Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Deborah. Deborah Wonders, “What contributions did Hispanic/Latino people make to America?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Deborah!

What do Jennifer Lopez, Ellen Ochoa, Sonia Sotomayor, Marco Rubio, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmy Smits, and Carlos Santana have in common? If you recognize most, if not all, of these names, then you might guess that they're all famous.

Although that's true, there's something else they have in common. Can you guess what it is? They're all Hispanic! Or are they all Latino?

You may have heard one or both of those terms used for each of these famous Americans. But do they mean the same thing?

Although many people use the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" interchangeably, they actually have different meanings. There is significant overlap between the terms, but their differences may make only one term correct in certain circumstances.

Hispanic and Latino are often mistakenly used to refer to race or color. Instead, these terms actually describe ethnicity.

Hispanic is a term that focuses on language and describes the culture and people of areas formerly ruled by the Spanish Empire. This would include areas such as Mexico, Central America, and most of South America. The common thread among Hispanic people is the shared common language of Spanish. 

Latino (or Latina, or Latinx), on the other hand, focuses on geography and describes people of Latin American descent. This would include countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and North America whose people speak Romance languages, such as Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Based upon those definitions, it's easy to see how much overlap there is between the terms Hispanic and Latino. To make things more confusing, the term "Hispanic" comes from the Latin word for "Spain," while “Latino” comes from the Spanish word for "Latin."

To see where the two terms differ, look no further than people of Brazilian descent. Since most people in Brazil speak Portuguese rather than Spanish, they often identify as Latino but not Hispanic.

As you can see, the terms have a lot of overlap, but they're not completely interchangeable. Additionally, many people choose not to use either term. Instead, they prefer to be referred to simply as Americans or by their family's national origin, such as Mexican-American, Cuban-American, etc.

Today, there are more than 56 million Hispanic and Latino people in the United States. That's over 17% of the U.S. population. By the year 2060, those totals are expected to grow to 28% of the population for a total of 119 million people.

As America's largest ethnic minority, the contributions of Hispanic and Latino people to American culture are widespread and significant. Indeed, they have been in North America since before the first English speakers arrived.

From the names of streets, cities, and states to many of the foods we eat, Hispanic and Latino culture is interwoven into modern American culture. It's impossible to summarize in a brief description the depth and breadth of the impact Hispanic and Latino culture has made. One thing is for sure, though: life in America would be vastly different without their impact.

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1

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