Identification. Despite the connotations of "Ladino" during the colonial period, the term took root; it persists only in Central American usage, with two distinct meanings. According to some authors who specialize in this area, the term "Ladino" is applied to any non-Indian. So, for example, the populations of Guatemala, and Honduras, and the Mexican state of Chiapas would be divided between Indians and Ladinos. North of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the term "mestizo" is now often used to refer to rural non-Indian people. According to other researchers, the classification is more complex: it is necessary to employ the more traditional colonial vocabulary and speak of Indians, criollos, mestizos, and Ladinos—including in the Ladino group those who have deliberately rejected any cultural link to Indian culture. "Criollo" is a term usually reserved for Whites born in the New World without any admixture of Indian. Mestizos are people with mixed Indian-Hispanic ancestry. Whatever their contact with Indian culture has been, Ladinos try to prove that they have no connection with it. Ladino identity is fragile because it is defined in negative terms—by what one is not; it is acquired by maintaining contact with the culture of more urban areas. In this article, we adopt the more restricted, but more complex, definition of "Ladino," as the culture of persons who have some degree of Indian culture in their background and who have turned away from it to seek a new, non-Indian, national, and urban cultural identity.
Location. Ladinos are found intermixed with indigenous, mestizo, or criollo groups and with mestizos or criollos in the areas of Chiapas, Guatemala, and Honduras, mainly in the cities and larger villages of the region. They do not form communities identifying themselves as Ladino; rather they try to imitate or blend in with criollos or mestizos. Under the other definition of "Ladino," however, as "anyone with a non-Indian culture," many rural villages are characterized as "Ladino" by social scientists because they have no obvious indigenous cultural characteristics and, in particular, no indigenous language.
Demography. According to the Guatemalan censuses of 1970 through 1990, 45 percent of the total population of the country is classified as "Ladino," amounting to approximately 4,500,000 people. In Chiapas, the category of "Ladino" is not registered in the census; in 1990, 240,429 non-Indian people resided in that state, constituting 19 percent of the population, but this is not a measure of the number of Ladinos in the cultural terms outlined here.
In the case of Honduras, the non-Indian population consists of around 4,200,000 people—that is, about 70 percent of the total population of the country; of these, only a few hundred thousand people on the urban periphery are Ladinos.
Linguistic Affiliation. Ladinos are by definition speakers of Spanish, the language they use habitually. Spanish gives them a sense of identity, despite the fact that many learned it as a second language and can also speak an indigenous language. They try, however, to deny that they know their mother tongue—and try to forget it—and, of course, they will not teach it to their children. Yet their Spanish is filled with terms and words that have their origin in Indian languages spoken in the area.