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"Latino" vs. "Hispanic": National Association of Hispanic Journalists President's View

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Friday, August 29, 2003

"Latino" vs. "Hispanic": NAHJ President's View

A "somewhat hidden but contentious debate" is going on over how a certain linguistic group should identify itself -- "as Hispanics or Latinos," the Washington Post reported this week. But Juan Gonzalez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, says that "I am in the camp that [believes] a needless amount of time has been spent by Latino intellectuals debating this question. Neither term is scientifically correct, though both are acceptable in my view."

Gonzalez, a columnist for the New York Daily News, told Journal-isms that, "Each time I use the term Latino in the Daily News, I get an angry call from the head of the Latino Association of America, who is Italian and who insists the only real 'Latinos' are Italians, original home of the Latin language. Do Latinos, for instance, include people from Latin America who are originally from Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Martinique and Guadalupe as well?

"As for the millions of indigenous people of Latin America, many look upon Latino as being a colonizer term of the Spanish and Portuguese as well, which does not include them.

"Hispanic has its weaknesses, as well," Gonzalez continues. "What happens to Brazilians who speak Portuguese? That said, I use both terms interchangeably.

"A more precise term would be Latin Americans in the United States, but that's more than a sound bite. I prefer to use Latino more often, and even more I prefer to use the particular nationality of the Hispanic/Latino I am describing.

"As for NAHJ, while we are called the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, our Latino Resource Guide recommends 'Latino' as the preferred usage. So go figure.

"Latinos refers more to people who come from Latin America, with the particular caveats mentioned above. Hispanics refer to what is really a linguistic minority within the U.S. bound together by a common language and common cultural bonds (mostly from Latin America but also including those who were originally born in Spain, Portugal, and even the Philippines).

"Just as blacks passed from being called Colored to Negroes to Blacks to African Americans, Latinos are going through their own process of group self-definition, only our process is still in its infancy and still being refined. The important thing is not to get fixated on labels [or] names, but to clearly understand the process."

He also notes that the question is discussed briefly in his 1999 book, "Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America."

Promueve la diversidad dentro de nuestra propia comunidad hispana en cualquier lugar de EE.UU. / Promote diversity even among our own Hispanic Community anywhere in the USA.

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Reply with quote  #2 

Latinos or Hispanics                                                                                                                 Homepage


Latin? Hispanic? What's the difference? Actually Latino and Hispanic are not synonymous.

The word "Latin" comes to us from a tribe in early Italy called the Latins. The Latins lived in Latium whose capital city was Rome. Their language was called Latin. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, as Rome's Empire grew their language, Latin, spread throughout the Roman Empire later evolving into several "Romance" languages; Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. People from these countries are referred to as Latin, their language is derived from "Latin". These languages are very similar as explained by Dr. Lorenzo LaFarelle, a Chicano Studies professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, the word for cave in Spanish is "cueva", in Portuguese is "cova", in Italian is "cava".

When the Romans invaded the Iberian peninsula they found a city already there called Hispalis (Seville). The name Hispalis appears to be derived from Greek since Hispalus is a mythical Greek hero. Later on the Romans annexed the Iberian peninsula making it a province named Hispania. The Romans spent seven centuries in Hispania leaving a legacy not only of language but of social and cultural characteristics such as family, language, and religion which tied Hispania to the rest of the "Latin" world forever. Sometime later the name evolved from Hispania to España. The word Hispania thus refers to the people and culture of the Iberian peninsula, Spain in particular. The term Hispano (Hispanic) later was used in referring to Spain and its subsequent New World - New Spain, conquered territories which covers most of Latino America. Hispanic thus refers to people whose culture and heritage have ties to Spain and, in the case of second and third generation Hispanic-Americans, who may or may not speak Spanish.

In the U.S. the term Hispanic (Hispano) gained acceptance after it was picked up by the government and used in forms and census to identify people with Spanish heritage. Hispanic is not a race but an ethnic distinction, Hispanics come from all races and physical traits. The term Hispanic is merely a translation of the Old World word Hispania (Latin) or Hispano (Spanish).

Latin America is a geographic location. People from Latin America are all Latin but not all are Hispanics. Brazilians speak Portuguese, which makes them Latin but not Hispanic. Dr. Lorenzo LaFarelle explained that in the 20's and 50's the term "Latin American" became very popular. Back then people of Mexican descent born in the United States preferred to be called Latin Americans since they were not actually born in Mexico, they felt the term Mexican did not exactly fit them. Besides that often the term Mexican was used with a derogatory note. In 1928 in the Corpus Christi - Laredo area a group of Hispanics spearheaded LULAC (League of Latin American Citizens) to help combat discrimination and prejudice and to help Hispanics acculturate.

