Difference between Hispanic, Latino and Spanish

Updated on February 24, 2018

Following the many migratory waves which have brought people from all over the world together in other locations, there is confusion about the origin and real ethnicity of some of them. This is the case with the Hispanic and Latino groups in North America. So what can help us tell them apart and why is there so much fuss about the proper categorization of these people? Do these groups have such specific differentiators?



Hispanic is a term which comes from the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula, Hispania and it broadly refers to people and cultures which can be linked back to Spain. Since the Iberian Peninsula also includes the countries Andorra and Portugal, this makes them Hispanic. Also, when talking about Hispanic people, we would usually also be referring to the countries in South America which were colonized by the Spanish and the Portuguese. The inclusion of Portugal and Brazil in the mix is still up for debate, as some claim that the term Hispanic refers solely to a Spanish origin and not to the Ancient Roman name of the Iberian Peninsula.

Latino is a more generic term many people use when they want to refer to a person who has emigrated from Latin America. In most cases, in the US the use of the term is a direct reference to race and to language. Identification with either group can be done at a person’s own consent.

Spanish is the language spoken in Spain and in the former colonies of the Spanish Empire. When referring to people originating from Spain, we call them Spaniards. These are the direct European descendents of the people who colonized the countries in Latin America.

Hispanic vs Latino vs Spanish

While some people use the terms Hispanic and Latino interchangeably, there are some who like to simplify things by claiming that Hispanic refers to the countries which were part of the Spanish Empire where Spanish is spoken. This excludes Portugal and Brazil. On the other hand, they think that Latino refers to anyone coming from Latin America, which includes Brazil and excludes Spain and Portugal. Spaniards and Spanish remain an entity of European Spain.

Officially, according to the US Government, being Latino is not a race identifier, as, due to origin and how peoples have spread across the American continent, there can be Caucasian, Asian and Black Latino Americans.

Comparison Chart

Originating from countries of Spanish descent: European Spain and former Spanish coloniesOriginating from any country in Latin AmericaOriginating from European Spain
Is a culture defining a group of peopleDefines a geographical originIs a language and defines a culture
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