Hispanic Spanish Latin AmericanAfter the surprising popularity of a post I did last year, stating the differences between Ethnicity vs. Nationality vs. Race vs. Heritage vs. Culture, I have decided to do another in the same vein. I did that previous post because I needed to understand more about what each word meant, so I researched the topic and then wrote a post about it. Likewise, I feel like clarifying (both to myself and for anyone who is eager to learn) these various words/terms, though I write this as no expert.

I’m not sure how often these words are confused outside of the United States, but I am constantly disturbed by the rampant misuse of these things here. The most disturbing/annoying is that in some places in the United States, anybody of color is called a “Mexican” – even if they are not even Latino! When my parents relocated to Virginia a decade ago from New York City, my mother, who is Indonesian, constantly was asked if she was Mexican; she still gets it, and the ignorance still bothers me. Anyway, let’s clarify these terms, so that we better ourselves and set an example for others:


This first one is complicated, because there are several definitions, each which can be interpreted in a slightly different way. The term “Hispanic” was originally derived from Hispania, the ancient Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula, which is modern day Spain and Portugal. Using this broad definition, Spaniards, Portuguese, and peoples of all countries with a historical link to these two countries (such as Brazil and Mexico from colonization) are considered Hispanic.

This was the original definition, but so many argue today about its overly-encompassing nature that it is refuted and regarded as wrong. This is because modern-day Spain, termed España in the Spanish language, is derived from Hispania. So, using this narrower sense, we get the more common definition that says that being Hispanic refers to the culture, peoples, or nations with a historical link to Spain, which leaves out Portugal, Brazil, etc. The term is more-commonly used in the Western Hemisphere, especially in the United States, and applied to people of those countries which were once colonized by Spain, particularly the countries of Latin America.

Other than these two definitions, another interpretation of the term Hispanic uses the original ancient Roman Hispania for the Iberian Peninsula and then allows Hispanic to only refer to Spain and Portugal specifically, without their Western Hemisphere diaspora and others. Then, a fourth definition narrows it further by saying that Hispanic refers simply and only to the people of Spain, and that’s it; this is due to the fact that Hispania is the namesake of Spain (España).

So, what’s it gonna be? Well, they are all valid definitions, technically, since they are each given credit by reference materials such as dictionaries and encyclopedias. It is good to remember these differences, though, so that if you use the term and get called out on it, you can explain why your usage of Hispanic is valid and appropriate. However, I believe the most popular interpretation would be the second one, which says that Hispanic people are the people of Spain or those with a common link to Spain, which can loosely be defined as people who speak the Spanish language.


The term Spanish is easier to understand, because there are no conflicting definitions. Other than being a language shared by many people around the world, Spanish basically refers to anything from the nation of Spain; Spanish people are people whose nationality is of Spain. Just because Mexicans, Peruvians, Chileans, Colombians, and others speak Spanish, they are not Spanish. The Spanish people are also referred to as Spaniards.

Latino/Latina/Latin American

Latin America is defined as all of the Americas south of the United States, including the Caribbean, which speak a Romance language (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, etc.), because these are derived from Latin. Thus, a Latin American is a person of these Western Hemisphere countries, usually ones that speak Spanish or Portuguese primarily. However, it is common nowadays for the term to be incorrectly defined as specifically a person who comes from any Spanish-speaking country in the Americas or the Caribbean. Because of this common misinterpretation, you may find many Brazilians, for example, who hate to be referred to as Latin American.

Latino is a term, primarily used in the United States, that is meant to refer to people from Latin America or of Latin American origin. As the term comes from the gendered Spanish language, Latino can refer to the men of Latin America or, as a group, both the men and the women of Latin America; a Latina would be just a female from Latin America or of Latin American origin. The terms are dynamic enough to include people of the aforementioned countries by heritage, nationality, lineage, or birth country, giving multiple options to people, depending on how they’d like to identify themselves. 

Though rarely acknowledged, technically Haitians are even Latin Americans, as French is a national language and a Romance language. Another side note to consider is that the U.S. government wrongly seems to promote the incorrect position that Hispanic and Latino are interchangeable.


I thought I’d include this term in there, just to cover all my bases. Latin first and most-commonly refers to a dead language that is the predecessor of the Romance languages of today, and which has even contributed significantly to the English language. Other than that, it is sometimes also another way to say Latino, thus referring to things and people of Latin American origin. You should be able to judge by the context, but when the term Latin is heard today, it is most likely referring to something or someone Latino / Latina / Latin American.

• • • •

One thing to note that is accurate for all of the above definition is the fact that, regardless of how someone identifies (Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish), they may be of any race. Another point is that, because these terms are so broad, they don’t properly distinguish the many individual differences in culture, traditions, food, music, etc.; for this reason, the best thing to do is to call someone by their nationality when possible. Hope that helps clear some things up for you!

So, what did you think? This is part of our ongoing series, “Versus: ‘What’s the Difference?'” For more like this, check out these articles:

Ethnicity vs Race | Great Britain vs UK | Arab vs Persian | Embassy vs Consulate | Saint Martin vs Sint Maarten | Oriental vs Asian

Updated: 2017-02-23
Reason: Migration of site from the old, long URL (www.dauntlessjaunter.com) to this long-overdue shorter one 🙂 (we may have updated some typos or metadata while we were at it)


  1. You pretty much cleared a lot of the confusion up. Another group of people you should consider are the French Canadians (about 20% of the Canadian Population) that should be consider Latin Americans.

