Modern Terms

Latin, Hispanic, Boricua, What Does it All Mean?

Are You Spanish?

Yes, and No, it depends. Let’s Find Out Below.

Identity has been a hot topic for centuries, but in recent times it has taken a new form. These days people are trying to understand who they are and where they fit in society, and they are also more aware of how they refer to others.

In reference to Puerto Ricans both on the island and in the states you will hear terms thrown around like Latin, Latino Hispanic, Spanish, Boricua, and the new Latinx. But most people do not know what they mean or where they come from.

In this glossary, you can better understand all of them and how they do and do not apply.

Taino word for Indigenous Puerto Ricans before they were renamed. Boricua translates to “The Brave People”

The Taino name for the island of Puerto Rico before Spanish invaders (Conquistadors) renamed it

Latin name for the Iberian peninsula, literally “country of the Spaniards.”

 

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Someone from a Spanish speaking country that shares similar cultural elements, or more literally people whose ancestry comes from Spain or any other Spanish Dominant speaking country. However, it is also complex in that you are considered Hispanic even if you do not speak Spanish, if at least your family descends from a Spanish speaking country.

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The majority of Latin America (Latin lol), and Spain are considered Hispanic. However, there are countries like Brazil who are in Latin America that are not considered Hispanic, because the dominant language spoken there is Portuguese.

Although it gets more complicated again when we look at Equatorial Guinea, or New Guinea. The Tarfaya region, and the territories of early-21st-century Equatorial Guinea, as well as Western Sahara, North Morocco, and Ifni, were mostly defined as Spanish colonial Africa.

Yes, Spain did go to Africa for more than just slaves, they also settled lands there and established Spanish speaking countries in the African continent. In 1968, Equatorial Guinea was the last of these colonies to establish independence from Spain, meaning that Spanish was still the national language spoken there and still is to this day. Does this mean that Equatorial Guinea is a Hispanic country with Hispanic people. Well, no. The reason why is again, complicated. Given that the culture in African countries is very different from that of those in the Caribbean and Latin American countries, and that Africa was colonized much later than these countries, it was not very long before independence came around and most Spanish colonizers left these countries including Equatorial Guinea. According to research gathered by Ralph Penny and published in his book “A History of the Spanish Language” in 2002, “Spanish is the language of education and the press…However, those who speak Spanish use it as a second language.

Moving on to the dilemma of Latin countries also being Hispanic, there are a few things to take into account. Most definitions of Hispanic do not include Portugal or any country where Portuguese is the primary language. Here is a list of definitions of the word according to valued resources.

  • Merriam Webster:
    of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent and especially of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin living in the U.S.
    of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain.

  • Oxford Languages
    Adjective: relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, especially those of Latin America.
    Noun: a Spanish-speaking person living in the US, especially one of Latin American descent.
  • The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
    defines “Hispanic or Latino” as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.
    The 2010 Census question on Hispanic origin included five separate response categories and one area where respondents could write in a specific Hispanic origin group. The first response category was intended for respondents who do not identify as Hispanic. The remaining response categories (“Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano”; “Puerto Rican”; “Cuban”; and “another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin”) and write-in answers can be combined to create the OMB category of Hispanic.

  • Cambridge Dictionary
    from or connected with Spanish-speaking countries, especially those in Latin America, or having parents or grandparents from these countries.

  • Britannica
    “Hispanic” is generally accepted as a narrower term that includes people only from Spanish-speaking Latin America, including those countries/territories of the Caribbean or from Spain itself. With this understanding, a Brazilian could be Latino and non-Hispanic, a Spaniard could be Hispanic and non-Latino, and a Colombian could use both terms. However, this is also an imperfect categorization, as there are many indigenous peoples from Spanish-speaking countries who do not identify with Spanish culture and do not speak the dominant language.

    To simplify (or perhaps further confuse) matters, the 2010 U.S. Census listed both terms together and specifically mentioned the Spanish-speaking countries/territories of the Caribbean but vaguely excluded non-Spanish speaking countries (many Brazilians, for example, were unsure whether to check the box). In day-to-day life, many Latin American immigrants and descendants simply prefer to state their countries of origin directly.

  • Online Etymology Dictionary
    pertaining to Spain” (especially ancient Spain) 1580s, from Latin Hispanicus, from Hispania “Iberian Peninsula,” from Hispanus “Spaniard” (see Spaniard). Specific application to Spanish-speaking parts of the New World is from 1889, American English; since c. 1972 especially applied to Spanish-speaking persons of Latin American descent living in the U.S. As a noun meaning “Hispanic person” from 1972.


Now things are getting very interesting, but also confusing as heck. So let’s make it a little worse before we make it better.

