Is Hispanic the Same Thing as Latina? Not quite.
By Christopher Beam
Posted Wednesday, May 27, 2009, at 6:40 PM ET
Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he would nominate 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The New York Times wrote that Sotomayor, if confirmed, would be "the nation's first Hispanic justice." But Sotomayor has referred to herself in the past as "a Latina judge." Do Hispanic and Latina mean the same thing?
Not exactly. Hispanic is an English word that originally referred to people from Spain and eventually expanded to include the populations of its colonies in South and Central America. Latino is a Spanish word—hence the feminine form Latina—that refers to people with roots in Latin America and generally excludes the Iberian Peninsula. For many, Hispanic has negative connotations because of its Eurocentrism. Others prefer it because it's gender-neutral. Latino, meanwhile, is perceived as a more authentic-sounding, Spanish-language alternative. Generally speaking, Democrats use Latino more often than Republicans, who favor Hispanic.
For years, Spanish-speaking people in the United States were identified according to their ancestral nationality. In the 1970 U.S. census, for example, people were asked whether they were Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or "other Spanish." (The question caused much confusion because many Americans from the middle or southern regions of the United States identified themselves as "Central or South American.") The word Hispanic was not used until the 1980 census, after the Office of Management and Budget imposed rules standardizing ethnicity statistics. (The change came after a federal committee on minority education complained about the lack of useful data.) In 1997, the OMB changed its classification to "Hispanic or Latino," explaining that "Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion."
to see the article and a photo of Sotomayor at Slate Magazine's website.