Prior to Texas joining the Union, old Hispanic native families in Texas called themselves "Tejanos". After 1820 the Anglo population called themselves Texans and the term Mexicans was used for all Hispanics whether newly arrived or not.

The term "Chicano", is a more exclusive term used solely in reference to people of Mexican descent. Chicano was probably first used by the Conquistadores, explained Dr. LaFarelle. The original Mexican Indians were called Mexicas. That term was changed to Mexicanos by the Spaniards and probably the "me" was dropped and thus the term Xicanos or Chicanos was born. Sometime ago a popular and elite group of Mexican nationalist fighters called themselves "Los Chicanos" and the name was picked up in the 1970's by young militant Americans of Mexican descent to make a political statement. Although the term "Chicano" is an "old" word, explains Dr. LaFarelle, many elderly Hispanics of Mexican descent don't like it because the term had been used, long ago, as derogatory reference to Mexican peasants or peons.

Boricua is a term used exclusively for Puerto Ricans. The Taíno Indians called their paradise Borikén, the term Boricua derives from that.

So what are we? We, Spanish speakers or people of Spanish heritage are Hispanics or Hispanos. In the end it doesn't really matter much what we call ourselves - Latinos or Hispanics - said Dr. LaFarelle, "somos todos primos" - we're all cousins anyway. We should respect our differences, enjoy our close relationship and be proud of our cultural legacy.


Promueve la diversidad dentro de nuestra propia comunidad hispana en cualquier lugar de EE.UU. / Promote diversity even among our own Hispanic Community anywhere in the USA.

Posts: 58
Reply with quote  #3 


A new poll finds that the term 'Hispanic' is preferred
By Christine Granados

Are you a Hispanic or a Latino? We have been asking ourselves this question since the seventies when the government adopted the term "Hispanic" to keep population statistics and monitor compliance to Affirmative Action laws. And the answer isn't as clear-cut as one might expect. Choosing one term over the other means taking a political, social, and even a generational stand.
Stereotypically, those who call themselves Hispanic are more assimilated, conservative, and young, while those who choose the term Latino tend to be liberal, older, and sometimes radical.
A recent presidential tracking poll by Hispanic Trends, Inc., a polling firm associated with this magazine, wanted to put the identity issue to rest once and for all by asking registered voters which term they preferred-Hispanic or Latino. The result was something of a surprise: A majority prefer the term Hispanic.

Sergio Bendixen, president of Hispanic Trends, says his company decided to put the question in its poll for obvious reasons. "It's something Hispanics and Latinos have been debating for years, and no one seems to have asked the question. So we decided to ask it," he says.

Of the 1,200 Latino registered voters polled, 65 percent preferred the term Hispanic, and 30 percent chose to identify themselves as Latino. Regionally, the results were similar. This random sample showed that 67 percent of Mexican Americans in Texas preferred the term Hispanic, as did 52 percent of Latinos in California and New York.

Bendixen, who has been conducting polls for 25 years, says the results surprised him. "I thought the term Latino would be the overwhelming winner, because I've worked in California for Univisión and Telemundo, and I was not allowed to say Hispanic on the air. When I did, we got a lot of complaints."

But 24-year-old Daniel Villaruel, a student at California State University Northridge, was not surprised by the poll results. "That makes sense," says the fourth-generation Spanish American.

"Because registered voters tend to be second- and third-generation Hispanics and they tend to be more assimilated."
Bendixen explains it this way, "I think that the people who don't like the term Hispanic are very vocal."

'I thought the term Latino would be the overwhelming
winner ... I've worked in California for Univisión and
Telemundo, and I was not allowed to say Hispanic on the air.'

- Sergio Bendixen, Hispanic Trends

Like author and poet Sandra Cisneros, who has identified herself as Latina, Chicana, Tejana, and Mexican American, but never Hispanic. Cisneros is so offended by the term that she has refused to be pictured on the cover of this magazine. [HISPANIC Magazine uses the terms interchangeably.] "The term Hispanic makes my skin crawl," Cisneros, 45, says. "It's a very colonistic term, a disrespectful term, a term imposed on us without asking what we wanted to call ourselves."

What she finds most objectionable about the word Hispanic is that the younger generation is accepting the term without questioning where it came from, and who gave the term to them. She blames the Reagan Administration for applying the unwanted label back in the eighties (although the term itself is much older). "How would Reagan feel if we said, 'We're going to call your people "los gueros"? We're just going to group you all together-the Irish, Polish, Lithuanian, English-and we're going to call you 'pinkies' without asking."

Cisneros believes that the "dominant culture" imposed this label on Latinos as a way of erasing their identity and their past. And she finds this carefree labeling the most insidious destruction of all. "I'm a poet, so words have their resonance. People don't think about how language can be creative and destructive," Cisneros says.

