Hispanic or Latino: More Than Words

September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic American Heritage Month.

Some folks put all Spanish-speaking people under one umbrella. Even more use the terms Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. Thought we’d take this opportunity to frame the differences.

It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, an opportunity to honor the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans while also celebrating the heritage rooted in all Latin American countries. Where do we start on the wonderful food, music, and compassionate and friendly people? First things first: let’s get the terminology aligned.

Many people aren’t quite sure of the difference between Hispanic and Latino. Both terms are historical, quite complex, and often very personal. According to Dictionary.com, there are two ways to distinguish them:

  • By Land: Hispanic is an adjective generally used to describe anyone from (or descended from) Spanish-speaking parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, or Spain itself; while Latino can be used as both an adjective or noun to describe a person of Latin American origin or descent, especially one who lives in the United States.
  • By Language: Hispanic specifically concerns the Spanish-language-speaking Latin America and Spain. Latino specifically concerns those coming from Latin American countries and cultures, regardless of whether the person speaks Spanish.

Taking a more straightforward approach is The Pew Center, the U.S. Census Bureau and most research organizations. For them, the answer to ‘Who is Hispanic?’ is ‘Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren’t.’ Their polls rely entirely on self-reporting.

Then there’s the relatively new term of Latinx, which is a gender-neutral or non-binary way to refer to a person of Latin American descent. While a recent poll shows that the vast majority of Hispanic and Latino Americans say they do not identify with the word, it also shows that defining the terms you use to describe yourself are incredibly personal.

For me, borne of a Castilian mother from Spain, I bristle at being called Mexican or Puerto Rican. I love those countries and have lived there, but that’s not my heritage.  If my olive skin and dark hair confuse you and you’re not sure what to call me, just call me Hispanic and you’ll be right about one part of who I am.  Wherever your ‘people’ are from and however you define yourself, open up that part of you that’s a citizen of the world and learn more this month about the history, culture, and accomplishments of Hispanic and Latino Americans of the past and present.

Visit https://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/.

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