Hispanic vs. Latino: The Debate

“U.S.-born Hispanics (who now make up 48% of Hispanic adults in the country) express a stronger sense of affinity with other Americans than do immigrant Hispanics” (Taylor et al.).

The number of Latinos and/or native Spanish-speakers in the United States is rapidly rising. In this new age where they represent the largest minority group, government agencies and commercial institutions alike will need to learn to be culturally competent. Part of cultural competence is the ability to identify and acknowledging the manner in which these individuals wish to be referred. Are they Hispanic? Are they Latino? Neither?

The term Latino refers to people from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking nations. Academically speaking it is the more inclusive of the two terms – Hispanics are Latino but not all Latinos are Hispanic. The term Hispanic comes from an attempt by the US government’s in the 1970s to categorize the growing number of individuals from Spanish-speaking countries in the US Census (Cortés). The term is not as inclusive since it excludes lusophones and their descendants. For example, Brazilians and Brazilian-Americans are Latino but not Hispanic. Dominicans and Dominican-Americans are both Hispanic and Latino. In a more mainstream context, these definitions vary depending on a number of factors.

Generation matters. Whether your audience is predominantly first or second generation Latinos will determine their level of acculturation and assimilation. Usually, the more recently since an individual immigrated, the stronger their connection is with their country of origin. Therefore, they are more likely to identify first with their country of origin or a hyphenated label before identifying as Hispanic, Latino, or just American. Location matters when generally referring to the community. People from the West Coast are more likely to identify as Latino. Whereas people from the East Coast are more likely to identify as Hispanic.

Though having a better understanding of your client’s ethnic identity may help you connect with them it is not always necessary to state explicitly. “References to ethnicity should be used only when they are pertinent, and the pertinence is clear to readers” (Corbett). In the instance that ethnicity is pertinent beyond basic background understanding of the client it is best to refer first to the country of origin if it is known.

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