If you have ever had a discussion with another person about places and peoples in and around Central and South America, you may have heard the terms ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’ thrown around by a few people, and can be a little confusing to people who do not understand what exactly the distinction is between the two.
This is especially the case for many islands that are found across the Gulf of Mexico, such as Cuba and Puerto Rico, which, whilst not necessarily being linked to Central and South America geographically, can in other ways be considered linked culturally and linguistically.
Because, despite what some people might think, there is a distinction between these two terms, and they do hold quite a lot of cultural significance for people who use these terms.
So, it pays to know what exactly you are discussing and talking about before using them.
Fortunately, our little guide has all the information you need to at least start to get a grasp of the importance of these phrases, and whether they can be applied to Cuba.
And, by explaining the cultural meaning of these terms, as well as how and when is best to use them, you might start to have a better understanding that you can use to conduct your research.
Hispanic/Latino ≠ Race
Before we go any further into this piece, we should probably first dispel one of the most widely spread beliefs or ideas that people often have when it comes to people who consider themselves Latino or Hispanic, Namely, we want to dispel the idea that either of these identities is used to identify a person’s race.
Despite what some people might want to believe, race as it is known and used in the Americas and Europe is a somewhat nebulous term that has changed its definitions over the years.
Just taking a look at the politics from a hundred or so years ago, and how many European immigrants were not considered ‘white’ that would be today, is a pretty good indicator.
There is also the fact that simply looking at the ancestries of many places within Central and South America who would identify as Hispanic or Latino, from European to African, and descendants of indigenous people, demonstrates a level of complexity that isn’t done justice by labeling these people as a ‘race’.
This is true both in North America and especially for its Southern neighbors.
So, what do these terms mean exactly?
What Does Hispanic Mean?
So, how is a term such as Hispanic used correctly?
In this case, Hispanic is used to describe people who speak Spanish as their first language, and live in, or have a background that is based in, a country that is predominantly Spanish-speaking, thanks to the colonization from the Spanish empire when they first established themselves in the Americas.
In this regard, Hispanic is a label and a term that is mostly tied to linguistics and language that is spoken, rather than a specific ancestry, and why there are so many different ethnicities found across South and Central America, whilst all sharing the term Hispanic as an appropriate label.
It is a term that can be used by people from the Dominican Republic, as well as people from Cuba, thanks to the shared language between them.
It is also why some people are Hispanic, who either speak or do not speak the language.
What Does Latino Mean?
So, if Hispanic is a largely language-based label, what is it that makes the term Latino different?
In this case, Latino usually refers to geography, rather than language or ethnicity, as is broadly applied to most people that live in and around South and Central America, also sometimes collectively known as Latin America, hence the name.
This makes the term more specific to the countries in and around this geographical area and makes it distinct from the label of Hispanic in many ways.
- For example, someone who is from Spain, whilst being Hispanic, thanks to their language, would not be considered Latino, as they are not from Latin America.
- By the same token, countries such as Brazil, which are not Hispanic, as the official language is Portuguese, being a former colony of Portugal, would still be considered Latino, thanks to it being in the same region as other countries
We say that this term is used ‘broadly’, but there are some exceptions depending on who you talk to that should be noted.
For example, whilst countries such as the Bahamas, Haiti, and Jamaica are still geographically close to Latin America, they would probably not consider themselves to be Latino.
This can be for several reasons that are cultural and linguistic, as these other islands are not predominantly Spanish-speaking countries.
Use Of These Terms In Popular Culture And Media
Of course, these labels don’t simply appear in our popular culture out of nowhere. There is often a history behind how these terms become as widely known.
Generally speaking, it is widely accepted that the term Hispanic comes from the Latin word for Spanish, as the Roman Empire used the term Hispanicus to describe peoples from the Iberian Peninsula.
Over time, it would come to be applied to people who were likely descended from Spanish people who lived in the SouthWest of North America, before it was annexed by the United States.
As time passed, the term Hispanic would become popular in the United States, as communities of Mexican Americans would use it as a unifying term to help push for changes to issues surrounding poverty and discrimination in the 1960s.
By the 1980s, it would become a recognized aspect of the 1980s census, that also allowed people to place their ethnicity alongside their race.
The shared language also means that Spanish-speaking media such as music and radio is often shared across Hispanic people, creating a somewhat linked lived experience.
Latino has a relatively more recent history, and is essentially an abbreviation that was short for ‘Latinoamericano’.
It arose during the 19th century, as many former Spanish colonies started to fight for and gain independence from the Spanish Empire, such as in Argentina, Mexico, and Cuba, where this joint fight for independence unified these different colonies and cultures under a single shared history, as well as their geography.
Latino first appeared as an option for ethnicity in the 2000 US census and has since been used in some identification forms, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
Latino is also a common term that non-Latin-Americans apply to various cultures and media that come from the region.
So, based on the information we have gathered and explained, we can say with some confidence that Cuba is certainly a Hispanic country, with Spanish being its main language and being a former colony of Spain.
And, depending on who you speak to at least, the term Latino would also be appropriately applied to people from Cuba.
Of course, you should check with your Cuban friend first, before you start throwing the term around!