    • I agree Edurado; I also love how they elaborated on the difference enough to comprehend and also give similarities to completely clear up any confusion. The French Canadians should be included because many people do mistaken them for another nationality very often.

  2. I’m Indonesian and I’m always asked if I’m Mexican and it doesn’t bother me. I learned Spanish and now I tell people I’m Mexican. lol

    • Beto, you’re just like me, haha 🙂 Mama saya juga dari Indonesia, dari Bandung. When I lived in VA for a few years during high school, most people there didn’t even know Indonesia was a country, so I was another Mexican to them. It was cool, though, for me; I learned some good Spanish, as well 🙂

  3. History tells us that Spain ruled the Philippines from 1521 to 1889, and admittedly the Spanish language was the official language of the Philippines in those years until when the English language was introduced into the country by the Americans after the fall of the Spanish rule and the after the Philippine American war in 1899. Today the only place in the Philippines where Spanish, broken Spanish though, is spoken is in Zamboanga City. The latest census tells us that about more than two millions speaks the language, called Chavacano. I easily learned to fluently speak pure Spanish language when I worked in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico because of my Chavacano background.

    • Technically, The Philippines was only under Spain (Madrid) from 1821 to the early 1898. From 1565 to the early 1800s, it was under The Viceroyalty of New Spain … in other words, Mexico. English was introduced to the Philippines by the British in 1762 when they occupied the country for 2 years. However, it was the Americans who made English accessible to the masses when they occupied the country in 1898.

  4. Dear Christian, Instead of clarifying you made a mess with the term Hispanic, including Brazil and Portugal on it. At the time of the Roman Empire, Hispania was the name given to the area currently named as Spain and Lusitania was the name given to the area currently named as Portugal. So, Brazilians and Portugueses are NOT Hispanics, but Lusitanics. And yes, Brazilians are Latin Americans and South Americans. I just don’t understand why in USA you call mexicans indians as Hispanics or Latins. It is the same of calling American indians (Navajos, Cherokees, etc.) as Anglo-Saxons or British.

    • Hey! I’m so happy that you came back, and again to comment on another article! But, if you look at what I said, I stated that this was the ‘original definition,’ as the Hispania was the name of the Iberian Peninsula, which Portugal is on. I also stated that this definition is highly contested today, and you prove that 🙂

  5. WRONG: Spanish is a language- not a nationality or ethnicity !
    WRONG: Brazilians don’t dislike to be called Latin Americans. They are aware they live in the Continent of America!

    • In fact, there are many people in Spain (like myself) unconfortable with the term “spanish” refereing to the lenguage. It is more accurate to name it “castillian” (the region in Spain where it was born), since there are “other” spanish languages as well: catalan, basque and galician.

  6. Hi Christian, Johnny is right: Brazilians don’t dislike be called Latin Americans. They dislike being called Hispanics for one single reason: they are Lusitanians instead.
    Please do your own research on the subject Lusitania, and you will find that it was an ancient region and Roman province in the Iberian Peninsula, corresponding generally to modern Portugal.
    The Lusitanian or Luso culture, is the culture of all Portuguese colonies (which includes Brazil).
    So, Hispanic culture doesn’t have anything to do with Portugal but with Spain. As Americans like to simplify things they should use the term Iberian which includes both cultures (the Hispanic and the Lusitanian).

  7. Hrm. I’ve only heard Dominican Americans refer to themselves (& other Spanish-speaking people in NYC) as “Spanish,” never as Latino. I think it would have been more thorough to take self-identification into account when researching and writing this post.

  8. The thing is “Iberian” Americans are use to calling themselves by their former master country I’ve looked at a Youtube video of a Mexican man asking other Mexicans at a Carnival what they put down in the Census they had in America. A lot put “white” because there is no Hispanic race it is only a heritage. The thing that’s wrong about this is Mexicans are not white they’re Mestizo. Mexicans haven’t gotten use to the fact that we may speak Spanish but we have brown skin. We are of Native and European ancestry and Mexicans do not know what to call themselves because they are not use to this, they are more keen to identify themselves by they’re European ancestry because of the hundreds of years of Spanish colonial rule. If you were a mix of European and Native what would you call yourself? Can’t say you’re Native American because you’re Mestizo can’t say you’re white cause your skin is brown. May speak Spanish but you don’t look like one.

  9. Nope sorry in Italy and Spain the real pure blood latins refer to ourselves as latin and its pronoucned latino. Judt because american ignorance misuses the word in the americas does not change the ORIGINAL meaning of latino to be from lazio Roma italy. It was our culture first and we dont take to kindly to mixed indians claiming it. We are full blooded latinos and americans are mixed and the one drop rule is applied sorry.

  10. When you said let’s talk about the language, Spanish. Let me tell you that all countries colonized by Spain speak Castillean, we do not speak Spanish. Saying that we speak Spanish is one of the biggest errors I have heard. Spanish are called the people of Spain, period. WE SPEAK CASTILLEAN. Same mistake that United States citizens make when they called themselves Americans. Americans are all individuals born in the North, Central and South of the American continent. From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. When the discovery of the continent the Europeans refer to the new world as America but not only United States that at that moment was not even form as a nation. The reference was made to the lands at the other side of the Ocean NOT UNITED STATES that arbitrately has monopolized the name to identify themselves. In US the term Hispanic is used in a derogatory way as usual by Americans.


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