‘We’ll never have agreement on what to call such a
diverse group of people. We’re not going to solve the
... debate in my lifetime.’

-Sylvia Martínez, Editor-Latina

Celestino Fernández, a professor of sociology at the Universit

Promueve la diversidad dentro de nuestra propia comunidad hispana en cualquier lugar de EE.UU. / Promote diversity even among our own Hispanic Community anywhere in the USA.

Posts: 1
Reply with quote  #4 

I believe that the answer is simply in the definitions. Hispanic is anything originating from Spain. Most Latin Americans have only the Spanish language that was forced on them to connect them to Spain so the language is the only thing Hispanic. People in Latin America that descend from Spanish blood can consider themselves Hispanic but they are also Latin American if they are from that part of the world. All the rest that are not Spanish descendants are more accurately described as Latin American.

Is a Native American that speaks English considered English? That is the same as saying that a Latin American with Aztec roots is considered Hispanic.

I don't have a problem speaking Spanish but I feel offended when referred to as Hispanic. Being from Mexico I consider myself specifically Mexican but generally Latin American or Latino. Hispanic is a term that is insulting and inaccurate in many ways. I think it was created by the government to discriminate and it gave a tool for prejudice racists to create a term that is derogatory to all Latin Americans much like African Americas and the ”N” word. I reject the term Hispanic based on this alone but also for all my other points. 


Posts: 1
Reply with quote  #5 

Just a brief correction.  Brazilians  and Portuguese are not Hispanics.  We are all Latins but only some are of Hispanic origen.


Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #6 

Hola Hugo,

Finally figured out how to login........tonto.

Very good article,well researched.  Answering this question will always be a difficult proposition.  I personally use Hispanic, this way I think I cover all the bases.

Interestingly, there is also a question among the "Asians" and/or "Orientals".

Lucky me, I'm just Irish, French and German.......and Lord knows what else.



Posts: 58
Reply with quote  #7 

(e-mail from Al Sosa) - (Who is Al Sosa?)


Hi Hugo:

Thanks for the invitation and for posting my article on your forum.  As you can see this topic often leads to some strong opinions.  The problem here is that if we Hispanics (Hispanos) can't agree among ourselves how we should be described, then there is little chance of agreement on anything else.


Regards to All,
Al Sosa

Promueve la diversidad dentro de nuestra propia comunidad hispana en cualquier lugar de EE.UU. / Promote diversity even among our own Hispanic Community anywhere in the USA.

Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #8 


from Latin the language of the ancient Romans.


  1. A person of Spanish (or Portuguese) descent.
  2. A person from Latin America, (or sometimes even Spain).
  3. A person residing in the United States, who is of Spanish or Latin American descent.


  1. Of or pertaining to the Iberian peninsula, its people, its culture or its languages.
  2. Spanish or of Spanish descent. (lineage, descent in a line from a common progenitor; progeny; race; descending line of offspring or ascending line of parentage).
  3. Latin American or of Latin American descent, generally but not always exclusive of Brazilian.
NOTA: Wiktionary.

Posts: 58
Reply with quote  #9 

Dear Ms. Sanchez: I appreciate your comments and I understand your point. Nevertheless, I cannot take credit for the well-researched and written piece. Mr. Al Sosa wrote Hispanic vs. Latin. If you would like to know more about the author, please click on the link below.


(Who is Al Sosa?)

Promueve la diversidad dentro de nuestra propia comunidad hispana en cualquier lugar de EE.UU. / Promote diversity even among our own Hispanic Community anywhere in the USA.

Posts: 1
Reply with quote  #10 
Dear Urizar,
    I read your proposition and it amuses me that you go to latin ethimology to explain the origins of the word hispanic. Also the concept of Europeans seems interesting the reality is that we do not live in Europe.
    Unfortunately you left out some US social events out. First of all, as much as you are right about the begginning of the use of the word hispanic you ignore to discuss the reason for which people opted for the term latin or chicano. Hispanics were simply and derogatoraly called "spics", relating to our accents and supported by the word Hispanic which sound like "spic", so they looked for a label they found identified them culturally (chicano) or that they felt was more dignified (latino)
    Also if you meet a person from Germany or Sweden you acknoeldege their nationality, on the other hand those people from Latina-America and who decide to keep their nationality are not treated with the same respect. This is not separatism just a simple observation we do not call gringos all whites, do we?
Finally maybe you would like next time to discuss more about the social consequences of a label. Maybe it is a convenient statiscal measure but what are the social consequences of living with a label? regardless of the one you chose or promote.

