Difference between Chicano and Latino

Updated on February 24, 2018

We live in a world in which being politically correct is increasingly important. A lot of slang has developed around the cultural and ethnic identity of certain groups. You may not need to use these words in day to day conversation, but you still need to know their meaning. For example, do you know the difference between Chicano and Latino? Is it OK to use these terms? Is either of them offensive or, have your ever misused one of them?


A group of Chicano teens

A Chicano is an identity a person of Mexican origin living in America may assume. In order to be considered a Chicano, a person must identify himself as such. This is an informal ethnic group, one not recognized officially and legally, but culturally. Therefore, while there is no box to tick on official forms regarding being a Chicano, various universities, including Harvard, offer Chicano studies as a Ph.D. option.

Being Chicano means being proud of your Mexican roots. The Chicano Movement started in the 1960s and it changed the way in which the ethnic group was regarded. Up to that point, Chicano was a term with which poor, illiterate people living close to the border were referred. The concept embodied a lot of stereotypes about the Mexican population living in America on very low incomes. The Chicano Movement drew attention to the rights and needs of this community, gave it a voice and a more desirable identity. Mexican Americans became more empowered, understood their roots better and started to explore their culture. Specific Mexican urban art started to develop.

A Latino man

A Latino is a person originating from Latin America but living in the US, or a person whose physical traits correspond with the Latino physiognomy. The term is an abbreviation of latino-americano and it defines people coming from the parts of the American continents which were colonized by Latin speaking countries, Spain and Portugal. This is an official group and one most often identified as comprising the greater part of Latin American groups living in America.

The Latino group is very big and diverse and people being catalogued as Latino do not necessarily have similar cultural traits as their families have come from different countries such as Columbia, Argentina, Cuba etc.

Chicano vs Latino

So what is the difference between Chicano and Latino?

Being Chicano means identifying oneself with an ethnic group and a cultural movement. It means assuming what the group stands for as a whole, in this case, Mexican culture and identity. By contrast, a person is Latino simply by originating from a Latin American country or being the descendent of a Latin American family. It is not a matter of choice, but a matter of lineage.

Therefore, while Chicanos choose to be Chicano and assume the identity and are proud of it, one simply is Latino. The first, though acknowledged as a cultural group is not officially included in legal documents. The second is, and it is conclusive to the authorities in matters of ethnic identification.

Comparison Chart

A member of the cultural group celebrating Mexican rootsA person coming from Latin America or whose family came from Latin America
Being Chicano is assumedBeing Latino is inherited
Recognized as a cultural group, but not officiallyRecognized officially, ethnicity definitive
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