Latinos are men and women descended from Latin American countries and Spain, including former Spanish territories. Latinos are not a race, but a cultural group loosely tied together with language (Spanish) and religion (Catholic). Latinos can be white or black. Their brown and gold coloring is primarily due to the centuries old mixing of African slaves and Native Americans with people in Latin countries. That definition is broad but so is Latin culture. I could consider myself Latina if I wanted to since my family descended from the Dominican Republic (a Spanish-speaking, Catholic country that is actually part of one country formerly known as Dominique, this is the other side of Haiti, also where my family members descended). I have a nephew who is part Puerto Rican and all the mixes of his mother and part African American and all the Creole-Cherokee-Blackfoot-French-African mixes of my brother.
African Americans are at the core men and women descended from African countries. In America, this definition can include those in this country who were descended from slaves or from free blacks in this country as early as 1649. Africans who were born in the continent but are now living in America as citizens can also be defined as African Americans. What ties people of African descent together is simply origins in the African diaspora and slavery. Africans are extremely diverse and include Muslims, Christians, French-speaking, and Spanish-speaking. In Africa, there are closer ties to the tribal origins than the country origins. In this country, African-Americas are considered the lost tribe of Africa and can trace roots back to the West Coast of Africa or the Caribbean where the bulk of slave trading happened.
In this country, the differences between the two cultures are vast and are often contentious. African-Americans have always been the largest majority and with less than half a percentage point in the 2000 election, were surpassed by Latinos/Hispanics as the largest majority. This difference in statistics catapulted the Latino culture in the eyes of white America. There is more Spanish-language television and actors, more businesses advertise in both languages and Latinos have risen in employment and quality of life. There are some segments of the African-American culture that resent this rise at the perceived cost of lower and middle class segments of the culture. The biggest difference between the two cultures is that some, not all, Latinos are immigrants in this country and thus competition for lesser skilled, lower paying jobs. This represents just a small segment of the society because not all Latinos and not all African-Americans are with lesser income.
Both cultures historically celebrated family and have large extended family ties. Historically, both cultures honored and respected their respective elders. Historically, both cultures looked within for images of beauty, acceptance, and love. Historically, both cultures have been mixed with White and Native American thus producing hues as creamy as vanilla or as rich as espresso. Both cultures historically celebrated religion and both include Catholics as well as Protestants. Both cultures historically lived in the urban regions of this country and in family clusters.
Ultimately, the biggest difference between Latinos and African-Americans comes to language and historical culture, for instance, Latinos of Mexican descent celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, but the Latinos of Puerto Rico do not. For centuries, more African-Americans in St. Louis are heavily Catholic and can trace their family origins to the French-speaking regions of Louisiana and if searched further, to the French-speaking, Catholic and voodoo religions of Haiti. Yet, for centuries, African-Americans in this same city can trace their roots to southern regions like Mississippi and Arkansas. The two cultural groups are not homogeneous and therefore almost impossible to encapsulate into neat packages. It is actually an insult in ways to try to categorize all Latinos as something or all African-Americans as something else.
The primary difference in Latinos and African-Americas is what is perceived by the larger society.