Getting the right terms

I have seen a lot of confusion over the use of the terms Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish. In this post, I try to explain the general meaning of these terms and how they are used.

Geometric Venn Diagram by Priscila Medrado Costa

The terms should not be used interchangeably.

Spanish is the name of the language and also the nationality of those born in Spain. So, for instance, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí were prominent  Spanish artists. The Spanish Empire was once one of the largest empires in world history. It had its center in the Iberian Penninsula, but it stretched all the way from the Americas to the Philippines. It became known as the Hispanic Empire because, although most of the population was not born in Spain, Spanish became their official language.

With that, the term Hispanic refers to the use of the Spanish language. For instance, Hispanic literature is the literature written in Spanish, but not necessarily in Spain. As I said, the Hispanic Empire reached and controlled the greatest part of the Americas. Therefore, Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the Americas (including North, Central, and South America). However, there were other powerful colonizers who conquered the continent too. Because of that, there are other languages, some of which are derived from Latin (Spanish, Portuguese, and French), spoken in the Americas.

Latin America refers to the group of countries that speak those languages. Surprisingly, the term was originally used to describe French Canada, French Louisiana, Haiti, Martinique, and other French-speaking territories along with all the territories where Portuguese and Spanish became the dominant language. Nowadays, Canada and the United States are left out of that definition. The term Latino (latina, latin@, and latinx) is used in reference to the people originally from Latin America or from Latin American heritage, but not all Latinos are Hispanic.

  • Did you know that Miami can still be considered part of Latin America despite being in the U.S. state of Florida?
  • Did you know that some Philippine people are Hispanic too?
  • Did you know that Spanish is the official language of some African countries?
  • Did you know that Belize and French Guiana are Latin American countries?
  • Did you know that Suriname and Guiana are in South America but are not considered part of Latin America? Similarly, Aruba is in the Caribean Sea, but it is neither a Hispanic nor a Latin American country.
  • Are Brazilian people Latinos too?

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