Culture, heritage, race... What does it mean to be Latino?

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we take a look at the parameters that define Hispanics with the help of Pew Research.

As the Hispanic community in the United States grows, debate increases over what it prefers to be called and who is considered Latino. In this regard, a Pew Research Center survey showed that 53% of Hispanics prefer to describe themselves as “Hispanic,” 26% prefer “Latino” and 18% have no preference.

However, before delving into how they prefer to be called, we must define who is considered Latino or Hispanic in the United States. One way the Government has to count it is to include those who say they are Hispanic, without further consideration. But there are exceptions. For example, when respondents select the category "other Hispanic" and enter non-Hispanic responses - such as "Irish" - the Census Bureau recodes the response as "non-Hispanic."

Considering this context, the report detailed that around 27.6 million Hispanics also identified with other races in 2021. The increase in multiracial Hispanics could be due to several factors, most notably the inclusion of a space for written responses to the racial issue and the growing diversity among Hispanics.

"Americans who identify as being of Spanish-speaking origin"

Regarding the official position of the United States Government when regarding how to classify Hispanics, Congress passed a law in 1976 that required it to collect and analyze data on a specific ethnic groups: "Americans of Spanish origin or descent." As   Pew Research explains, that legislation defined this group as "Americans who identify themselves as being of Spanish-speaking background and trace their origin or descent from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish-speaking countries." This includes the 20 Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and Spain itself, but not Portugal or Portuguese-speaking Brazil.

Regarding the debate over which term to use, the analysis indicates that a 2019 survey found that 47% of Hispanics most frequently described themselves by their family's country of origin, while 39% used the terms Latino or Hispanic and 14% most frequently described themselves as American. Finally, the report maintained that, like race and skin color, Hispanics can be from any country of origin or ancestry.

"In a Center analysis of the 2021 ACS, nearly all immigrants from several Latin American and Caribbean countries called themselves Hispanic. That included nearly 100% of those from Mexico, Cuba and El Salvador among many others; 97% of those from Venezuela; 94% from Chile; 93% from Spain; 92% from Argentina; and 88% from Panama", commented Pew Research.

In fact, another study published this week noted that the majority of Latino adults (78%), say that it is not necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Hispanic. "Only 7% of third-generation or above Latinos (the Latino U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents) say it is necessary for someone to speak Spanish to be Latino," the study explained.