How Big is the Latino Market, Really?
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Hispanics and Latin Americans are Not the Same

By Juan Tornoe

For practical reasons, let’s begin defining the term Latino or Hispanic, which at the end of the day identify the same group of people. Latinos/Hispanics are those individuals living in the U.S. that somewhere in their past have roots South of the Rio Grande or the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. All the latter can be described as Latin American.

Immediately you can begin to notice the distinction. The primary difference between Hispanics and Latin Americans is where they live.

At first sight, this does not seem to make such a drastic difference among the two groups. But by digging a bit deeper you will come to the realization of how important it is to differentiate among them. By living in the United States and going through a process of acculturation (the preservation of one’s birth culture and the addition of another culture) and/or assimilation (the replacement of one’s birth culture by another) a Latin American individual morphs into a Latino.

Let me explain. The experience of living in America and everything that one is exposed to in this country creates a new reality for the individual. Although he or she still retains many of the similar cultural traits and life experiences as others living in Latin America, there are many ongoing occurrences that are simply unique for those living here.

Yes, you can be a Latino of Mexican (Guatemalan, Venezuelan, Peruvian, or Ecuadorian) descent but your life experiences, the more time you live in the U.S. begin to redefine your sense of self and distance it from those persons who currently live in your country of origin. This is not good or bad; it simply is different.

Let’s look at some of these differences…

1. Thanksgiving Day: Back in Latin America, there is no experience that comes close to what Thanksgiving stands for. There were no pilgrims, but rather conquistadors turning up until then free natives into slaves; not much of a reason to be thankful. Still, when a Latino comes to America, Thanksgiving is something that they want to adopt right away; it is an event that symbolizes, in more ways than one, the fact that now they live in this country.

2. Girls Playing Soccer: Soccer, or “Fútbol”, in Latin American is predominantly a men sport. When immigrants come to this country they notice that not only girls are play soccer, but they are awesome at it. This takes them completely by surprise. Little by little they begin to get used to the idea up to the point when they allow, and eventually encourage, their little girls to join soccer leagues. Hispanic women are suddenly free to “bend it like Beckham”. 

3. “Greek Latinos”: Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Latin Americans get the opportunity to attend college. Most of the lucky ones live in the cities where the colleges or universities are located. Therefore, there is no need to move away from home to attend college, so there is no need for dorms, let alone fraternities and sororities. In the U.S. Hispanics are heading to college in ever increasing numbers and not only are they going Greek, but they are joining Latino fraternities and sororities, which can be found in basically every campus in the nation.

4. The Manly Art of Grilling: There is no natural and instinctive grunting (ala Home Improvement’s Tim “the tool man” Taylor) coming from Latin American men when in front of a Weber Summit S-670 grill. Generalizing, with a few exceptions Latin American men don’t cook unless pushed to extreme desperation. When we come to America we are quite perplexed by all the guys’ fascination with grilling and really don’t get it at first. Then, little by little, through repeated exposure, we begin to get the hand of it. Research shows that grillin’ is a consistently growing practice amongst Latino men.

We could go on and on, but you get the picture by now. Living in the United States provides a completely different experience to Latin American immigrants that differentiate them from their fellow countrymen who stayed behind. Now, think of U.S. born Hispanics who were never exposed to life in Latin America…


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So, Latinos are people born in Latin American countries assimilated or aculturated. Hispanics are US born...

Good Question Carla; as indicated above, I differentiate between Latinos/Hispanics and Latin Americans depending on where they live. Let's take my case as a example: I was born and raised in Guatemala, 100% Latin American. Then I moved to the U.S. and began experiencing life here; encountering a wide variety of situations/customs/products/services/cultures/environments/etc. quite new and different from what I experienced before, simply by the fact of living life in America, that is, having a permanent domicile here (you can come to the U.S. as a tourist every month and will not be the same as living here). This amalgam of experiences redefined - expanded, if you will - the person I was when I lived back in Guatemala (for others, Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Chile, Bolivia, etc); therefore now I identify myself as Latino/Hispanic. For U.S. born Hispanics/Latinos it is the combination of their life in America (for many, the only lifestyle they have ever known) with the culture/traditions/language/etc. that their parents, grandparents, extended family, friends and neighbors, willingly or not, share with them.

Hope this helps clarify my point.

All my best,


Well, I have been born and raised in Spain, but have spent half of my adult life in the US, working in, with and for the Hispanic market from my own marketing agency for the last 6 years, but in the market for almost triple that amount of time. It was shocking to me to learn that I will not be given "minority" status business because I was not born in Latin America or am from Latin American descent. Am I less Hispanic than a US born Cuban or Argentinian? What is that mean? really?

Dear Rita,
In my eyes - unfortunately I have no influence over U.S. Policy - people from Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES, are as Latino/Hispanic as the rest of us. There are so many similarities in the culture (although language-wise those from Portuguese-speaking countries don't share the same language heritage as the rest - then again, there's always English!) and the experiences that, for me, they are Latinos.

I am a Latina of Ecuadorian descent and my life experiences for the past 31 years in this country have been outstanding while I raised my family of four children here. I am definitely an acculturated Hispanic with full command of English as well as my native Spanish language. I've maintained strong family ties and contact with people in Ecuador throughout the years. Unlike Juan's criteria, my sense of self is strongly defined by the bicultural experiences, but that knowledge is pulling me to my roots in my home country. In fact, I am planning to retire there to re-unite with family members that are also going back from different parts of this country. As Juan mentions, this is not good or bad; it simply is different.

Good article...but let's not forget the decendants of the original Spanish settlers who have lived here for over 400 years! Not all Latino/Hispanics come from south of the border.

Dear Myriam,

Thanks a million for your insight! I am certain we are saying the same thing in different ways… Multiculturality DEFINES the Latino/Hispanic experience… that is its defining characteristic!

Your comment certainly enriches this post.



Hi Daniel,

Most certainly! There are also many, many families across the U.S.-Mexico border whose ancestors one day were Mexicans and the next became part of the United States. Yep, as you very well say, Spanish settlers were in the land we now call the good ‘ol US of A before the English and the French.

I appreciate your feedback,



Thanks for sharing your insights! Having arrived into this country from Cuba when I was only two months old, I have always held onto the cultural identity of my parents. Now that I have my own children (and my parents have passed away), it is encumbent upon me to enrich their lives with this added identity. It's not that I reject this country...on the contrary, I have served her in the US Marine Corps, as a high school Science teacher and a state employee with OSHA! What I hold onto is a gift from my parents! It's the way of treating people, a manner of expression, the taste for uniquely seasoned foods, the spirit of dancing to a musical beat not of the ordinary and an awareness that I came from somewhere else, but am very fortunate to be here! As they say in Little Havana, "ni soy latino ni hispano, soy cubano, coño!

Hola Tomas!

Great insights on the intricacies of a Cubano's reality in the U.S. of A.

Thanks for visiting and sharing your experiences/thoughts.


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