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Latino / Hispanic Americans

Latino and Hispanic are terms used to refer to an ethnic category and not to denote race. Latinos /Hispanics are a racially mixed group that includes combinations of European White, African Black, and Native inhabitants of the Americas. Latinos/Hispanics identify with each other because they share common cultural values. Racial characteristics are less important. Latinos is perhaps the most generic term currently used in the literature and accepted by subgroups belonging to the broad category identified as Hispanic by the federal government.

In a recent Hispanic Link Weekly Report, Ortiz and Brownstein-Santiago acknowledge that this ethnic group identifies with a number of general terms, such as Latino, Hispanic, Spanish-speaking, Latin, Spanish, Latin American, and Chicano, as well as various specific designations that reflect country of origin. Those designations often are quoted in Spanish ( Mejicanos, Puertorriqueños, Cubanos, Salvadoreños, etc.). In specific areas, Latinos/Hispanics might use additional identifying terms, such as Nuyoricans, to denote ties to country of origin as well as to place of birth or areas of settlement. Often, researchers will address a specific subgroup and the name of that subgroup will be used in the study. Yet some Latino/Hispanic advocacy groups, especially those publishing literature in higher education in the southwest and other parts of the country, stress the importance of a unifying terminology to prevent divergent traditions from keeping these groups apart, and to provide identity and strength to the various subgroups. It is important to understand that terminologies used to identify people in racial/ethnic groups in the United States evolve over time and often reflect subtle dimensions. The term Chicano is a case in point.

Villanueva (1980) and Galarza (1972) trace the history of the terms Chicano and Pocho to class distinctions that were established in the barrios of California during the first decade of the twentieth century. The term Pocho evolved through the decades to currently denote "Americanized" Mexican Americans in California. In the same evolutionary way, during the 1950s, for many Mexican Americans the term Chicano became one of pride, solidarity, and often political activism. Chicano was meant to encompass all residents of the United States who are of Mexican background, whether new arrivals or U.S. born, whether seasonal workers or middle-class residents.

In the same vein, while various explanations are given for the origin of the term Hispanic, it apparently became the official term used by the government after a decision by the Office of Management and Budget in 1978 to operationalize a designation for "a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or the Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race" (Federal Register, 1978, p. 19269). Although the term is not universally accepted, Hispanic is the one used by government institutions such as the Bureau of the Census, as well as the news media and many researchers. Clearly, the term Hispanic refers to individuals who have disparate migrational and sociodemographic characteristics.

Latino is the term more recently proposed. Etymologically, the term Latino comes from Latin and probably began as a reference to people of countries that are Latin but do not use Spanish as their primary language (for example, Portugal or Italy). In the United States, the word was used as early as 1939, specifically to refer to Latin American U.S. inhabitants, regardless of the language spoken.

While Latinos might use among themselves various terms for purposes of general or more specific identification, there is merit in using the general term Latinos/Hispanics when attempting to collectively address this significant group of U.S. citizens and residents. The combined term Latinos/Hispanics collectively refers to Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, and to persons who trace their origins to other Latin American countries or to any of the regions of Spain.


Camarillo, A. 1986. Latinos in the United States, A Historical Bibliography. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

Fairchild, H. H., and J. A. Cozens. 1981. "Chicano, Hispanic, or Mexican American: What's in a Name?" Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science: 191-198.

Federal Register. May 4, 1978. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

Galarza, E. 1972. Barrio Boy. Ballantine Books.

Hayes-Bautista, D. E., and J. Chapa. 1987. "Latino terminology: Conceptual bases for standardized terminology." American Journal of Public Health 77: 61-68.

Marín, G. 1984. "Stereotyping Hispanics: The differential effect of research methods, label and degree of contact." International Journal of Intercultural Relations 8: 17-27.

Marín, G., and B. VanOss Marín. 1991. Research with Hispanic Populations. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications Inc.

Ortiz, V., and Ch. Brownstein-Santiago. 1990. "Unifying Label Vital for Latino Empowerment." Hispanic Link Weekly Report.

The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, Latino.

Rose, P. 1990. They and We. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing.

Solis, D. 1990. "We Will Get Together." Intercambios Femeniles.

Treviño, F. 1987. "Standardized Terminology for Hispanic Populations." American Journal of Public Health 77 (1): 69-72.

Villanueva, T. 1980. Chicanos. Antología Histórica y Literaria. Mexico: Fondo de Cultural Económica..

Population reports: 1960, 1979, 1982, 1985.


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