March 2023 Newsletter
DO THE TERMS HISPANIC OR LATIN AMERICAN MEAN THE SAME?
Here in the USA, we use these two terms as synonyms when talking about immigrants (and their descendants) from countries whose official language is Spanish. However, there is a difference: Hispanic refers to Spanish as the first language spoken and Latin American refers to a geographical region within America.
To understand the difference, we need to first clarify the concept behind each term.
Hispanics are people coming from any of the 21 countries where the official language is Spanish. There are more than 400 million Hispanics (according to the Cervantes Institute – Spain) and roughly 10% of them live in the USA. The list includes the following countries, located in:
- Europe (Spain)
- North America (Mexico)
- Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama)
- The Caribbean (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico)
- South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile)
- Africa (Equatorial Guinea, a colony of Spain until 1968)
Though many do not consider Belize as a Hispanic country (because English is the official language as a former British colony), a large percentage of the population speaks Spanish as their first language there.
As former colonies of Spain, these 20 countries have in common not only the language but also the culture inherited throughout hundreds of years (between the XVI and XIX centuries).
Latin Americans, as a definition, refers to people coming from a region within the continent. It includes countries located in America and the Caribbean that were once colonized by nations with languages of Latin origin. This means not only Spain but also Portugal and France. Therefore, besides the 19 American and Caribbean countries mentioned before (colonized by Spain) we have to consider Brazil (colonized by Portugal), Haiti and French Guiana (colonized by France) as Latin American countries. In other words, we can properly say that:
- Mexicans and Argentinians are Hispanics and Latin Americans,
- Brazilians are Latin Americans but not Hispanics, and
- Equatorial Guineans are Hispanics but not Latin Americans.
The concepts of language, geographic origin, nationality and race are all intermixed in the USA when people refer to Hispanics. However, we must note that race is not considered in these definitions because the diversity and mixture of Hispanic and Latin American people is enormous and socio-culturally more complex than we can imagine. Therefore, it is worthy of a detailed explanation at another time.