Understanding the Terms Latino, Latinx, Hispanic, and More

Posted on November 11, 2022

by Teresa A

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, you may have noticed the term Latino or Latinx used in place of Hispanic, and even negative articles or social media posts about the term Latinx. The struggle to find and agree on a term to describe people of different racial, ethnic, and national origins is not new. While there are many articles and information about the topic, this blog will attempt to provide the basics as well as resources to learn more.

Hispanic

From the 1980s to the early-2000s, the term Hispanic was most often used to describe a person from Spain or a Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. The term was first used in the 1980 U.S. Census and was adopted after the previous census asked if “persons were of Spanish origin.” The question was included in the census due to efforts made by the National Council of La Raza, a Chicano civil rights advocacy organization. Activists pushed for population data because they recognized that the data was essential to leveraging funding and legislation.

Some of the concerns with the term Hispanic is that it includes people from Spain, the country responsible for colonizing most of Latin America, and excludes people from Latin America who do not speak Spanish, such as Indigenous populations and Brazilians who speak Portuguese.

Chicano/a

Chicano/a refers to individuals of Mexican descent and became popular during the 1960s as Mexican Americans pushed back against discrimination and fought for their civil rights.

Latino/a

Latino/a refers to someone of Latin American ancestry or from Latin America. The term has been around since the early 19th century but started gaining popularity in the 1970s and continued until it was added to the 2000 census. Latino is thought to be more inclusive of those from or of Latin American descent. However, Spanish is a gendered language unlike English, meaning nouns and articles have assigned genders. Masculine words end in o and feminine words end in a. This is what led to Latinx.

Latinx

The origins of the term Latinx are unclear. However, it is used as a gender-neutral term, inclusive of nonbinary individuals of Latin American descent. The term has recently gained popularity among the LGBTQ community, younger generations, advocacy groups, academia, and others who support its inclusivity. Proponents of its use seek to acknowledge the discrimination LGBTQ people have faced in their own community and appreciate its openness. However, some oppose the use of the term arguing that the term is unnecessary or that it is an English word being pushed upon people who do not identify with the term.

Afro-Latino/a, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-Latinidad

Other terms that you may have heard of are Afro-Latino/a, Afro-Latinx, or Afro-Latinidad. These terms refer to someone of African and Latin American ancestry. This includes individuals from Latin American countries with African ancestry or those with African American or Latin American parentage.

The debate over these terms will continue because of the complexities of trying to fit people with diverse backgrounds, cultures, histories, biases, opinions, races, ethnicities, and nationalities into one box or one word. No single term can encompass or reflect the experiences of all people with Latin American roots. For us at the Library, the Latino Cultural Committee tends to use Latinx as it aligns with our pursuit to be as inclusive as we can and our value of being welcoming to all our community members.

Articles:

About One-in-Four U.S. Hispanics Have Heard of Latinx, but Just 3% Use It, Pew Research Center

Latinx Is A Term Many Still Can’t Embrace, NPR

Why I Embrace the Term Latinx, The Guardian

What’s the Difference Between Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx? University of California

About 6 Million U.S. Adults Identify as Afro-Latino, Pew Research Center

Op-Ed: This Is Why We Need Afro-Latinx Added to the Dictionary, Remezcla