“Hispanic” (1580s) generally means someone or something from a Spanish-speaking country. The word is mainly applied to Latinos (people from Latin America) who live in the US.
For the most part, “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably, sometimes even in the same sentence.
Depending on which definition you use:
- “Hispanic” and “Latino” may or may not include people outside the US,
- “Hispanic” may or may not include people from Brazil or Portugal.
The word comes from Hispania, the Latin word for the whole Iberian peninsula (pictured above). It did not split into “Spain” and “Portugal” till the 1400s.
Although “Hispanic” has been in English since the time of Shakespeare, it did not take off till the 1970s, when President Nixon backed it and the US Census Bureau, in 1977, issued Statistical Policy Directive #15. It states:
“Hispanic. A person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.”
Directive #15 gave us the five-race model of the US: Black, White, Native, Asian and Hispanic. The directive, though, makes clear that Hispanic is ethnic, not racial. That is why the government speaks of “non-Hispanic Whites”.
Chicano: Many Mexican Americans, particularly those born in the US, see themselves as Chicanos. A Chicano, as one joke puts it, is a Mexican American who does not want blue eyes. They are not wannabe Anglo Americans or wannabe Mexicans – because they are proud of being who they are: Chicanos! Many Mexicans do not see Chicanos as “real Mexicans”, just like many Americans do not see them as “real Americans”.
Hispanic or Latino?
- Prefers Hispanic (at least 2 to 1): US government, New York Times, The Nation, Google Books (1980s, 1990s).
- Prefers neither: National Geographic, Time, National Review, The Economist, Essence, The Guardian, BBC, The Root, CNN, Google Books (2000s).
- Prefers Latino (at least 2 to 1): MSNBC, AP, Washington Post, LA Times, Democracy Now, Al Jazeera, Ebony, Huffington Post, Fox News, the Internet as a whole.
That is based on a Google search in 2014.
Among US Hispanics themselves in 2013, 33% preferred “Hispanic”, 15% “Latino” and 50% had no preference.
Some see “Hispanic” as Eurocentric since it refers to Spain, not Latin America. Some see it as honouring Spain, a conquering White power. It would be like calling Nigerians, Americans and Malaysians “Britannic”.
To counter some false ideas about US Hispanics:
By race (2010, as self-reported on the US census):
- 53.0% White
- 2.5% Black
- 1.4% Native
- 0.4% Asian
- 0.1% Pacific Islander
- 36.7% other
- 6.0% two or more races
By national origin (2008):
- 65.6% Mexican
- 9.0% Puerto Rican
- 3.4% Cuban
- 3.4% Salvadoran
- 2.8% Dominican
- 15.8% other
By language use (2011):
- 38% Spanish dominant
- 38% bilingual
- 24% English dominant
By citizenship status (2009):
- 62.6% native-born citizen
- 10.9% naturalized citizen
- 8.9% documented non-citizens
- 17.6% undocumented non-citizens (“illegal aliens”)
About 57% were born in the US and have no trouble using English.
Only 12% are the stereotypical undocumented workers from Mexico.
When the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock in 1620 there were already Hispanics living in Puerto Rico, Florida and New Mexico. Many have deep roots in North America that go back thousands of years and see themselves as conquered by Spain in the 1500s and then the US in the 1800s.