Latino/Hispanic/Latinx: What's the Difference?

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Hispanic Heritage Month 

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month, a month-long (9/15-10/15) celebration to recognize and acknowledge the accomplishments and lived experiences of Hispanic Americans, past and present. In 1968, Hispanic Heritage Week was first observed before expanding to a 30-day event in 1988. Each year, there is a special theme to ground the festivities. This year, the theme is “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation.” (National Archives, 2022). Keeping with the idea of inclusivity, this article explores the history, meaning, and impact of three pan-ethnic labels- Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx.  

Hispanic and Latino 

So, what do each of these words mean and where do they come from? Let’s start with Hispanic. The term originates from the community’s desire to be seen and counted in the mid-late 20th century. This US pan-ethnic label emerged during a time of great lobbying for data and inclusion and was first used in the US Census in 1980 (Bustamante, et. Al., 2020). There are different definitions available, however, Hispanic commonly refers to people who are from or whose ancestry comes from Spanish-speaking countries. Using this definition, people from Spain and much of Latin America would be considered Hispanic (WonderWhy, 2015).  

Latino and Hispanic are often used interchangeably, including by Pew Research Center and the US Census Bureau (Meraji, 2020). While the definitions are different, there is a great deal of overlap.  

Latino emerged in the 1990s and 2000s to encourage a sense of connection through a common history of colonization, as opposed to a connection to Spain (Campos, 2021). The definition refers to people who are from or whose ancestry comes from Latin America (WonderWhy, 2015). Spain is excluded in this definition; however, Portuguese-speaking Brazil is usually included. Latino was present in the 2000 Census for the first time (Bustamante, et. al, 2020). Very generally, Hispanic is more common in the easter portion of the US, whereas Latino is more common in the western portion (WonderWhy, 2015).  

Latinx 

The earliest record of the term Latinx is sometime in the late 1990s, however, it rose in usage and awareness after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 (Meraji, 2020). Latinx is intended to make Spanish more inclusive by removing the default to masculine when referring to groups of people while also being inclusive to nonbinary people (Cool & Associates, 2022).  

However, there are problems with the term. It’s not easy to pronounce in Spanish first off and in some ways replaces an integral element of Spanish (2022). Additionally, because the word has its roots with English-speakers, it can be seen as language imperialism, imposing a new English word on Spanish speakers. Some Spanish-speaking countries have introduced an alternative, Latine, though it is not common in the US (Campos, 2021).  

Community Preferences  

Folks can (and do!) use a range of terms depending on the context, environment, and audience. In general, country of origin labels are usually preferred (Bustamante et. al, 2020). A 2020 Pew Research Study in which 3,030 US Hispanic adults were surveyed found that 50% of respondents had no preference between Hispanic and Latino (2020). When asked to choose, 61% preferred Hispanic, 29% preferred Latino, and 4% preferred Latinx. Among those surveyed, only 23% had heard of Latinx. There were also stark differences between segments of the population. For instance, 32% of US born Hispanics have heard of the term Latinx compared to 16% non-US born. Likewise, 42% of young adults (age 18-29) knew the term, as opposed to 7% of older adults (age 65+). Young Hispanic women (age 18-29) are most likely to use Latinx to describe themselves, however, this is still only 14%.  

Taken together, this topic is nuanced and deep, and it is important to stay aware of community preferences when using language to describe members of this community. For more information, check out the resources below.  

References 

Bustamante, L., Mora, L., Lopez., M. (2020). About One-In-Four US Hispanics Have Heard of Latinx, but Just 3% Use It, Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2020/08/11/about-one-in-four-u-s-hispanics-have-heard-of-latinx-but-just-3-use-it/  

Campos, A. (2021). What’s the Difference Between Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx? Retrieved from https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/choosing-the-right-word-hispanic-latino-and-latinx 

Cool & Associates, LLC. (2022). Hispanic Engagement Toolkit.  

Meraji, S.M. (2020). “Hispanic”, “Latino”, or “Latinx”? Survey Says… Code Sw!tch, Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2020/08/11/901398248/hispanic-latino-or-latinx-survey-says 

National Archives (2022). Hispanic Heritage Month. Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/news/topics/hispanic-heritage-month  

WonderWhy (2015). What’s the Difference Between Latino and Hispanic? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBt5rMD2aDc