In the United States, Latino refers to non-Anglo-American citizens who are living in the United States of America and are of Hispanic background. The feminine form of the word is Latina. "Latino" is a shortened form of the Spanish word for a Latin American individual, "latinoamericano." The non-biased interpretation would reveal that "latino", in Spanish, means only that something possesses a Latin quality – most often referring to the Latin language or the culture around the former Roman Empire. In Spain, "latinoamericano" is rarely, if ever, abbreviated to "latino". As a general guideline, in Europe, "latin" or "latino" is understood as being from a country that was formerly part of the Roman Empire (and played a large role in it) – naturally this includes Italy, Spain, Portugal, and normally France. Though the British Isles were conquered by Rome, they are never included in this definition, as Roman Britain was subsequently assimilated by the Germanic Anglo-Saxons. Likewise, Asia Minor, North Africa, Illyria and the Levant were part of the Roman Empire, but are no longer Romance speaking.

Latin America refers to countries in South America and North America (including Central America and the islands of the Caribbean) whose inhabitants mostly speak Romance languages, although Native American languages are also spoken there. Most frequently the term Latino is restricted to immigrants from either Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries and their descendants. Inhabitants of the French-speaking areas of Haiti, French Guiana, and the French West Indies are generally not considered to be Latinos; they are typically thought to have more in common culturally with English-speaking West Indians than they do with residents of the mainland of Central and South America.

Latin also refers to the peoples whose native language descends from Latin (language of Ancient Rome) known as Romance languages such as French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Catalan.

(In Italy, the term is sometimes used to denote a person from the Mezzogiorno, the region of the country located generally south of Rome, since in the Middle Ages this region had considerably less Celtic and Germanic influences than northern Italy; one example of this usage was those made by Dante in the Divine Comedy (Inferno, Canto XXII, line 65, and Canto XXIX, lines 90 and 92).)

Latino should not be confused with Ladino (the Spanish-based language traditionally spoken by Sephardic Jews) or Ladin (a Rhaeto-Romance language spoken in the Italian Alps), even though the origin for all three names is the same.

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