Hispanic, Latino and Latinx: 'Complicated, but it's evolving'

ByJessica Dominguez KTRK logo
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Hispanic, Latino and Latinx: 'Complicated, but it's evolving'
Hispanic, Latino or Latinx? Learn more about the meaning behind the terms and why they matter.

When it comes to identifying as Hispanic, Latino or Latinx -- it can be complex.

For millions of people, how one chooses to identify comes with a sense of "orgullo," or pride. In this case, cultural pride.

"We can see progress being made by just looking at these terms, examining them and identifying the differences that really bring us together," said Amara Aguilar, a professor at the University of Southern California.

Aguilar said Hispanic tends to refer to language. Many people from Spanish-speaking countries will often refer to themselves as Hispanic. Hispanic also refers to those from Spain.

The terms Hispanic and Latino are sometimes used interchangeably and overlap in many ways. And although they are separate terms, a person can be both Hispanic and Latino, but it also does not mean everyone considers themselves both.

By 1980, the term Hispanic was on the U.S. census. The term was born after decades of lobbying by The National Council of La Raza, known today as UnidosUS.

Hispanic Heritage Month begins in the middle of September. That's because five Central American countries all celebrate Independence Day on September 15.

As for the term Latino, by definition, it describes a native or inhabitant of Latin America -- a person of Latin American origin living in the United States.

"Latino tends to refer to geography, so Latin American countries would include people of Latino descent," Aguilar said.

Latinx is a term gaining some popularity, especially among younger people for being gender-neutral, though some criticize it for anglicizing the Spanish language which has gendered pronouns, adjectives and nouns. Some argue it's insensitive to the Spanish language, in which all nouns carry a gender. Others feel un-gendering the language entirely is a way to be more inclusive.

"The word Latinx is another option for people to feel seen and heard," said Martha Garcia from Southern California. "I feel like that's really valuable -- to see everyone for who they want to be and who they tell you they want to be."

A recent Pew Research study found that one in four U.S. Hispanics or Latinos have heard of the word Latinx, but only about 3% use it.

"Another concept that I've been hearing that I kind of like is Latine with an 'e,'" said Omar Torres-Kortright, a Puerto Rican man from New York.

There are choices when it comes to these terms, but these labels don't completely represent or please everyone.

"I choose both boxes. My mom is Mexican, my stepdad is Puerto Rican, and my biological father is Black," said Michelle Santana, an Afro-Latina woman from Orange County, California. "My parents did a very good job making sure that I was immersed in the Black community with my school. And I'm so grateful because ... representation matters."

"We need to embrace those differences," Aguilar said. "We really want to look at all of these differences as something that really brings us together."

From actors to activists, people share stories of celebrating their heritage, expressing their identity as Latino, Latinx, or Hispanic, and representing and embracing their diverse cultures. Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with "Our America: Todos Unidos" on ABC Owned Television Stations streaming apps and Hulu.

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with "Our America: Todos Unidos," premiering September 15 on ABC Owned Television Stations streaming apps and Hulu.