The terms Hispanic and Latino have been broadly used to collectively designate the variety of minority groups in North America associated through a common use of the Spanish language. In July 2001, Hispanics became the largest minority group in the United States (37 million, or 13 percent of the population), for the first time overtaking African Americans (36.1 million, or 12.7 percent of the population).
Hispanic is most commonly used in government and political life, as in the naming of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Latino refers in a somewhat broader sense to Americans of Latin American descent. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, the older Hispanic implies association with the European aspects of Spanish culture, while Latino suggests a continued association with struggles for equality and justice. The Cuban community, many long-term residents of Texas, and conservatives generally prefer the term Hispanic, while most New Yorkers, Californians, and Chicagoans prefer Latino, particularly those who have arrived in the United States fairly recently. During the 1960s, the term Chicano was widely embraced throughout the southwestern United States as a mark of pride in one’s native Mexican or mestizo roots.
This photograph, taken in 1940 in Taos, New Mexico, exemplifies the importance that vibrant cultural traditions, such as the dance pictured above, continue to have for immigrant communities in the United States. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
When asked by a poll, survey, or census, Hispanics most often identify themselves either as Americans or as part of the national community from which they descended, rather than as Hispanic or Latino. The U.S. government understood that its category of “Spanish/Hispanic/Latino,” devised for statistical purposes could include people of any race. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defined Hispanic or Latino as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”
The terms do not have strict definitions. Filipinos, who have a Spanish heritage, are not referred to by any of these terms. At the same time, Brazilians, whose cultural heritage is Portuguese, often are considered Hispanics.
See also racial and ethnic categories.