There are fewer culturally relevant questions in modern America more polarizing than this one: Latino or Hispanic-which one is politically correct?
There are also few questions that simply lead to more questions than this one does. The truth is that as time goes on, each term becomes as equally politically correct as the other.
Some people prefer Hispanic and some prefer Latinos but there was a time in America, more specifically in the southwestern states, that this wasn’t the case.
The Civil Rights Movement
It didn’t get as much press as the African-American civil rights movement did but during the late 60’s and early 70’s there was another struggle going on within the Hispanic community. The term Hispanic was coined around this time but there was a burgeoning community of forward-thinking, young activists who were born in the states to immigrant parents that was ready to cast off this government assigned term.
Figureheads during the Brown movement of the early 70’s like Oscar Zeta Acosta shunned the term Hispanic opting instead to call himself and all like him Chicano. But the term Chicano was meant to denote an enlightened, thoughtful and sometimes radical person of Hispanic decent living in America. Thus, Chicano became the moniker for the Brown movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s and Hispanic was deemed politically incorrect by this group.
The Terms Today
Nowadays, it matters less what someone refers to you as especially with my generation. The Brown movement is over and we have made enough strides to be able to call ourselves whatever we want. The mood is not so tense or serious as it was back then so we can essentially laugh off each term and not take offense one way or another.
Still, there are defining lines which you can read more about in the article What is Hispanic but essentially the difference between Latino and Hispanic is that Hispanic is an umbrella term for anyone of Latin descent (Mexicans Spanish, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Peruvian etc.) and Latino generally refers to a person of Latin decent but who is living specifically in America.
Especially in today’s amalgamated culture, Latino is emerging more fluidly but not because of political correctness. More and more the term Latino not only refers to people but to a culture.
Hispanics born and raised in America take part of the Latino culture which has heavy influences from the American culture as well.
Today, Latino can mean so many different things but it is more unifying for younger Hispanics because it seems to hint at an American upbringing.
Latino or Hispanic
Unfortunately the appropriateness of using the term Latino or Hispanic will depend greatly on who you are talking to. For Anglos reading this, try not to worry so much about which you use so long as you use each term respectfully.
If you are talking to a younger person, you are probably safe with using Latino. Some of the older generation-those who remember the Brown movement-might actually take offense if you use Hispanic but their numbers are dwindling every day.
For me, Hispanic is a more biological term which does not offend me in the slightest. Hispanic is what I am as far as race goes. I am of Hispanic descent so why should I be offended by it?
Latino is more of a cultural term. In truth I don’t feel more strongly tied to one term than the other. If I hear Latino I assume that the person saying it is also Hispanic and probably around my age.
When I hear Hispanic I tend to think the person saying it is Anglo and of an older generation. At any rate, the lines of political correctness are very blurred at this point but the good news is that it matters less and less which you use with each passing day.