Latino FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Hispanics Answered

10/02/2013 06:40 pm ET

Our experts answer all your lingering questions about America's largest ethnic minority.

  • 1 Everyone’s talking about Latinos in the media now. When did this new group first arrive in the United States?
  • 2 What's the difference between "Hispanic" and "Latino"?
    For daily use, these terms are interchangeable. But if you want to get specific, "Hispanic" refers to descendants of Hispanophone countries and cultures -- that would include Spain and the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. "Latino," by contrast, refers to people of Latin American heritage. So, technically, that would include Brazil, but exclude the European countries of Spain and Portugal.
  • 3 Is Ted Cruz Latino?
    Getty and Nicolas Raymond
    Yes, his father was born in Cuba. Feel free to completely ignore anyone who says otherwise.
  • 4 Is “Latino” a race?
    No, it’s a multiracial ethnicity. Some people at the U.S. Census see things differently, but they are just plain wrong.
  • 5 Then how come Latinos usually look brown?
    Three main groups populate Latin America -- indigenous people, European colonizers, and African descendants. In the United States, mixing between white and non-white people was discouraged, but in Latin America it became a common practice. The mixture of races came to be known as "mestizaje" -- or "miscegenation" in English. Most U.S. Latinos are, consequently, people of mixed racial heritage, usually either a combination of European and indigenous or European and black heritage.
  • 6 So how come the Census is considering classifying Latinos as a race?
    Because they don't have "mestizo," "mulato," or other "mixed-race" boxes for people to check. Consequently, 37 percent of Latinos check "some other race" on their 2010 Census forms, confusing the federal government.
  • 7 Is it Colombia or Columbia?
  • 8 What’s up with the media calling George Zimmerman a white Hispanic? Is that what he is?
    A “white Hispanic” is someone of Latin American or Spanish heritage who looks racially white -- Ted Cruz, for example. Just like there’s white people in the United States, there’s white people in Latin America. But that’s not the case with Zimmerman, who comes from a mixed-race background -- part white, non-Hispanic American and part Afro-Peruvian. Media originally referred to him as "white" because that’s how police originally classified his ethnicity. Three weeks after the shooting, the Orlando Sentinel quoted his father as calling him a "Spanish-speaking minority." Some news publications adopted the inaccurate term "white Hispanic" to describe him. Media that continue to use the term are likely making one of two mistakes. Either they incorrectly think “white Hispanic” means someone of both “white” and “Hispanic” ancestry, or they don’t know to classify Latinos of mixed race, so they continue to use a term we now know doesn’t fit.
  • 9 Do Latinos have to speak Spanish?
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    No. The tie that binds Latinos -- depending on your definition -- is Latin American or Spanish birth or ancestry. You can speak Swahili as your native language and still be Latino.
  • 10 Do all Latinos like spicy food?
    No. The chili pepper is native to Mexico and popular throughout Mesoamerica. But Latinos with origins in the Caribbean and South America, with a few exceptions, tend to have a low tolerance for anything spicey.
  • 11 Is Spanish a foreign language?
    Not really. Spanish was spoken in the United States for several decades before the English managed to forge a permanent settlement in Jamestown. A quick glance at the map will reveal the influence of the Spanish language, with states named Colorado (colored, or red), Montana (mountain) and Florida (flowered). Some 37 million Americans spoke Spanish at home as of 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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