How do you know whether to describe people as Latino or Hispanic? The short answer: Both terms work, and neither is best.
First, let’s clarify what each term means. (Special thanks to @terryblas and his comic You Say Latino for breaking this down for us.)
Hispanic refers to language. It describes people from primarily Spanish-speaking places, such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Venezuela.
It’s a personal preference, not a general rule.
Latino refers to geography. It describes people from Latin America, which includes Mexico, Central America, South America, and some of the Caribbean Islands.
Now, as with any question of naming and identity, we believe the “right” answer comes down to how individuals want to identify themselves. It’s a personal preference, not a general rule. Polling in recent years shows a pretty even split between people preferring (for themselves) Hispanic or Latino.
So about that simple answer …
We recommend avoiding both terms whenever possible and getting specific instead. Many people are likely to identify as Mexican-American or Salvadoran or Peruvian (or maybe just American) before they identify as either Latino or Hispanic.
If you’re writing about an individual or smaller group, ask them which term they prefer. But if you can’t be that specific, rest easy — Hispanic and Latino are both OK terms to use.
And finally, if you choose Latino over Hispanic, use Latino if you’re referring to only men or to men and women. Use Latina if you’re referring exclusively to women. Or you might want to look into whether your audience prefers the newer term Latinx.
CommunicateHealth was founded by Stacy Robison, MPH, MCHES, and Xanthi Scrimgeour, MHEd, MCHES. This story originally appeared on the CommunicateHealth website and is reprinted with their permission.
Hispanic vs. Latino? was originally published in Tracking Changes (Winter 2019 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.