Is there a difference between Latinx and Hispanic?

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Graphic by Amanda M. Castro

Amanda M. Castro, Managing Editor

While the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx” are used interchangeably, how similar are the meanings of them both?

Much like white, Black, and Asian, Hispanic and Latinx are used as a way to identify race categorically. These two terms are used interchangeably but there is actually an overlap. For instance, most people who are Latinx are also Hispanic, and vice versa, most people who are Hispanic are also Latinx, but not everyone. But how?

What does Hispanic mean?

The term “Hispanic,” according to the Census, usually applies to people who come from Spain or another Spanish-speaking nation or whose heritage derives from them. This means that, although people from Portugal or Brazil – for example – are not Hispanic, people from Spain are.

Puerto Rican professor and coordinator of modern languages at the University of New Haven, Roberto Irizarry said, “Hispanic is a term that underscores the colonial history of Spain in relation to Latin America and excludes the Portuguese legacy.”

Most Hispanic people speak Spanish as a native language; however, as long as one’s family originates from a Spanish-speaking country, it is not a prerequisite to speak it as a native language or at all. Therefore, people from Spain and the rest of Latin America are Hispanic. But while an individual from Chile is Hispanic, a person from Brazil is not, according to Mara Medina Pla, senior forensic science major and treasurer of the Latin American Student Association (LASA) at the University of New Haven.

“Someone who is Brazilian would be Latinx as Brazil is in Latin America but as they don’t speak Spanish in Brazil they wouldn’t be considered Hispanic,” said Pla.

And to confuse matters a bit more, Guyana is the only South American country in which English is its official language, proving that not all South American countries are Hispanic.

So then, what does Latinx mean?

While the word “Hispanic” involves individuals from Spain and excludes individuals from Brazil, the exact opposite of that is “Latinx.” Brazilians are Latinx, though Spanish people are not.

“Someone from Spain would speak Spanish and would be considered Hispanic,” said Pla, “but Spain isn’t a part of Latin America, so they wouldn’t be considered Latinx.”

Latino, Latina, or Latinx, in general, means someone from Latin America. Simple. However, the concern stems from knowing precisely where Latin America is.

Latin America is any place in America that speaks a language that descends from a Latin romance language. In English, the term “Latino” derives from a condensed form of the Spanish word “Latinoamericano,” which translates to “Latin American.”

In general, Latin-American countries would include Mexico, part of North America, all of Central America – excluding Belize – the majority of South America – excluding Guyana and Suriname. And in the Caribbean: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti and the French West Indies.

“Since the 1960s,” said Irizarry, “the term ‘Latino’ has emphasized the regional identity of not only those born in Latin America but also those residents in the U.S. who claim their forebears’ ties to countries in that area of the Americas.”

Why the confusion, then?

Generally, the words “Latinx” and “Hispanic” are only found in the U.S. So much so, that the meanings will restrict their application to people who currently live in the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau poses a particular question related to the race of Latinos and Hispanics but uses the terms interchangeably. The U.S. Census defines the “Hispanic or Latino” category as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”

Since the Census Bureau acknowledges that Hispanic is a concept that defines ethnicity and not a race, as they complete the survey, people are able to self-report a number of racial groups in addition to the Hispanic origin. Self-reports of race in the Census, however, show that more people consider their race Hispanic. The only reason it includes both words instead of regional use is that “Latino” is more widely used in the west of the U.S., while Hispanic is more commonly used in the east.

The term “Hispanic” was first used in the U.S Census in 1980 by the Nixon administration and its definition specifically stated that it refers only to Spanish-speakers and background.

Realistically, data depends entirely on self-reporting, and essentially that is what ethnicity is all about: self-identification, whether a person identifies or prefers not to associate with a particular community they choose to be part of. The best way I have ever seen it put was by a Pew Research article that researched who is Hispanic. “Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren’t.”

“Shifts in identity terms reflect the wish for communities to represent themselves accurately,” said Irizarry, “While not all subgroups always embrace some terms, it is important to recognize and cultivate an awareness of how a given sector desires to be addressed in order to generate solidarity among ethnicities.”

Finally, a quick test to see if you’re paying attention to this whole thing:

I am both Hispanic and Latina because I live in the U.S, but I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, which is part of Latin America and is a Spanish-speaking U.S. territory. Simple enough.