Is Sotomayor Hispanic or Latino?

Monday, July 13, 2009

by Alex Goldmark and Janaya Williams

With Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor starting next week, be prepared for the words "Hispanic" and "Latino" to scroll across the bottom of your TV a lot! She is set to be the first Latina on the Court, or is it first Hispanic? So we at WNYC are asking: what is the distinction? Is there one? Does it matter?

Add to that this historical fact: Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who served on the court in the 1930s, was born to parents who claimed Portuguese descent. So does that make him the first Hispanic on the high court? The first Latino? One but not the other?

We want to get it right. Help us out. Tell us: Is Sonia Sotomayor Hispanic or Latina, or both? Was Cardozo?

To sort it out, WNYC's Alex Goldmark spoke with a few friends from our Public Insight Network, Juan Tornoe and Marina Chavez. Listen to their conversation about the difference between the two terms: Hispanic and Latino.

Join the Public Insight Network here.


More in:

Comments [13]


Or Nuyorican?

Jul. 21 2009 09:57 AM

Or is she Boricua?

Jul. 21 2009 09:57 AM

SHH - Chicano is used to refer to Mexican Americans (i.e., it's short for Mexicano).

As someone who grew up in New York City but went to college in California, I would generally say that Hispanic seems to be the preferred term on the East Coast, and Latino the preferred term on the West Coast, though in general what people prefer most of all is using whatever term refers to their national origins rather than the generic ethnic term. But I'm African-American (or black, if you will), so that's just an outsider's observation.

Jul. 20 2009 08:12 PM
Andres Gilman

Latino,Hispanic,Latino America, Hispano America,Ibero America; any of those terms are correct for Peopel who dont Live here in USA. Why we need labels here in States dont you feel like barr-code that does not let you think out of that box . Sotomayor is a New Yorker "listen to her voice"proud of her heritage like any other American. She is being nominated bc, She has exellent records as a judge, smart, exellent Jurisprudent,and proud American.

Jul. 17 2009 09:53 PM

No comment,just a quesion: What is the distinction of "Chicano" from Hispanic and Latino/Latina? It would be good to hear from someone who, thinks of themselve as a Chicano. And is there any difference in usage on the west coast or the east coast?

Jul. 17 2009 12:04 PM

This label is designated by the person themselves and by no one else. If I label myself 'latina,' then I am making it clear to you that the term 'latina' is what I prefer to go by.

Wait for someone to "label" themselves before you label them.

Jul. 16 2009 09:50 PM
Jeremy Pierce

The term 'Hispanic' actually comes from the Latin term for the region we now call Spain. They called it Hispania. Hispaniola was a later term. The term 'Hispanic' refers to someone of Spanish, Portuguese, or Spanish-influenced or Portuguese-influenced native peoples in the Americas. The term 'Latino' refers to people whose descent and cultural background stem from Romance-language peoples, especially those of Portuguese or Spanish cultural and ethnic influence. For most purposes, the terms are interchangeable, but some people prefer one or the other. In the U.S., Hispanics are an ethnicity, and some members can be white or black, but Latinos are a quasi-racial ethnic group usually taken to be neither white nor black, so there is that difference.

Jul. 16 2009 10:15 AM

I don't think either term applies. She's Puerto Rican. Her father is Puerto Rican, her mother is Puerto Rican. For the people must categorize everything how about Judge Sotomayor the "1st other than us " Supreme Court Judge.

Jul. 15 2009 09:15 PM

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is American, born in New York to Puerto Rican parents. If you feel the need to label her, she is Hispanic. The term “Latino” is a made up word used to conveniently bunch people with a shared language into one group. And as Margarita said, it implies one speaks Latin, which we don’t.

Calling a Portuguese person (from Portugal) or a Spanish person “Latino” or “Hispanic” is like calling a Scot or Irish person, English; or a Bangladeshi, an Indian. They are not. Therefore Justice Benjamin Cardozo is not a “Latino” or a “Hispanic” he is European, or more importantly, Portuguese. And for the record, Spanish people do not speak the same/similar dialect as the rest of the Spanish speaking population. They speak Castilian.

Most Spanish speaking people I know reject the terms “latino” and “Hispanic” and will inform you they are Cuban or Guatemalan, etc., and in some cases will even state “I am Central American” or “I am South American.” But of course, people need to use labels and that is why the term Latino is so incorrectly used.

Jul. 14 2009 09:40 AM

Oh and one more thing...don't you dare call a Spaniard, a latino or hispanic b/c they are Spanish! The Spaniards do not like to be confused and you will be corrected!

Jul. 13 2009 10:23 PM

I should also add that my family does not like to be called "latino" and you will be corrected...especially by my grandmother! I think for the most part, people assume the terms can be interchanged but I think many Spanish speaking people allow it b/c they don't care or understand the history and geograpy.

Jul. 13 2009 10:12 PM

As an American of Puerto Rican descent (from the Bronx like judge sotomayor), she and I are Hispanic. A Latino comes from Latin American countries (central & south america). Hispanics are from the Spanish speaking Caribbean (Cuba, PR and Dominican Republic).

The term hispanic came from the name given to what is now known as haiti/dominican republic. The Spanish named this territory, the island of hispaniola, or Isla Espanola (spanish island).

Jul. 13 2009 09:52 PM

As far as me and other "Hispanics" are concerned, she is Hispanic. Latino / Latina is the most obnoxious term, it implies you are Latin or speak Latin. I refuse to use it or refer to myself as Latina, plus it's not even a word in English, it is a spanish term. Though nothing grates me more than being Hispanic and being referred to as Spanish! I only speak spanish, I am NOT Spanish as I am not from Spain! As far as Cardozo is concerned, if his parents were of Portuguese descent, not Brazilian, he was just another white man, being straight up European so he was neither Latin American or Hispanic.

Jul. 13 2009 09:44 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


Latest Newscast




WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public


Supported by