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Latin? Hispanic? What's the difference? Actually Latino and Hispanic are not synonymous.

The word "Latin" comes to us from a tribe in early Italy called the Latins. The Latins lived in Latium whose capital city was Rome. Their language was called Latin. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, as Rome's Empire grew their language, Latin, spread throughout the Roman Empire later evolving into several "Romance" languages; Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. People from these countries are referred to as Latin, their language is derived from "Latin". These languages are very similar as explained by Dr. Lorenzo LaFarelle, a Chicano Studies professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, the word for cave in Spanish is "cueva", in Portuguese is "cova", in Italian is "cava".

When the Romans invaded the Iberian peninsula they found a city already there called Hispalis (Seville). The name Hispalis appears to be derived from Greek since Hispalus is a mythical Greek hero. Later on the Romans annexed the Iberian peninsula making it a province named Hispania. The Romans spent seven centuries in Hispania leaving a legacy not only of language but of social and cultural characteristics such as family, language, and religion which tied Hispania to the rest of the "Latin" world forever. Sometime later the name evolved from Hispania to España. The word Hispania thus refers to the people and culture of the Iberian peninsula, Spain in particular. The term Hispano (Hispanic) later was used in referring to Spain and its subsequent New World - New Spain, conquered territories which covers most of Latino America. Hispanic thus refers to people whose culture and heritage have ties to Spain and, in the case of second and third generation Hispanic-Americans, who may or may not speak Spanish.

In the U.S. the term Hispanic (Hispano) gained acceptance after it was picked up by the government and used in forms and census to identify people with Spanish heritage. Hispanic is not a race but an ethnic distinction, Hispanics come from all races and physical traits. The term Hispanic is merely a translation of the Old World word Hispania (Latin) or Hispano (Spanish).

Latin America is a geographic location. People from Latin America are all Latin but not all are Hispanics. Brazilians speak Portuguese, which makes them Latin but not Hispanic. Dr. Lorenzo LaFarelle explained that in the 20's and 50's the term "Latin American" became very popular. Back then people of Mexican descent born in the United States preferred to be called Latin Americans since they were not actually born in Mexico, they felt the term Mexican did not exactly fit them. Besides that often the term Mexican was used with a derogatory note. In 1928 in the Corpus Christi - Laredo area a group of Hispanics spearheaded LULAC (League of Latin American Citizens) to help combat discrimination and prejudice and to help Hispanics acculturate.

Prior to Texas joining the Union, old Hispanic native families in Texas called themselves "Tejanos". After 1820 the Anglo population called themselves Texans and the term Mexicans was used for all Hispanics whether newly arrived or not.

The term "Chicano", is a more exclusive term used solely in reference to people of Mexican descent. Chicano was probably first used by the Conquistadores, explained Dr. LaFarelle. The original Mexican Indians were called Mexicas. That term was changed to Mexicanos by the Spaniards and probably the "me" was dropped and thus the term Xicanos or Chicanos was born. Sometime ago a popular and elite group of Mexican nationalist fighters called themselves "Los Chicanos" and the name was picked up in the 1970's by young militant Americans of Mexican descent to make a political statement. Although the term "Chicano" is an "old" word, explains Dr. LaFarelle, many elderly Hispanics of Mexican descent don't like it because the term had been used, long ago, as derogatory reference to Mexican peasants or peons.

Boricua is a term used exclusively for Puerto Ricans. The Taíno Indians called their paradise Borikén, the term Boricua derives from that.

So what are we? We, Spanish speakers or people of Spanish heritage are Hispanics or Hispanos. In the end it doesn't really matter much what we call ourselves - Latinos or Hispanics - said Dr. LaFarelle, "somos todos primos" - we're all cousins anyway. We should respect our differences, enjoy our close relationship and be proud of our cultural legacy.

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