Who identifies as Latinx?
Perhaps you've heard the term Latinx and wondered what it means or where it comes from. If so, you're not alone.
The first thing to understand is that Latinx is a pan-ethnic label, meaning that it refers to people who trace their ancestry to an array of countries and territories south of the U.S.-Mexican border. A number of such terms have been introduced over the years, with the two dominant labels in use today being Hispanic and Latino/a, which originated in the late-1960s and 1990s, respectively.
So why are some people choosing to identify as Latinx rather than the better-known alternatives? According to New York Public Library curator Paloma Celis Carbajal, "It is impossible to separate the term Latinx from the conversations happening around inclusivity and intersectionality" (Carbajal, 2020).
Spanish is one of the many languages that ascribe gender to most nouns and adjectives, including Latino/Latina. But what about persons who identify outside the gender binary? That's where Latinx comes in. Writing for NBC News, Raul A. Reyes explains, "By dropping the traditional -o or -a at the end of the root word, 'Latin,' Latinx encompasses those who identify outside the gender binary" (Reyes, 2017).
Latinx is thought to have originated in the early 2000s, but it came into more frequent usage in the months following the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, as people took to social media to mourn and honor those who lost their lives, many of whom were LGBTQ+ (Brammer, 2019).
In recent years, the term has gained traction as a way of being inclusive of people with nonbinary identities, especially among LGBTQ+ activists and student groups. It has also begun appearing more regularly in the mainstream media and some corporate and governmental communications. Reflecting this wider usage, Merriam-Webster added Latinx to its dictionary in 2018.
But that doesn't mean the term has caught on with everyone. A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Institute found that fewer than 1 in 4 U.S. Hispanics have heard of Latinx, and only 3% use it to describe themselves. Its usage is highest among Hispanic women between the ages of 18-29 (14%), as compared with Hispanic men in that age cohort (just 1%) (Noe-Bustamante, 2020).
Among Hispanic Americans, the cohorts most likely to have heard of the term, whether or not they use it to describe themselves, are U.S.-born, college-educated Millennials and members of GenZ who are predominantly English speakers or bilingual, in contrast to less educated groups, older generations, foreign-born persons and individuals who mainly speak Spanish (Noe-Bustamante, 2020).
The use of Latinx has also come under fire from critics who argue that it is difficult or even impossible to pronounce in Spanish and that it doesn't fit within the existing structure of the language. In response, some advocates of a gender-neutral term have begun to use Latine. Carbajal explains, "Since some words in Spanish have an 'e' at the end and can be either masculine or feminine (estudiante [student], for example), the word Latine can be used in a gender neutral fashion" (Carbajal, 2020).
Advocates for the term Latinx argue that it's not a matter of replacing other terms such as Latino/a or Hispanic. Rather, adding Latinx (and Latine) to the lexicon simply provides a broader array of options for self-identifying, creating a more inclusive language overall. As Carbajal puts it, "The fact that there are several terms to identify people with ancestry from Spanish speaking territories or from countries south of the U.S.-Mexican border is a sign of richness and depth of these cultures" (Carbajal, 2020).
So, how do you know whether to refer to someone as Latinx--or Latine, for that matter? Dr. Arlene Gamio, author of Latinx: A Brief Guidebook, says, when in doubt, just ask. "That's the only way to know what to call someone or how to respect their identity" (Brammer, 2019).
About the author--Kathleen Clark is Chief Learning Officer of Identiversity Inc. She lives with her family in Charlotte, NC and writes widely on topics relating to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Check out Paloma Celis Carbajal's recent article on the history of terms from Hispanic to Latine.
Read the full NBC news article on Latinx by Raul A. Reyes
Explore the findings from the Pew Research Institute's survey of U.S. Hispanics on the term Latinx.
Carbajal, Paloma Celis. (2020, September 29). From Hispanic to Latine: Hispanic Heritage Month and the Terms That Bind Us. New York Public Library. https://www.nypl.org/blog/2020/09/29/hispanic-heritage-month-terms-bind-us
Noe-Bustamante, Luis, et al. (2020, August 11). About one-in-four U.S. Hispanics have heard of Latinx, but just 3% use it. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2020/08/11/about-one-in-four-u-s-hispanics-have-heard-of-latinx...
Reyes, Raul A. (2017, November 6). To be or not to be Latinx? For some Hispanics, that is the question. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/be-latinx-or-not-be-latinx-some-hispanics-question-n817911?icid=...