Skip to Main Content

Hispanic/Latino American Theologies: Home

Hispanic American Theologies

"Hispanic and Latino are both widely used in American English in referring to a person of Spanish-language heritage living in the United States. Though often used interchangeably, they are not identical, and in certain contexts their differences can be significant. Hispanic, from the Latin word for “Spain,” is the broader term, potentially encompassing all Spanish-speaking peoples in both hemispheres and emphasizing the common denominator of language among communities that sometimes may seem to have little else in common. Latino—a shortening of the Spanish word latinoamericano—refers more exclusively to persons or communities of Latin American origin. Of the two, only Hispanic can be used in referring to Spain and its history and culture; a native of Spain residing in the United States is a Hispanic, not a Latino, and one cannot substitute Latino in the phrase the Hispanic influence on native Mexican cultures without garbling the meaning. In practice, however, these distinctions are of little significance when referring to residents of the United States, since the great majority of people in this group are of Latin American origin and can be denoted by either word.

A more important difference concerns the sociopolitical divide that has opened between Latino and Hispanic in American usage. For a certain segment of the Spanish-speaking population, Latino is a term of ethnic pride while Hispanic, with its perceived echo of Spanish imperialism, is an offensive label imposed from outside the community. According to this view, Hispanic lacks the authenticity and cultural resonance of Latino, which is derived directly from Spanish and can change to Latina to indicate female gender. From the other point of view, Latino is sometimes viewed as a divisive term associated with the politics of culture, class, and race. For this segment, Hispanic is the traditional term that needs no replacement.

While these views are strongly held by some, they are by no means universal, and the division in usage is as much related to geography as it is to politics. Latino is widely preferred on the West Coast, especially California, whereas Hispanic is the more usual term in Florida as well as in Texas and much of the Southwest (though in these regions Chicano is also widely used). Even in these regions, however, usage is often mixed, and it is not uncommon to find both terms used by the same writer or speaker.

Note that Hispanic and Latino refer only to language and culture; neither term should be thought of as specifying racial makeup. It is worth remembering, too, that the growing Hispanic population of the United States is made up of people from many different national and ethnic backgrounds who do not necessarily compose a unified community. Depending on circumstances, using such terms as Mexican American, Cuban American, or Puerto Rican is often preferable to lumping people together as Hispanic or Latino." 

“Hispanic.” The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, 1st ed., Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Credo Reference,

Ask A Librarian

Chat Now

Chat Now with LBC or Non-LBC Librarians

Introductory Tutorial to Library Website

Citation Helps

Contact Writing Services for help with citation and writing. 

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (Cornell Law)

MLA Formatting and Style Guide: Purdue Owl MLA

Purdue Online Writing Lab-APA Citation

TypeCite TypeCite is an accessible citation tool that’s free and easy to use. Our intuitive and powerful software has been designed by experts in the Harvard, MLA, and APA citation systems. TypeCite uses specialist knowledge to provide citations in each of those styles. It is free for anyone to use, with a paid subscription service that offers even more features to support your citation needs.