Posts: 58
Reply with quote  #11 

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Hispanic vs. Latin
by  Al Sosa

A Discussion On The Meaning Of The Words Hispanic and Latin

     Many people are confused as to the proper use of the terms Hispanic and Latin.  Spanish speakers are themselves in disagreement as to how these two terms should be applied.  Both sides of this contentious issue feel very strongly about their positions and pose valid arguments.  The following is an attempt to settle the issue in a scholarly rather than emotional fashion.  The author believes that if we know what these words originally meant, it might be easier to draw the appropriate conclusions and use the words as they were intended to be used.

The Origins

     The first time that we hear the word Latin was in the time just prior to the Roman Empire in what is now called Italy.  A tribe of people who called themselves Latins appeared in Italy and began to subjugate their neighbors.  Their country was called Latium, their capital city was Rome and the language they spoke was, of course, Latin.  Later, when the Romans invaded Iberia (Spain), they found many different tribes there.

      Eventually they conquered most of the peninsula, and in the southwest of Iberia they found a city called Hispalis (Seville).  It is not clear if  Hispalis was originally Greek or Phoenician.  From the name it appears that the city was originally a Greek colony (Hispalus was a mythical Greek hero who was related to Hercules).  At the time of the Roman conquest the city was occupied by a tribe of Celtiberians, a mixture of Celts and Iberians.

     The Romans eventually annexed the Iberian peninsula and made it a province which they called Hispania, most probably named after the city of Hispalis.  Later, the Romans divided their new province into two parts, Hispania Citerior (closer Spain) and Hispania Ulterior (farther Spain). Although there were other divisions later, these were the official names of  Iberia throughout the Roman Empire, and would remain so until the fall of the Empire.

     It should be understood then, that the word España comes from the Latin word Hispania and not the other way around.  The word Hispania then, in ancient times referred to the people and eventually to the culture of the Iberian peninsula.   It was probably the Anglo-Saxons who, having difficulty pronouncing the Latin word Hispania,  that coined the English term, Hispanic.

     As Rome added more territory to her empire, she began to impose her language and ways on the conquered people. This eventually led to the creation of several new languages which are now called Latin or Romance languages (Romance as used here has nothing to do with amorous relations, it is a reference to the city of Rome).  Several Latin countries were also created, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Albania and Romania.  In summation the term Latin originally referred to the following:

     1)  The name of the tribes of people which eventually started the Roman
          Empire and the name of the language that they spoke.

     2)  The official language of the Roman Catholic church.

     3)  An individual from a country that speaks a Latin language.

The Modern Meanings

     The modern use of the term Hispanic is given to us by the need of the US government to count its ever increasing number of Spanish speaking people. The US government realized early on that these Spanish speaking people did not have any unifying physical characteristics such as color of skin, texture of hair, shape of eyes, etc.  As such, these Spanish speakers could not be categorized as members of a single race.  In addition to that these Spanish speakers did not even share a common religion.  In order to count its Spanish speaking citizens, the US government needed a category other than "White," "Black", "Native American" or "Asian".  Thus the term "Hispanic" was included on all government forms and applications requiring such information.  Eventually, the term made its way into the private sector as well.

     This practice, however, has lead to some additional confusion, since the other categories  "White" "Black", etc. refer to race while "Hispanic" was intended to refer to a cultural or ethnic group.  In Europe Latins are generally accepted to be individuals coming from a country where a Latin language is spoken.  Individuals coming from France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Albania and Romania are called Latins.  The European view of Latin America is simply as a geographical location. Someone from Venezuela, for instance will be seen as Latin American but not necessarily as Latin.  A subtle, but nonetheless accurate distinction. The European view of the term Hispanic is fairly precise. It refers to Spain, its culture, the Spanish speaking people of  Latin America and/or their culture.

      It is in the US that the terms Latin and Hispanic are often misapplied and confused. The terms mean different things to different people.  In some areas of the US, for instance, Puerto Ricans and Cubans are considered Latinos but Mexicans and Colombians are not.  In other areas Latin and Latino mean different things.  I have even heard some individuals say that the term Hispanic was created by the "Anglos" in order to lump us all together and in the same breath say that the term Hispano is good because it tends to bring the Spanish speaking people together. Go figure.

So, What Are We,  Latin or Hispanic ?

     Some of us are Latin, some of us are not, but all of us are Hispanic.  As genealogical and historical researchers, and especially for the sake of  future researchers, I think it's our responsibility to assure that our culture and people are portrayed as accurately as possible.  If we must be categorized, then let us be categorized with an inclusive rather than an exclusive term. A term that unites us, rather than divides us.  Let us use the term Hispanic.  It includes all of us accurately without regard to race, creed, color or national origin.

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Promueve la diversidad dentro de nuestra propia comunidad hispana en cualquier lugar de EE.UU. / Promote diversity even among our own Hispanic Community anywhere in the USA.
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