If you live in the United States, you have probably heard of the city Los Angeles, seen a Taco Bell, eaten salsa, or understand the term, “adios.” You have been influenced by the most populous minority consisting of Hispanics. However, you may not understand the culture of Hispanics or what the difference is between Hispanic and Latino. Most Americans place all Spanish speaking persons into one category, yet fail to see the vast distinctions within this subculture we identify as “Hispanics.”
The word Hispanic is a word used to describe people from or descending from Spanish-speaking countries. This includes people from Spain and 19 countries in Latin America (including the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico) that were once a part of the Spanish Empire. This also includes Equatorial Guinea, a small country on the west coast of Africa, for a total of 21 different countries.
The term Latino, in the broadest sense, refers to people using languages derived from Latin, including Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian. In a more narrow sense, Latino refers to people from or descending from Latin America. Latin America is broadly defined as the entire western hemisphere south of the United States, but more specifically, refers to those countries of the Americas that developed from the colonies of Spain, Portugal and France. This includes: Mexico, the Caribbean, and all countries in Central and South America, with the exception of Belize, Guyana, and Suriname (these countries were colonized by the English and are typically treated differently by scholars).
North America – Mexico
Central America – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua , Panama
Caribbean – Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico (U.S. Commonwealth)
South America – Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela
Europe – Spain
Africa – Equatorial Guinea
Caucasian/European (White) Argentina, Costa Rica, Spain, Uruguay
African (Black) & Mulatto (African/Caucasian) Cuba, Dominican Republic
Amerindian (Native American) Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru
Mestizo (Spanish European/Native American) Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico,
Hispanics share many similarities and many differences. Although Hispanics represent a great diversity of cultures, they often possess similar cultural values including:
Strong family bonds – Latinos believe strongly that families should look after each other and that successful individuals should contribute to their family’s welfare. It is not uncommon for extended family to live with and/or take care of other family members.
Strong cultural identification – Latinos are passionate about their culture and heritage.
Religious faith – as a legacy of Spain’s colonial heritage, almost all Spanish-speaking countries are strongly Catholic. This is changing, however, due to the influence of other religions.
Although Hispanics often speak the same language, they still possess a variety of cultural distinctions that demonstrate the diversity that exists within the Hispanic community. Some of the main differences are:
Pre-immigration educational and economic status – the standards of education and the GDP of Latinos’ countries of origin varies widely. As in any society, educational and economic circumstances play a significant role in setting cultural values and expectations.
Cuisine – indigenous Mexican cuisine is quite different from indigenous Honduran or Cuban food.
Personal experiences leading to migration – some areas of South and Central America have always been politically turbulent and this will inevitably lead to differing personal experiences and reasons for migration. Such variation will naturally lead to differing expectations and values for migrants.
Language – although Spanish is the common language, there are many regional variations in use that can sometimes substantially alter the vocabulary in use.
Color and self-identification – Hispanic is no longer available as a choice to indicate racial grouping for the US Census survey. It is now widely considered that its historic inclusion was incorrect, and Latinos tend to identify themselves with a variety of ethnic groups, according to their backgrounds.
Cultural diversity within the Latino community is very real. While Latinos are often identified as one group, and in some cases identify themselves as one group, the diversity of their backgrounds and experiences means that their cultural, economic and social expectations are as varied as their countries of origin.
A Glimpse of Mexico
There are numerous countries represented by Hispanics in the United States, however, Mexico is the largest. Countries such as Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Cuba, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic make up large communities in the United States. Large-scale immigration from Mexico is a very recent phenomenon. In 1970, the Mexican immigrant population was less than 800,000, compared to nearly 8 million in 2000. Overall, the growth in the Mexican immigrant population accounts for 37.8 percent of the total increase in the number of immigrants living in the United States. They comprise 4.2 percent of the nation’s total population. With almost 63 percent of Mexican immigrants, the West is the most affected region. In contrast, the figure shows that immigrants from countries other than Mexico are nowhere near as concentrated. The West, South, and Northeast each account for roughly 30 percent of the nation’s non-Mexican immigrant population. The Mexican population is even more concentrated than Figure 3 suggests. Almost half — 48.2 percent, or 3.8 million — of all Mexican immigrants live in just one state: California. Of non-Mexican immigrants, 24.3 percent live in California. In addition, Texas, which is included in the figures for the South, accounts for another 18.5 percent or 1.5 million of all Mexican immigrants living in the United States. Together, Texas, California, and the other two border states of Arizona and New Mexico, account for 72.7 percent of Mexicans who have settled in the United States.
Response to Hispanics
Living in the United States we tend to generalize and categorize people. How should we respond to those who are different from us? This is what Professor Gregorio Billikopf Encina states:
Differences between people within any given nation or culture are much greater than differences between groups. Education, social standing, religion, personality, belief structure, past experience, affection shown in the home, and a myriad of other factors will affect human behavior and culture.
As we interact with others of different cultures, there is no good substitute for receptiveness to interpersonal feedback, good observation skills, effective questions, and some horse sense. There is much to be gained by observing how people of the same culture interact with each other. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as most people respond very positively to inquiries about their culture. Ask a variety of people so you can get a balanced view.
Making a genuine effort to find the positive historical, literary, and cultural contributions of a society; learning a few polite expressions in another person’s language; and showing appreciation for the food and music of another culture can have especially positive effects.
My contention, then, is not that there are no cultural differences. These differences between cultures and peoples are real and can add richness (and humor) to the fabric of life. My assertion is that people everywhere have much in common, such as a need for affiliation and love, participation, and contribution. When the exterior is peeled off, there are not so many differences after all (Taken from an excerpt of “Cultural Differences? Or, are we really that different?” Gregorio Billikopf Encina).
I would add that when we interact with Hispanics we must remember that foundationally we are not that much different. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus Christ came to earth to reconcile people to himself. A genuine love for others that represents the love of Christ will translate across language and culture. Are we willing to be obedient to God’s Word and live out Christ’s love in a visible manner?
The Hispanic Way. Aspects of behavior attitudes, and customs in the Spanish speaking world. Judith Noble and Jaime Lacasa
Mestizo in America. Generations of Mexican ethnicity in the suburban southwest. Thomas Macias
No Borders. A journalist’s search for home. Jorge Ramos
Living in Spanglish. The search for Latino identity in America. Ed Morales
“Cultural Sensitivity” Pierluigi Mancini, Ph.D., NCAC II http://www.lasculturas.com/aa/vs_ManciniCulture.htm
“Working with Hispanics”. by Neal Holladay, Holladay Management Services, Inc. • p 4 http://www.na.fs.fed.us/wihispanic/Working%20with%20Hispanics.pdf
“Immigration from Mexico, Assessing the Impact on the United States,” by Steven A Camarota with the Center for Immigration Studies 7/2001. http://www.cis.org/articles/2001/mexico/toc.html
“Cultural Differences? Or, Are We Really that Different?” by Gregorio Billikopf Encina University of California1999 by The Regents of the University of California and Gregorio Billikopf Agricultural Extension, Stanislaus County. http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/article01.htm
by Wayne Dale, missionary with Baptist Church Planters