Hispanic or Latino: Are You Mixing Them Up?

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The United States boasts a vibrant and varied cultural mosaic, with many ethnicities and nationalities coming together to form the “melting pot” that is America. Two terms that come up often in conversations about ethnicity, especially when talking about Latin American roots, are "Hispanic" and "Latino." But, what’s the difference between them? And how well do Americans understand these terms?


Recent research has uncovered some intriguing answers. A survey conducted by OnePoll involving 1,250 adults, of which 250 identified as U.S. Hispanics/Latinos, revealed some surprising statistics about our understanding of these two terms.

Hispanic vs. Latino: What’s the Difference?

According to the survey, a bit more than four in ten respondents (41%) correctly identified the difference between the terms:

  • Hispanic refers to individuals from countries that primarily speak Spanish and is considered an ethnicity.
  • Latino relates to people with origins from Latin America - which includes Mexico, South and Central America, and the Caribbean, and is also considered an ethnicity.
  • Neither of these terms refers to race, which is a completely separate categorization based on shared physical characteristics rather than shared cultural characteristics, which includes language as noted above.

However, an equal percentage (41%) believed the exact opposite, while 11% were candid enough to admit they didn’t know the difference at all.

Hispanic and Latino are terms that describe different aspects of heritage and geography. "Hispanic" refers to people who come from Spanish-speaking countries, which could be from both outside and within Latin America. This includes countries like Spain, Mexico, and most of Central and South America where Spanish is the primary language. On the other hand, "Latino" refers to individuals originating from Latin America, regardless of the language spoken. This encompasses countries like Brazil (where Portuguese is spoken) and various parts of Latin America where native pre-colonial languages are still spoken and excludes Spain. So, while a person from Spain would be Hispanic but not Latino, a Brazilian would be Latino but not Hispanic.

Celebrating and Understanding “Hispanic Heritage”

The OnePoll survey touched on another important subject: Hispanic Heritage Month. A whopping 66% of participants said they celebrate this cultural observance. An even larger percentage, 85%, believed it's pivotal for society to delve into Hispanic heritage. However, there's a thirst for knowledge too. Around 81% expressed a desire to learn more about Hispanic/Latino culture, and 84% felt they should have been exposed to other cultures more during their childhood.

Shifting the lens to the Hispanic and Latino participants of the survey, some illuminating insights emerged. Over half (52%) felt that their non-Hispanic/non-Latino peers comprehended their culture “very well.” On the brighter side, 74% believed that their Hispanic/Latino culture received fair representation in mainstream society.

In the professional sphere, the respondents tended to work with other Latinos with 44% of respondents reporting that their workplaces were predominantly Hispanic/Latino, and 43% observing that most of the management or executive positions were filled by individuals from their community.

What About the Dreaded “Latinx?”

When asked what the terms Latinx and Latine represent, respondents actually had a better idea of what the terms describe. A third (32%) correctly understood that both Latinx and Latine are gender-neutral terms, however, 29% thought they were used to describe the younger generation as opposed to representative terms for the entire community and yet another 23% believed the opposite to be true, saying the terms are used to describe the older generation. Finally, almost a fifth had no idea what Latinx and Latine represent (16%).

The findings underscore the need for continued education and dialogue. While strides are being made in understanding and appreciating the intricate differences and nuances within the Hispanic and Latino communities, there's more ground to cover. As America becomes even more diverse, and the Latino community is well on its way to becoming the largest demographic of color in the U.S., understanding these subtleties isn't just important; it's essential.