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Hispanic women celebrating under falling confetti

Hispanic, Latino, Latinx – Which is Which?

Mona Lopez - Business Operations Manager

By now you've probably heard the teams "Hispanic" and "Latino" used interchangeably. However, have you wondered what the difference between them is? And What about "Latinx"? What does that mean? And how should it be used?

Even if you identify with one of these pan–ethnic labels, you might not be familiar with their origins and meanings. And that's okay! Let's take a look together and learn more about where these terms came from and when to use them.


Prior to the 1970s, Latin American immigrants were classified as "White" by the US Census Bureau. This controversy led activists to lobby for a new identity category that would encompass their community. Thus, the term Hispanic was born.

Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish or who have a background in a Spanish–speaking country. In other words, Hispanic refers to the language that the person speaks or that their ancestors spoke. Some Hispanic people speak Spanish, but others don't.

For this reason, people who are Hispanic may vary in their race and also where they live or originate. For example, a person from the Dominican Republic and a person from Mexico might both call themselves Hispanic because they share a common spoken language and a legacy of Spanish colonies.


In contrast, Latino refers to the geography: specifically, people from Latin America including Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Like being Hispanic, being Latino says nothing about your race; Latinos may be White, Black, Indigenous, Asian, etc.

However, it is important to note there is some discussion about whether people in the Caribbean actually identify as Latino in the case of non–Spanish–speaking countries.

For example, the majority of Haitians do not identify as Latino despite being part of Latin America. Jamaica, an English–speaking nation, isn't always included as being part of Latin America either, and Jamaicans do not tend to identify as Latino.

Hispanic vs Latino

While some feel that Hispanic is a nod towards Spanish colonialism, about 50 percent of people say they do not have a preference between Latino and Hispanic, according to Pew Research Center. However, those who did have a preference veered toward Hispanic in larger numbers.


In recent years, the term "Latinx" has gained popularity. Pronounced "Luh-TEE-neks", Merriam Webster dictionary added the word in 2018 to describe those of Latin American descent who do not want to be identified by gender. The term is used to refer to a group of people without using masculine or feminine dominant pronouns.

When to Use Each Term

As a general practice, you should refrain from asking someone about their ethnicity unless they bring it up. For some, this implies that they are a foreigner when they might have lived in the United States their whole lives.

Instead, it's best to respect whatever label a person gives themselves or to avoid labels altogether if that is their preference.

Here at VIVA First, you'll find a multi-cultural work environment with team members who speak Spanish and come from all walks of life.

Most importantly, no matter which pan–ethnic category fits you best, we are here to provide a better banking experience with YOU in mind.