There are a select few who would argue that Latin Americans, like Brazilians are in fact also Hispanic under the lens of a very limited argument. Looking into the roots of the word Hispanic you find that it is connected to the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula (roughly including  Portugal, Spain, parts of France, Andorra, and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar,) and its provinces that are now Spain and Portugal. The word comes from Latin Hispanicus, and then became Hispania, the combination of Latin and Greek which was in direct reference to the Iberian peninsula. Some historians believe it is related to the dead Indo-European Celtiberian language once spoken by Celtiberian people living in the Iberian Peninsula. It gets better, so bear with me.

Under this lens, one could argue that the word Hispanic is simply a modern reference to said lands, which includes Portugal, therefore including its colonies as well.

Fond nickname for Puerto Rico. The name is primarily used by those who live on the island. The name translates to “Island of Enchantment”.

A very rural person, particularly similar to what people in the U.S. call a “country bumpkin” or a hick. Although, unlike hick, jibaro is almost never used in an offensive manner. In literal use, the word today means farmer or anyone who lives and or works in rural and mountainous regions of Puerto Rico.

 

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You know how you listen to country music, or just someone from down south speak? They usually have a strong accent, and they speak the same words as you but they sound sooooooo different. This is what it is like to talk to a jibaro, but more importantly they also tend to do things and think of things in a way that is old-fashioned and straight-forward.

Jibaro is actually a Taino phrase that was made by combining two words in their language to refer to a specific group of people. 

  1. Jiba = Mountain
  2. Iro = Man

If we look at the word purely for its literal meaning in the Taino language, it directly would translate to “Mountain Man”, but the connotative tone behind it is more similar to a person who lives humbly in the countryside of Puerto Rico.

Fun fact! Jibaro is also used in Cuba where its meaning is closer to “Wild” in that the person is from the wild, and lives within nature outside of society and the commonality of technological advances.

It plainly means someone who originates from Latin America. However the identity is complex in terms of what is considered Latin America.

 

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Atabey is a primordial being, one who existed at the beginning of all things. Her story can be found in many variations across the Caribbean, South America, the Antilles, and in our very own Puerto Rico. She was the mother of all things, and gave birth to the twin gods Yúcahu and Guacar. Some variations of her story describe caves as the openings of her womb, by which all things were born in the Taino imagination. There are other creation stories to corroborate this belief as well, such as the popular story of how the sun (Mauatiatibuel or Cuban Guey) and Moon (Cuban Karaya) were both born from caves. As well as the existence of Coaibai/Coaybay in caves, the home of the dead both who were worthy of paradise (mostly women), and those unworthy that remain sad and apparently bored in the darkness of the caves.

You may find her name spelled in forms like Ata Bey, Atabei, Atabera, Bibi Atabey Atte Itabo Era, Itiba Tahuvava, and Ataveyra. Her story, as found in “Stories from Puerto Rico”—Robert L. Muckley & Adela Martinez-Santiago, is very brief even in non-Puerto Rican versions. Despite this, she is honored by Tainos across all cultures, but if any other myths of her existed, those stories are lost to time. I have uncovered variations of this same short mention of her in the creation myth but nothing else.

The goal of this project is to reinvigorate figures like Atabey. Polishing their existing stories and appearance to reveal the rich heritage that has been hidden for decades. My version of her story is not meant to replace, or reinterpret. It is simply a creative retelling from a narrative of my own making that I hope modern audiences would enjoy hearing, with touches of my personality thrown in for fun. I hope you will leave with both an understanding and deeper appreciation for the Boricua culture of Puerto Rico.

Someone who is of mixed race between European and Indigenous ancestry.

 

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Ok, so this definition comes with a bit of sad history to it so I will place a sexual assault trigger warning here before you read on.

Being a native of any land back when countries were less civilized was a horrible time, especially for women. Slavery was rampant across the African continent, and found its way to America as well as the Caribbean islands. When the Spanish invaded Puerto Rico, they enslaved the Taino, and forced themselves upon the women. 

Some invaders did not stop at raping and consequently forcibly impregnating Taino women, they would go further and force them into marriage. Once the new mixed race child was born, they would grow up raised by an enslaved mother and slave-driving father and by a twisted series of events would become a slave-driver themselves.

And you thought your family was complicated.

These individuals who were half Taino, and Spaniard, were referred to as Mestizo, which is a term used to refer to any person who is the product of European and Indigenous heritage.

The term has a long history with the Spanish colonies like Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, and even pops up in a way in France. We could get into it but it really is a lot.

If you are interested in reading more about the word and its uses/origins, refer to this Wikipedia Link.

A colloquial term used by Puerto Ricans to refer to themselves in Spanish. Basically, the Spanish word for Puerto Rican.

Please do not copy my work. I spent an unholy amount of hours of difficult researching, writing, editing, designing, and illustrating everything on this website by myself!