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Latino, or Hispanic? The cartoonist who wants you to know the difference

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Pictured: Cartoonist Terry Blas.

It's the eternal question for millions of Spanish speakers who live in the United States: Am I Latino, Hispanic and does it matter?

As we look ahead to the election season, candidates from both sides of the aisle will be thinking about ways to court the Latino vote...or, is it the Hispanic vote?

It's the eternal question for millions of Spanish speakers who live in the United States: Am I Latino, Hispanic and does it matter?

is a cartoonist who's been asking himself about this for years. So he decided to tackle it in the best way he knows how: by creating a comic.

Blas's father is American and his mother is Mexican. Though he was born in the states, he identified as Mexican during his childhood in Boise, Idaho. Though is mother would correct him by telling him he is American, it wasn't until he went on a Mormon missionary trip in New York City that he had an epiphany about his identity. 

Blas said it all began in the Bronx, where he first experienced other Spanish-speaking cultures.

"It occurred to me that New York City sort of felt like a TV dinner -- like everyone was sort of in their own spot and their own place," he said.

He also learned something about his fellow missionaries.  

"Other missionaries, who were coming from Idaho and Utah, had grown up believing that people who spoke Spanish were from Mexico," Blas said. "So it was interesting to me to hear all these different dialects of Spanish spoken there, and to hear something spoken that didn't sound like the Spanish I had grown up speaking, and having to adjust and adapt to that, it really hit me then how varied and how beautiful and different these Latin/Hispanic cultures were."

Latino, Hispanic -- so what's the difference?

It's a question that doesn't necessarily come with a simple answer.

"This is where it gets dicey," Blas said. "My comic, I think, explores some very simplified answers to some really complex terms that people feel have a lot of meanings."

But, his comic breaks it down like this:

  • A Hispanic is: someone who comes from a Spanish-speaking country
  • A Latino is: someone who comes from Latin America

"I understand that some people feel that's completely untrue," Blas said. "Latino can refer to anyone who speaks a Latin romance language."

Languages such as French, Italian and Portuguese all fall under this umbrella.

"While making this comic, I asked some of my friends who were French if they identify as Latino, and they seemed confused," he said. "They all said no."

While the terms are to be debated, Blas says he has received thanks along with the criticism.

"I've received a lot of messages from other Latino and Hispanic people thanking me for this comic," he said. "A lot of them saying, 'I didn't know this difference, so this has helped me out.'"

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.   

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