Hispanic or Latino? Which is politically correct?

February 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm 2 comments

By Miguel Corona

One of the common questions I get asked by organizations and clients I work with is what term do I prefer. “Term?” I ask…“Yes, do you prefer Hispanic or Latino?” is the usual follow-up question. It’s a frequent question and one an employer should consider as well. I don’t have a personal preference when it comes to either, and I tend to use both terms interchangeably as many Hispanics and Latinos that I know do (you see, I did it just there!). I honestly appreciate the question and realize most people are asking in order to use the correct term and to avoid potentially offending others. While many in the Hispanic community share the same perspective that I do, others are still very much prescribed to one term or the other. According to a PEW Hispanic Center survey, 36% of the Hispanic community preferred the term “Hispanic” while 21% preferred the term “Latino.” The remaining respondents in the survey (43%) had no preference or used both terms interchangeably.

The use of each term might also be determined by what region of the United States you are standing in when you say it. Concentrations of the Hispanic population differ by region, for example, there are many more Mexican Americans in Texas and California than there are in Florida, where there are more Cuban Americans. Along the East Coast, you’ll find a higher concentration of Puerto Ricans. In my own experience of living in several areas of the country, I’ve found the term “Latino” most often used on the West and East coasts, and the term “Hispanic” in states like Texas and other parts of the Southwest. Of course, this is just one person’s experience! There continues to be a lot debate within the Hispanic community about what term actually captures the true essence of the population.

Whether it’s Hispanic or Latino, what is common to each perspective is that each term is  used to represent a demographic with a common cultural background including characteristics such as language. Employers should be aware, however, that these two terms often do not capture differences in race or ancestry common to the Hispanic population. While Hispanics are often “grouped” to represent a monolithic group on forms such as job applications, the reality is that Hispanics are incredibly heterogeneous. Hispanics originate from European, Latin American, and even African heritage. Hispanics can literally vary from blond and green-eyed to African in physical features.

So what’s the bottom line for employers? Realize that Hispanics are not a homogeneous ethnic group. There is great diversity in their demographic, economic, and social backgrounds. Yet, there are also many similarities in areas such as language, culture, and attitudes. This combined variety and similarity provides employers with an opportunity to leverage their backgrounds and experiences in a work setting.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Janell  |  February 19, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    As a Diversity practitioner, I use the term Latino/Latino as it designates someone’s ancestry is from Latin America. There is no Hispania. “Hispanic” is a term coined by the US government in the 1960’s.

    Reply
  • 2. Miguel A. Corona  |  February 21, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Indeed Janell – your thoughts are appreciated. There are no clear answers and the debate on what term is best suited to describe this demographic will be on-going for some time.

    Reply

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