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Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx? The Trouble with Group Labels

As educators honor National Hispanic Heritage Month this month in school, many are wondering: what we should call this month to our students? Is it still being called Hispanic Heritage Month? Or Latino Heritage Month? Should it be called Latinx Heritage Month? Or perhaps, is it something else entirely?  

If you are unsure what term to use, it’s not something to be embarrassed about. By being concerned about the proper terminology, it shows sensitivity towards others. There’s not one correct word to use, but we hope this sheds some light on the labels of Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, and even newer terms. 

Hispanic vs. Latino: A Bit of History

The word Hispanic is directly tied to the Spanish Monarchy. It dates back to hundreds of years ago at the time when European explorers such as Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro came to the Americas and claimed the land for Spain, despite Native Americans already living there. The explorers called themselves “hispanos”, or people from Spain. Later, the term hispanos began to include all Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America except Brazil where Portuguese is the official language and Caribbean countries, such as Haiti, where French is spoken. 

The term Hispanic includes

It was during the 1970s census when the term Hispanic was popularized in the United States. The U.S. government needed a term to use to classify all the nationalities of Latin American countries represented in the country. While Hispanic was picked as that term, some in these communities took issue to it because of the origins of Spain’s  colonization of Latin American countries and its mistreatment of the native people living on the land. 

In the 1990s, the term Latino began to rise in popularity as an alternative to the term Hispanic. It is a shorter way of saying Latinoamericano, meaning Latin American or people from Latin America. The term Latino covers all Latin American countries including Brazil and other French speaking countries in the Caribbean, but not Spain since it is located in Europe. 

The term Latino includes

The main difference between the terms Hispanic and Latino, is that Hispanic, is based strictly on language and includes people that speak Spanish, while Latino is based on geographical location and encompasses people located in Latin American countries, even ones where Spanish is not spoken.  

The difference between hispanic and latino

Even though the word Latino does cover a larger group of people compared to Hispanic, it is a gendered word. Because Spanish is a gendered language, Latino is masculine word and by definition means “men from Latin America”, despite it being used to refer to both men and women. The term Latina on the other hand means “women from Latin America.”  Some people also believe that the term Latino excludes those of Afro-Latino backgrounds or those from Latin American countries with African ancestry. Because of these concerns, a new term was created: Latinx. 

Latinx: Inclusive, But…

Latinx is a gender neutral alternative to Latino.  Experts say the term became popular in 2004 with the LGBTQ+ community who wanted a more inclusive word that they could identify with. Latinx seeks to equalize men and women, while also including gender nonbinary individuals. The purpose of the term is to create inclusivity, but it’s popular mainly within the United States, not in Latin America. It is also more popular on social media channels than with people of Latin American heritage and it’s not used as much in everyday life. 

In fact, according to a 2019 Pew Research study 76% of Latino adults living in the United States had never heard the term “Latinx,” 23% had heard the term, but only 3% use Latinx to describe themselves.  A possible reason for its lack of use is because the word ends with an X, and in the Spanish language, there is no word that ends with an X after a consonant. Enter a new term: Latine. 

Latine: A New Term on the Scene

A brand newcomer on the scene, “Latine” was created to be a term that would actually fit within the Spanish language while still being gender nonbinary. With no dominant gender implied, Latine represents a generational progression towards inclusivity and intersectionality. Although it’s a bit too early to know how this term will be accepted, many hope it will grow in popularity within the Latin American community as an alternative to Latinx. 

Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Latine

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line:

  1. There is no one correct answer here because it comes down to identity. How does someone want to be referred to?
  2. Group labels are restrictive, misleading, and don’t give the full picture. The term intersectionality acknowledges that people have multiple identities, such as race, gender, and class, that fit together and impact how they experience the world. Someone that identifies as a middle class, Latinx, female has a different experience from someone that identifies as a female, Latina, working mother. Practicing intersectionality, recognizes these unique identities.
  3. Celebrating cultural heritage months such as National Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month allow educators to commemorate and focus on individuals from these communities both past and present, but intersectionality must be studied in tandem to fully understand individuals’ experiences. 

If you’re looking to dig deeper into the difference between Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinx, and Latine with your students, please check out the NexGen News video and educational resources for our story “Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx Heritage Month?”

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