What’s the difference between Hispanic and Latino? This is a question we get a lot at Press 2. The differences are often misunderstood but it’s crucial to understand them if you are going to have a successful Spanish-language marketing initiative.
First of all, the fundamental principle of marketing is to know and understand your audience. If you don’t know who you’re speaking to, then your message is going to fall flat. Second, you need to know how to address your current and potential customers in order to effectively communicate with them. Finally, how people self-identify is a very personal matter, and you want your organization to be culturally sensitive.
Let’s get right to it.
Hispanic is a term that refers to people with roots in countries where the Spanish language is dominant. This can include people from Spain, but is more often used to describe people from North and South America with ties to Spanish-speaking countries. Press 2 typically refers to the “Hispanic community” because we’re experts in the Spanish language and this is the demographic we’re marketing to.
Latino refers to people with roots in Latin America. So the question is now, what exactly is Latin America?
Latin America is a geographical construct resulting from European colonization in the Americas. Since 1492, many European powers have colonized various parts of North and South America, including the Dutch, British, Swedish and Russians. Latin America refers to countries that were colonized by European powers that predominantly speak a Romance language, meaning a language derived from Latin. In the case of Latin America, we’re talking about Spain, Portugal and France.
So while all Spanish-speaking countries in North and South America are part of Latin America, the term Latin America is much broader. Haiti, which speaks French and a local French creole and Brazil, where the primary language is Portuguese, are also part of Latin America. However, people with roots in these countries are not considered Hispanic as they do not have historical ties to Spanish-speaking Spain.
Romance languages, such as Spanish, are based on gender. The word “Latino” is the masculine version, while “Latina” is the feminine version of the same word. In Spanish, when gender is mixed (both masculine and feminine in a group) or gender is unknown, the default is to use the masculine form of the word. There is a growing sentiment in Spanish-speaking communities that this rule is biased and discriminatory toward women. Latinx is a relatively new word that is gender-neutral and quickly gaining in popularity.
What Hispanic and Latino are NOT
It is absolutely critical to understand that neither Hispanic nor Latino refer to ethnicity or race. For starters, every country in the Western Hemisphere is home to unique and diverse indigenous groups that have lived in the Americas for thousands of years before European colonization.
Also, just like the U.S. and Canada, the rest of the Americas have been populated by different groups from all over the world. Some examples include:
To make things even more complicated, there is no official agreed-upon definition of Latin America. For example, some definitions include English or Dutch speaking countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean, such as Suriname or Belize.
Having a partner who understands these intricacies can be extremely helpful in executing a marketing strategy aimed at people with Spanish-speaking heritage. Understanding your audience means understanding their cultural perspective and how they identify. Press 2 uses a process called Transcreation to adapt your message into Spanish. Transcreation means taking culture into account just as much as language.