top of page

Hispanic, Latino & Spanish

Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish all have different meanings. However, the U.S. Census Bureau uses Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. What exactly do these terms mean? Here is my take on this exciting topic.

Since I’m of Caucasian ancestry, I’ve always thought I was just a white person... until I relocated to the United States of America. While I haven’t stopped thinking of myself as white, I’ve also embraced the Hispanic/Latino tag. Hispanic and Latino Americans are the descendants of countries from Spain and Latin American. Having been born and raised in Spain, why wouldn’t I choose to identify myself as such?

I’ve always preferred to define myself as Mediterranean. I feel it reflects my roots more accurately, including my Jewish heritage – yes, not all Hispanics/Latinos are Catholic. The U.S. Census Bureau hasn’t offered this option so far. There has been a drive to include a "Middle Eastern" ethnicity option for the 2020 census since some Middle Easterners don’t feel represented or read as Whites. The problem with the Hispanic/Latino/Spanish denominations is that they don’t mean the same to everybody.

Whenever I’m asked to disclose my race and ethnicity, I choose to identify as White and Hispanic/Latino. Because many Hispanics and Latinos are a mixture of European and Native American ancestries, people often assign a racial value to this perception of Hispanics and Latinos. That’s why many people believe that the white category only includes non-Hispanic/Latino Whites. Conversely, some have even designated Hispanics/Latinos as the "brown race" or the "brown people."

I feel I’m in a gray area. Because I come from Spain, I speak Spanish and my Mediterranean features (olive skin, dark hair and dark eyes), many people don’t read me as white. That is not a complaint. Simultaneously, many Hispanics and Latinos think I’m just plain white because I’m not "brown enough." The truth is that Hispanics and Latinos can be of any race.

According to the chart above, more than 1/3 of Hispanic/Latino Americans don’t feel represented by the existing categories and choose "some other race." Some fail to understand that Hispanic/Latino is not a race.

Currently, the U.S. Census Bureau only considers someone Hispanic/Latino whose origins are from the following Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

People whose origins are from Spain are considered White/Non-Hispanic, like any other European person. The U.S. Census Bureau defines "Hispanic" or "Latino" persons as being "persons who trace their origin to Spanish-speaking Central and South America countries, and other Spanish cultures." But, wouldn’t Spain be one of those other Spanish cultures?

The word Spanish can either be a noun or an adjective. It refers to the following:

  • Of/or relating to Spain. The people born and/or living in Spain. Spanish people are known as Spaniards.

  • Of/or relating to the language spoken in Spain, Equatorial Guinea, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Mexico, and most of Central and South America. The Spanish language is also called Castilian.

Therefore, it’s not correct to refer to a person that speaks Spanish as such, unless the person is actually from Spain. Although it wouldn’t be wrong to say that I’m Spanish, I don’t identify myself as such. Even if I was born in Spain, and Spanish was my first language, I consider myself to be Catalan (as separate from Spanish). At the same time, though, I don’t reject my Spanish origins.

Additionally, other U.S. government agencies have slightly different definitions of the Hispanic/Latino category, which may include Brazilians and other Portuguese-speaking groups. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation defines "Hispanic" as "persons of Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central or South American, or other Spanish or Portuguese culture or origin, regardless of race." This definition has also been adopted by the Small Business Administration, as well as by many federal, state, and municipal agencies.

There’s a divide over the treatment of Hispanic and Latino as synonyms. It can be argued that, while Hispanic is about linguistics (the Spanish language), Latino is about geography (Latin America). I find the following picture to be most the accurate of the differences between the two terms:

The previous diagram defines Latinos as people from the Americas (hence Latin America) whose primary language is a Romance language (a language derived from Latin). Brazilians are also Latinos, as well as people from French-speaking countries, such as French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, and Saint Martin. Being located in Europe, Spain is excluded from this category.

Conversely, that diagram defines Hispanics as people from countries in which the primary language is Spanish. That includes Spain and all the countries from Latin America in which the primary language is Spanish (even if other languages are also spoken). I believe the people that created the diagram included some French-speaking countries as Hispanic by mistake. They shouldn’t be on that list; just like Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country, is not listed either.

Interestingly, the term Hispanic comes from the Latin word Hispania, which was used by the Romans, not only to refer to Spain but also to the whole Iberian Peninsula (Portugal, Spain, Andorra, and Catalonia). Consequently, being a Portuguese-speaking country, it can be argued that Hispanic could also refer to Brazil. At present, though, Hispanic only alludes to Spain or Spanish-speaking countries.

While I’m undoubtedly Hispanic, some people may not agree that I consider myself Latino. They’re right: I’m not from Latin America. However, the term "Latino" is used in Spanish to describe people of European or American descent whose languages derive from Latin. Not only would that include the citizens of every nation of Latin America and Europe whose language is either Spanish or Portuguese, but also those whose language is a Romance language. That would encompass the Catalans, the French, the Walloons, the Corsicans, the Italians, the Sardinians, the Romanians, etc.

We’re all made of many things. The beauty of accepting one’s diversity is that you don’t have to choose between the parts that make up the whole. You can love them all equally.


Thank you for subscribing!

bottom of page