I identify myself as Latina, not Hispanic, because Spanish is not my first language. I really don't like categorizations that limit the definition of who we are and our ancestry. I feel very "boxed" every time I fill out a form and choose to mark "other" or "mixed" when I have the option. Thanks for shining a light on the topic.
    Ps: I would love you to talk about the term "Alien" in the future! I really really don't like it.

  2. AOL says:

    Hi Ericka:
    Thank you for your comment. All ethnic labels have a context. Both terms were instituted in the U.S. to name the "other."
    I'd assume that the term "Alien" is used more commonly by more ethnocentric societies. I, like you, prefer the term Latino(a) as it speaks of our shared history as Latinoamericanos(as) and it does include Brazilians.

  3. Sofia Keck says:

    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.

  4. IXMATI says:

    Hi Sofia:
    The history and background of each term is indeed different at least for Mexicans who are aware of the longer shared history with the U.S. and because of the "matter of personal preference" I used both terms together (Latino/Hispanic) at my recent presentation at the LISA Berkeley Conference.

  5. teresita says:

    tere lagarda
    querida amiga te deseo lo mejor y espero que sigas escribiendo y comentando sobre nuestras raices, que las vivencias de la infancia nos quedan siempre marcadas como cicatrices en nuestra alma para toda la vida y tal ve hasta despues de ella. te quiero

  6. Nico says:

    It's important to understand that some titles are necessary for political and economic movements relative to there time. In other words as we develop and progress so will our "label". The emphasis should be place on the movement. The undercurrent, if you will for unification, political,social, and economic status! http://sfoutside.com/s/www/

  7. Alexis S. Rosales García says:

    You have an amazing blog! Very interesting posts. 😀

  8. […] you want more information on this, I recommend that you check out Mari’s blog post on this same issue. The information is more specific and you should have a deeper understanding of […]

  9. […] Latino or Hispanic -A Note on Terminology August 2009 8 comments 5 […]

  10. Rafael Muñoz says:

    Hola, tengo duda donde colocarme en la clasificación, aunque no me importa la etiqueta solo en donde pertenezco. mi madre mexicana/estaunidence mi padre mexicano/español. Yo nacido en México al igual que ellos. Gracias.

  11. Mari D. Gonzalez says:

    Hola Rafael, Esta clasificación solo aplica dentro de los EE.UU. no en México. En México eres simplemente Mexicano. Y cuando vengas a este país, por el hecho de haber nacido en México, se te clasificara como Latino o Hispano, por tu país de origen, no el de tus padres. De esa forma aquí se mantienen separadas las identidades. Ahora tu puedes elegir entre Hispano o Latino. Me dio mucho gusto que hayas escrito en español.

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