Hispanic v. Latino v. Latinx — Which Word Do I Use?

The term Latinx is a word used to avoid gender bias among the LBGTQ-Latino community. In September 2018, Merriam-Webster added this word, along with 840 other words, to their dictionary. Barely two months later, the Real Academia Española (RAE) along with Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (ASALE) rejected the use of “x” and “e” as gender-neutral alternatives.

John McWhorter, contributing writer at The Atlantic, recently asked, “Why hasn’t the term Latinx caught on the way African American did in the late 1980’s?”

Latino was enthusiastically taken up as an alternative to Hispanic around the same time African American came into use; the newer term solved the problem created by the fact that Hispanic, which centers language, refers to Spanish-speakers and thus excludes people of Brazilian descent. Latinx, too, purports to solve a problem: that of implied gender. To black people, African American felt like a response to discrimination from outsiders, something black people needed as an alternative to the loaded word black. To Latinos accustomed to gendered nouns, Latinx may feel like an imposition by activists.

It is a word that is both embraced and scorned by members of the Latino community, with many asking if Latinos even need a new word to better describe themselves.

According to Mark Hugo Lopez from the Pew Research Center, they have talked about using the term Latinx in their surveys but have not yet taken action. “Latinx fits within our broader history in the U.S. of using various terms to describe our identity and it is pan-ethnic like Hispanic, and political, in a sense, like Chicano,” said Lopez.

Proponents of the word say there are two arguments for use of the term. First, some individuals do not see themselves as part of the Latino or Latina community. This means that the term can be used to refer to their association with any group. And second, the term is gender-neutral and does not give any masculine or feminine identifiers.

Robyn Moreno, editorial director for Latina Magazine, said, “I don’t think people always understand what it (Latinx) means at first. My initial response was, ‘I am a proud Latina, I don’t want to be something else’… now I get the power and purpose behind the word.”

Moreno added, “This is another term which moves the identity conversation forward. It promotes fairness and inclusivity, which I think is a good thing. It is not about taking away identity; it is about giving more identity to more people.”

On the other hand, Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea, columnists at The Phoenix, wrote: “We are not arguing against gender-inclusive language… we see, however, a misguided desire to forcibly change the language we and millions of people around the world speak, to the detriment of all.” They also stressed that if all Spanish language will be degendered, there are words that will be changed like “hermanx” and “ninx.”

However, this misses the point on the use of the term Latinx according to Roy Perez, associate professor of English and American Ethnic Studies, at Willamette University.

“No one is out to neutralize the whole Spanish language, and it would be impractical to do so,” Perez said. “This is an English-language and Spanglish debate that can get blown out of proportion.”

From a marketing perspective, there is currently no consensus on the use of the term Latinx. As with many other message development considerations, one must consider the target audience and adapt messaging, cultural cues — and word use — accordingly.

Perhaps Tatiana Arguello, General Manager of KDEN, Denver’s Telemundo affiliate, says it best: “Not everyone is going to love it. Some people are confused by it and others see it as disrespectful. Most U.S. Latinos today (especially those who are millennials and younger) coexist in two cultures and are able to slide in and out of both worlds, and languages, seamlessly.”

And the words they use to describe themselves should be equally seamless.

Latinx Conversation, Part 2
‘Hispanic’ Preferred Over ‘Latinx’ When They Describe Ethnicity

ThinkNow Research recently published the results of a study that found 98% of Latinos do not identify with ‘Latinx’ label. The media attention garnered both praise and criticism, with many questioning the survey methodology. Given the overwhelming response, ThinkNow decided to do a follow-up with double the base size — 1,000 respondents this time — and added an LGBTQ* over-sample. And guess what they found?

    • The research again showed that “Hispanic” is ranks highest, followed by “Latino/Latina.” “Latinx,” on the other hand,  ranked last in both surveys.
    • “Hispanic” is favored among Latinos who identify as LGBTQ when describing ethnicity.
    • “Hispanic” is preferred among college-educated and higher-income Hispanics, as well as Hispanics ages 18-44.
    • The assumption that college-educated Hispanics or younger Hispanics prefer the term “Latinx” is not supported in the data. In fact, this group is the most likely to prefer using their country of origin + “American” to describe their ethnicity.
    • Almost 60% of respondents either don’t like the term very much or find it offensive.

Mario Carrasco, Co-Founder & Principal at ThinkNow, sums it up — “The results are clear. Hispanics, overall, prefer to be referred to as ‘Hispanics’ or ‘Latinos.’ While the origins of ‘Latinx’ are noble and signal a more inclusive mindset, companies, brands, and politicians looking to connect with Hispanics should consider this research before attempting to win over consumers and voters. Even the best intentions will fall flat if you are out of touch with your audience.”

* Another valid concern regarding the previous study was the representation of LGBTQ respondents, as the term “Latinx” was, in part, coined to address the gendered nature of terms like “Latina/Latino.” To address this methodological concern, MPC included an oversample of 11% (114 respondents) who identify as LGBTQ. Furthermore, they included a sample of 360 respondents who are not LGBTQ themselves but know others who are. “Hispanic” is preferred, while “Latinx” barely registers.

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