Latino, Latina, Latinx? Which term is preferable

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Sept. 15 marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. It runs through Oct. 15. NewsChannel 13 will mark that heritage with a series of stories.

However, even as we celebrate this month, the term Hispanic has some controversy around it.

As of 2020, 18.7% of the U.S. population identifies as Hispanic or Latino. That’s up 12 million people from the last census in 2010.

The census starting using the term Hispanic in 1980.

“The claim was that it was an imposed label upon this particular group of people,” said Dr. Jose Cruz, a political science professor at the University at Albany. “What was not often mentioned in that debate was the federal government did consult with a number of groups — mostly Mexican-origin organizations.”

Debating the Alternatives

However, the debate stuck around. There was a move to other terms, now including people who were not of Spanish origin.

“The alternative was Latino, because that particular label provided some room for people from Brazil, or people from Jamaica, West Indies to be part of that pan ethnic category,” Cruz said.

The debate, Cruz said, ended in a draw, with both terms widely used.

More terms popped up. One of those was Latinx. That term came with its own controversy.

“It dissolves particular identity into something unknown and uncertain,” Cruz said. “Some people might prefer that. I particularly don’t prefer to be known as X.”

Importance of Inclusion

Arely Garcia, the director of equity, diversity and inclusion at FoodCorps, agrees that Latinx isn’t the best term for her, personally.

“What Latinx, kind of – for me at least – is a pop culture term,” Garcia said. “[That’s] fine and great, because as I mentioned before, it’s a doorway to opening these other conversations about culture and belonging and identity.”

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However, she mentioned her organization settled on Latine – a gender-neutral version of Latino and Latina.

“I like to use Latine because it is easier to implement in Spanish language,” Garcia said. “X is not a very common letter that is used in Spanish.”

FoodCorps wrote an article highlighting why it feels the alternative, gender-neutral terms are important.

“Society is now more inclusive,” Garcia said. “We’re now talking about LGBTQ+ rights, and then the younger generation is pushing for that.”

Overall, both Garcia and Cruz said, the more specific you are, the better.

“Venezuelans will say, ‘I am Venezuelan, not Hispanic,’” Cruz said. “Cubans [will say], ‘I am Cuban. I am not Hispanic or Latino.’”

While these blanket terms may start a conversation about inclusivity, Garcia says, there is still the problem of exclusion.

“I think it’s also important to know that by using an umbrella term, we’re also excluding folks,” Garcia said. “Latinos or Latinas or Latines are not a monolith.”

A continuing conversation and debate – one that may not end anytime soon. Garcia says she thinks years from now there will be even more terms, with maybe even the name Hispanic Heritage Month requiring an upgrade.