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The demonyms Latino and Latina (feminine), are defined in English language dictionaries as:
  • "a person of Latin-American or Spanish-speaking descent."
  • "A Latin American."
  • "A person of Hispanic, especially Latin-American, descent, often one living in the United States."
  • "a native or inhabitant of Latin America"
  • "a person of Latin-American origin living in the United States"
  • "someone who lives in the US and who comes from or whose family comes from Latin America"

The two words originate in American Spanish Latino and Latina (from Latin Latinus, Latina), either meaning "Latin", or possibly a clipped form of latinoamericano, "Latin American".

In the United Statesmarker, the term is in official use in the ethnonym Hispanic or Latino, defined as "a person of Cubanmarker, Mexicanmarker, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race."

Use in the United States

The term "Latino" was officially adopted in 1997 by the United States Government in the ethnonym "Hispanic or Latino", which replaced the single term "Hispanic": "Because regional usage of the terms differs -- Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion."

U.S. official use of the term "Hispanic" has its origins in the 1970 census. The Census Bureau attempted to identify all Hispanics by use of the following criteria in sampled sets:
* Spanish speakers and persons belonging to a household where Spanish was spoken
* Persons with Spanish heritage by birth location
* Persons who self-identify with Spanish ancestry or descent

Neither "Hispanic" nor "Latino" refers to a race, as a person of Latino or Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race. Like non-Latinos, a Latino can be of any single race: White/Caucasian, Black/African American, Asian, Native American, or Pacific Islander. Again like non-Latinos, some may identify with more than one race, such as Mestizo (a bi-racial person of White/Caucasian and Native American descent), Mulatto (a person of White/Caucasian and Black/African American descent), Zambo (a person of Native American and Black/African American descent) or any other race or combination.

Although as officially defined in the United States, "Latino" does not include Brazilian Americans, and specifically refers to "Spanish culture or origin", some of the dictionary definitions may include them and/or Brazilian people in general. Furthermore, Hispanic or Latino origin is, like race, a matter of self-identification in the US, and government and non-government questionnaires, including the census form, usually contain a blank entry space wherein respondents can indicate a Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin other than the few (Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban) which are specified; However, Brazilian Americans are not included with Hispanics and Latinos in the government's population reports.

Some authorities of American English maintain a distinction between the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino":

"Though often used interchangeably in American English, Hispanic and Latino are not identical terms, and in certain contexts the choice between them can be significant. Hispanic, from the Latin word for "Spain," has the broader reference, potentially encompassing all Spanish-speaking peoples in both hemispheres and emphasizing the common denominator of language among communities that sometimes have little else in common. Latino—which in Spanish means "Latin" but which as an English word is probably a shortening of the Spanish word latinoamericano—refers more exclusively to persons or communities of Latin American origin. Of the two, only Hispanic can be used in referring to Spain and its history and culture; a native of Spain residing in the United States is a Hispanic, not a Latino, and one cannot substitute Latino in the phrase the Hispanic influence on native Mexican cultures without garbling the meaning. In practice, however, this distinction is of little significance when referring to residents of the United States, most of whom are of Latin American origin and can theoretically be called by either word."

Listed below are the 28 categories tabulated in the 2000 United States Census: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican Republic; Central American: Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Panamanian, Salvadoran, Other Central American; South American: Argentinian, Bolivian, Chilean, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Paraguayan, Peruvian, Uruguayan, Venezuelan, Other South American; Other Hispanic or Latino: Spaniard, Spanish, Spanish American, All other Hispanic or Latino.

Similar and related terms

The countries of
Latin Europe and Latin America+Quebecmarker
Sometimes "Latino" is used interchangeably with "Latin", as Latino is also defined as a "Latin inhabitant of the United States"; and sometimes it is used interchangeably with "Latin American". As a demonym, though, "Latin" can have other meanings:

  • "a native or inhabitant of Latium; an ancient Roman."
  • "a member of any of the Latin peoples, or those speaking chiefly Romance languages, esp. a native of or émigré from Latin America."
  • "a member of the Latin Church; a Roman Catholic, as distinguished from a member of the Greek Church."
  • "A Latino or Latina."

"Latin American" may also not mean the same as "Latino," depending on which definition of the latter is used. The term "Latino", as an English word, was implemented in the US to refer US citizens who share a common ethnicity, not to Latin Americans in general. Also, a Spaniard, for example, though a "Latino" by some definitions, is not a Latin American. The term "Latin American", in turn, though normally applied to inhabitants of Latin America, is nevertheless preferred by some individuals and organizations in the United States. "Latin American" is defined as:

  • "A native or inhabitant of Latin America."
  • "A person of Latin-American descent."


The term Latino despite its increasing popularity is still highly debated among those who are called by the name. Latin America is made up of around 20 nations that have different histories, traditions, constitutions, and backgrounds. The term Latino has a connotation towards a single European origin group that is Latino from the Latin language, which does not represent all people from Latin America. There are many so called Latino people who are, for example, of Jewish ancestry. Also, the term Latino tends to imply a monolithic group. People from Latin America represent many religious groups and not just Catholics or Christian, as well as many racial groups and mixtures. Another aspect of diversity within this group is their heterogeneous immigration history. Also, the term Latino may express a confusion about those who, despite having Latino names, do not identify with the culture from their original home countries, are multigenerational descendants from immigrants from Latin America, do not speak or understand Spanish or Portuguese, and have never been to Latin America; in fact, some so-called Latinos were present in the US before the US came to be the country as it is known today. This heterogeneity in the Latino community makes the name highly debated.

Since the adoption of the term Latino by the US Census Bureau in 2000 and its subsequent widespread there have been several controversies and disagreements, specially in the United Statesmarker and, to a lesser extent, in Mexicomarker and other Spanish-speaking countries. Regarding it as an arbitrary generic term, many Latin American scholars, journalists and indigenous rights organisations have objected against the mass media use of the word "Latino", pointing out that such ethnonyms are optional and should be used only to describe people involved in the practices, ideologies and identity politics of their supporters.Journalist Rodolfo Acuña writes:
"When and why the Latino identity came about is a more involved story. Essentially, politicians, the media, and marketers find it convenient to deal with the different U.S. Spanish-speaking people under one umbrella. However, many people with Spanish surnames contest the term Latino. They claim it is misleading because no Latino or Hispanic nationality exists since no Latino state exists, so generalizing the term Latino slights the various national identities included under the umbrella.
Popular personalities like Andy Garcia have also expressed concern. He has stated that, in spite of his love of his native Cubamarker, he dislikes to be labeled as a 'Latino actor' preferring instead to be addressed as an actor without a tag attached to him.

Definitions in other languages

The term Latino (feminine Latina) in the Romance languages, such as Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, literally translates as "Latin". (The cognate French term is Latin, not Latino.) Portuguese dictionaries define the demonym Latino to refer to natives of Romance-speaking nations influenced by Roman civilization, and to the natives or inhabitants of ancient Latium (modern Lazio). Italian dictionaries define the demonym Latino as: the ancient Latins and Romans, and their language, Latin, as well as the neo-Latin nations. The dictionary of the Real Academia Española defines ten meanings for Latino, including the ancient peoples of Latium and the modern Romance-speaking European and American nations. In these languages, Latino, just like any other demonym, is by convention not capitalized.

See also



  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States, 4 vls, Oxford University Press 2006, ISBN 0195156005

  • Miguel A. De La Torre, "Encyclopedia on Hispanic American Religious Culture," Volume 1 & 2, ABC-CLIO Publishers, 2009.

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