Latino or latinx: which term does the community prefer?

The term Latinx was born out of a global movement to introduce gender-neutral pronouns, but its use has not been popularized beyond social networks

Latinos march down 5th Avenue in New York during the Hispanic Heritage Parade in October 2019.
Latinos march down 5th Avenue in New York during the Hispanic Heritage Parade in October 2019.Ira L. Black - Corbis (Getty Images)
Alonso Martínez

The term Latino is relatively new. During the 1970s, when the U.S. government began collecting data on communities from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America, South America and other Spanish-speaking countries, it used the term Hispanic, which was first used in a census in 1980. However, these communities resisted the term during the 1990s because it implied a connection to Spain. Thus, they came up with the term Latino to identify themselves, which was used in a census for the first time in 2000. Today the two are used interchangeably, although some studies argue that people prefer to use their country of origin (Mexican, Cuban or Colombian) as a label, rather than a pan-ethnic term.

Recently, due to other social and cultural changes, a new term has emerged: Latinx, which has generated discussion on whether it should replace the already established Latino as a more inclusive term, particularly taking into consideration people who identify themselves in a non-binary way. However, despite its increasingly common presence on social networks, the community still uses the term Latino to identify itself.

The use of latinx as a term has increased due to the global movement to introduce gender-neutral pronouns, mainly in languages that tend to use different genders for certain words. According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, the first use of latinx was documented more than 10 years ago, and the word was added to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, where it is defined as “a gender-neutral word for people of Latin American descent.”

The dictionary explains: “The masculine/feminine binary is inherent in the Spanish language, which does not have a neutral form of the noun. Therefore, nouns are masculine, generally indicated by ending in ‘-o’ (Latin) or feminine, indicated by an ‘-a’ (Latin).” On the other hand, the site notes that, although the word has become common on social networks and in some academic writings, there is no hint of it becoming part of common usage.

The analysis conducted by Luis Noe-Bustamante, Lauren Mora and Mark Hugo Lopez of Pew Research claims that about one in four U.S. Hispanics (including Puerto Ricans) knew the term, but only 3% have used it. The study sample included more than 3,000 adults. Of these, Hispanics aged between 18 and 29 with a college education were the ones who had heard of the term the most, while its use is more predominant among Hispanic women, 14% of whom say they use it, while only 1% of men do. The study does not clarify whether it took into account people who identified themselves as non-binary.

Of those who were aware of the term, only one-third believe it should be used to describe the Latino or Hispanic population. In fact, although Latino emerged as a term of resistance to Hispanic, a majority of people prefer the term Hispanic, while only 29% prefer Latino.

Some experts have criticized the use of latinx, pointing out that the word is influenced by the English language, since the “x” must be pronounced in English (as “-ex”), and that it is intended for use by non-Spanish speakers. Similarly, it has been pointed out that its use would be a way of changing the Spanish language, when there may be no need for it, since “Latino” or “Hispanic” are gender-neutral terms, according to some arguments.

Others see it as part of a change driven by certain high-level academic groups, rather than society itself. Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) announced in 2021 that he would not use the term in his official communications because of the negative reaction among the community. “The reality is that there is little support for its use and it is perceived as coming from within Ivy League schools.” Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego also removed the use of the term.

Similarly, some organizations have spoken out against the terms Latino or latinx, as they tend to homogenize an entire population. As mentioned in the Pew Research study, members of communities from other countries prefer to use specific terms such as Mexicans, Venezuelans, or Puerto Ricans, as they identify more with each cultural background.

Although most do not use the term latinx, it is likely to continue to be used in contexts of gender equality or support for certain members of the LGBTQI+ community, many of whom have already adopted it.

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