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Latino or Hispanic? Depends on who you ask…

The terminology conflict seems like something that people of Spanish and Latino heritage have been mulling over for quite some time – do we want to be called “Hispanics” or “Latinos?”  For many, the terms are used interchangeably. Even the U.S. Census Bureau and federal government recognize both terms in official paperwork.

In fact, if you ask most Hispanics/Latinos which they prefer, most will probably say that they are okay with either term. But not in Texas. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, a whopping 46% of people of Spanish or Latin American descent in Texas prefer being called “Hispanics.” Only 8% prefer being called “Latino.”

This contrasts heavily with the preference of Latinos in other parts of the country. California has the largest Hispanic population of any state and 30% say they prefer “Hispanic” and 17% say they prefer the term “Latino.” Florida and New York follow a very similar pattern.

So, being a Texas Hispanic/Latina myself, I decided to ask around to find out what people preferred – Hispanic or Latino?

Let me start by saying that I live in Austin. People in Austin are a little different than those in other parts of Texas because it is a very liberal community. The Hispanics/Latinos that I asked here overwhelmingly said “Hispanic.” One friend said that, even though she doesn’t care of labels altogether, she is quick to tell people that she is Mexican-American but if she had to choose, she prefers “Hispanic.” So did my other friends that live here and the nice lady and gentleman that I randomly asked at the grocery store.  I needed to venture out of my little blue Austin bubble.

I turned to family and friends in South Texas. They also preferred the term “Hispanic” over “Latino” and their reasons surprised me.

Overwhelmingly, they said that they felt the term “Hispanic” is more positive, especially in the white-collar world. More than one person said that the terms “Latino” and “Latina” bring to mind images of Sharpie eyebrows and low rider cars. Hispanic, for many, feels like a more modern, acceptable, American version of the word Latino and even felt like it was more specific to a place of origin. Some felt that Latino is for those speaking any Latin language.

My favorite response was from a male friend who said he didn’t like either term – he prefers being called a Tejano. I like that term. It means that we don’t see ourselves as Hispanics OR Latinos; we are of Spanish/Latin American descent and live in Texas. Leave it to us Tejanos to view ourselves differently from all the rest!

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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