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Three Considerations for Using the Term LatinX

With the reflections and celebrations of National Hispanic Heritage Month now in full swing, we’re almost certain that there’s one term you will have seen across articles and press releases, websites and social media: “LatinX.”

The goal of the term “LatinX” is designed to be more inclusive by avoiding the gendered and binary-nature of the Spanish language where words are either masculine or feminine, and plurals, like “Latino,” default to the masculine. But despite first appearing online in 2004, its use hasn’t exactly exploded. A well-published 2020 Pew Research poll found that 61% of bilingual Spanish- and English-speaking adults surveyed identified with the term “Hispanic,” while 29% preferred to be called “Latino.” Just 4% of people identified as “LatinX.” And while last year’s awakening on DEI issues have likely fueled a surge in the use of LatinX, the appropriateness of the term itself has been debated.

Language can be fickle. New terms can be powerful, but even with the best of intention, some can backfire, by inadvertently causing division. We’ve had a number of clients come to us recently to find the right words to communicate about DEI. So, we rolled up our sleeves, dove into the literature, went back over our past work, and consulted our team of Language Strategists on various terms of identity. Here’s what we found on LatinX.

If you have been considering using LatinX in your communications at work or in your personal life, keep these three considerations top of mind.

1) Consider the context

Per the USC Aiken Inclusive Language Guide, when you’re referring to an individual whose ethnic origins are Latin American, use Latino, Latina, or LatinX, depending on the person’s gender. Male should be Latino. Female should be Latina. Non-binary should be LatinX. If you don’t know someone’s gender, this is the best place to use LatinX — it’s the most inclusive way to describe them.

With groups, you have a choice. If you want to be truly inclusive, use LatinX, but Latino is still accepted as appropriate, as traditionally a group of mix gendered people can be referred in the plural masculine. If the group is made up of women, then Latinas is also appropriate. One note: if you’re communicating in Spanish, the most common gender-neutral term in use in Latin America and Spain is currently Latine, which provides an easier pronunciation for Spanish speakers. (Gutierrez, 2020)

Just don’t confused Latino/Latina/LatinX/Latine with Hispanic, which refers only to people with ethnic origins in countries where Spanish is spoken. That means Hispanic leaves out Brazil but includes Spain, for example.

2) Consider the debate

Is LatinX about imposing an English-ism on a non-English language? Or is it about evolving language to make more people feel more welcome? It’s a hard line to draw, and Pew’s research is interesting to think about. Does it mean that 96% of bilingual Spanish- and English-speaking adults would feel alienated by a term like LatinX? Interestingly, only 12% of respondents in the Pew study who had heard the term LatinX expressed disagreement or dislike of it. But, only about a quarter of US Hispanics say they have heard it. Until more research is done, do not use the term if you’re not willing to engage in this debate

3) Consider other terms you can use

One of the beautiful things about language is that it’s constantly evolving. But as LatinX shows, it also makes it challenging. It remains to be seen whether LatinX usage will pick up amongst the very population it’s designed to help bring together. But in the meantime, if you don’t feel confident, another beautiful thing about language is there’s always another term you can use – like Latin American.

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