Hispanic or Latin

National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15.

Raul Guerrero
Sep 30 · 3 min read
Aggregation representative of Hispanics’ diversity. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Nixon Administration coined the term Hispanic in 1970 to classify a diverse population whose one common denominator is the Spanish-language. Hispanic is one who belongs or descends from a Spanish-Speaking community, irrespective of the language’s mastery.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in 2019 approximates 60 million, representing 18 percent of the total US population. By 2050 it is expected to reach 106 million?

How many of these Hispanics speak the language of Don Quixote? Pew Research Center breaks down Hispanics into three groups in relation to Spanish: 36 percent are bilingual, 25 percent mainly use English, and 38 percent use primarily Spanish. That is, with 43 million Spanish-speakers, plus some 10 million undocumented and mostly uncounted Hispanics, the US might be the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, second only to Mexico.


Some Hispanics descend from subjects of the 16th century Spanish Empire, which embraced the current American Southwest, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Once Mexico gained its independence, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Utah, and Texas became Mexican provinces. The Spanish linguistic heritage is evident: Arizona, “Arid zone.” Nevada, “snowed capped.” Colorado, “red.” California, “a mythical island from a 15th-century Spanish cavalry novel.” Mexico lost a good part of its territory to the United States in the Mexican-American War of 1862.

Many of Hispanics lost their Spanish skill along the way to laws that criminalized speaking it, and to natural causes: “As a rule, immigrants speak their mother language,” said Barbara Mujica, Spanish professor at Georgetown University, “but their children speak English plus a hybrid language, and the grandchildren speak only English. Spanish is different because immigrants keep coming, they keep the language alive.”


An auditorium filled with Hispanics to see Mexican writer Laura Esquivel. Photo, Aurea Veras.

Though labeled brown, Hispanics make up a mosaic where all colors and national origins coexist: Prussian Chileans, Argentinian Russian Jews, Chinese-Peruvian and Aymaran Bolivians. Mayans from the mountains of Guatemala, and the descendants of Canary Islands immigrants to Cuba. Lebanese-Ecuadorians, Dominican grandchildren of African slaves and exiles from the Spanish Civil War. Hispanics are children of the world. A Mexican poet called it the Cosmic Race.


Hispanic, from the Latin Hispanus, “relating to Hispania — the Roman appellation for a province in Iberia.” Hispanic is a synonym of Spanish.

Some Hispanics resent the label Hispanic, alluding colonialism, and have opted for Latin. Latin is a branch of the Indo-European family, the Italic branch. The word comes from Latinus, king of an ancient Italian territory. Romans assumed the term for themselves and their language. One can argue that Hispanic and Latin are synonymous since the term derives from Hispanus, the language of Hispania, a language that evolved from Latin after the fall of the Roman Empire.

A lexicographer friend affirms that there are no synonyms. Each word is unique. In the US, Latin implies cultural characteristics, and Hispanic is used for demographics. We say, Latin food and Latin music but Hispanic population and Hispanic purchasing power. In the last few years, younger generations, under inclusionary tenants, use the adjective Latinx. Oxford Dictionary defines Latinx: “A person of Latin American origin or descent, used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina.

Beautiful Latin music by Cachao and Bebo Valdez.

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Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami

Raul Guerrero

Written by

Editor, Downtown NEWS. Director, Downtown Arts + Science Salon, DASS, (DASSMIAMI.COM). His latest book is Curiosidad/Curiosity.

Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami

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