By Cindy Y. Rodriguez and Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
(CNN) – The Catholic Church has elected its first pope from South America, a historic milestone that has some wondering whether he should be considered the first “Latino” pope.
"I'm not quite sure how he is being considered the first Latino pope?" wrote Jeremy Marsh in CNN comments. "I guess the real question is, what is the definition of 'Latino'?"
For Julieta Vitullo, 37, a teacher and filmmaker from Argentina, the thought of calling Pope Francis “Latino” never crossed her mind. To her, he is undoubtedly Argentine.
“In South America, we either use our country of origin or use 'Latin Americans.' We don’t define ourselves as Latino. That’s more of an American term, ” she said.
But, that hasn't stopped many Hispanics from using the word.
“As a Latina and Catholic, I can't explain how excited and happy I am for Pope Francis I – the first Latino Pope! #latism” tweeted Sasha Monik Moreno.
CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette wrote a CNN piece about the long wait for the "first Latino pope":
"...[T]he news of a Latino papa has sent a jolt of euphoria through Argentina and throughout Latin America. Imagine winning the World Cup Championship times 10. There also will be a lot of excitement among Latinos in the United States, perhaps enough to reignite their passion for the church and bring them back to Mass.”
But to understand the range of who is Latino, and if the new pontiff qualifies, one has to first the understand the history of Argentina.
About 480 million of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live in Latin America. The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, a city deemed the “Paris of the South.” He was born there in 1936, the son of Italian immigrants.
“His origin is very typical ... many of us have Italian (ancestors),” said Vitullo, “In fact, my great-grandparents were Italian.”
“His parents were Italian immigrants who moved to Argentina and were quickly embraced because of the government's efforts to ‘modernize’ and ‘whiten’ the population,” said Renata Keller, an assistant professor of international relations at Boston University. “If the pope were to ever go back to Argentina, he would be both Italian and Argentinian without any hesitation.”
In Italian tradition, he would be considered Italian – similar to the way a child born to an American parent abroad would be considered American, or have dual citizenship.
“Argentines often have multiple passports because many European countries identify citizenship based upon patriarchal concepts rather than just on where someone was born, ”said Donna Guy, a history professor at Ohio State University.
However, the new pope's interests and tastes are clearly culled from growing up in Argentina. He is said to favor mate - traditional tea from Yerba mate leaves - and to be a cuervo – a fan of the country's soccer team. It also has been reported that he once took part in Argentina's national pastime.
"I like the tango a lot, and when I was young I used to dance it," he told the authors of his 2010 biography El Jesuita, according to NBCLatino.
Like Argentina, identity in the United States is multifaceted, influenced by immigration and national history.
A Pew Hispanic Center survey found that the government’s system of ethnic and racial labeling doesn’t fit easily with Latinos’ own sense of identity.
Out of the those surveyed, 51% said they use their family’s country of origin to describe their identity, 24% said they use the terms “Latino” or “Hispanic”, and 21% say they use "American” most of the time.
Labeling Pope Francis as the “first Latino Pope” may be an attempt to identify with him, since he shares some similarities with Hispanics in the U.S.
"He is also the son of migrants. And for us, Hispanics in the United States, this is very important. ... I think that this topic of migration is going to be very important for him," the Rev. Juan J. Molina, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops associate director for the church in Latin America, told CNN en Espanol. "And we, the Hispanics, the Latinos that now live in the United States ... we can also take some hope and pride that this pope intimately knows and has deeply lived the life of a migrant."
There is comfort in identifying with someone influential or in power.
As Naverrette wrote, “It's human nature to want to see yourself reflected in an organization you belong to. It's why Mormons in the United States were excited at the prospect of electing Mitt Romney president. It's why Jews were just as eager in 2000 to elect Joe Lieberman vice president.”
CNN's Catherine Shoichet contributed to this report.