Latin American individuals celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
September, as well as part of October, is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate a diverse and thriving culture in America. This celebration has officially come to Millersville, with food trucks lining the promenade and a massive “Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month” banner hanging in front of the Student Memorial Center.
Hispanic and Latin American culture is diverse in itself, sparking intricate cultural conversations on the complexity of identity. For years, the term “Hispanic” has even been controversial, with more people preferring to use Latino or Latin American due to its colonial origins. For context, “Hispanic” translates to “Spanish person” or “Spaniard,” a name Spanish settlers in the New World gave to themselves as they established their roots in Central and South America. The island of Hispañola, now comprising the modern-day countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, also takes its name from the population. As many Latin Americans do not trace their ancestry to this island and choose not to identify themselves with white colonizers, the term “Latino” has gained popularity in the past few decades. However, a more recent form of American English slang, “Latinx” has generated controversy as well.
“Latinx” is a term quickly gaining traction in cultural conversations, and while it has become much more prominent in the past few years, this neologism, or phrase that is commonly used but not universally accepted, can roughly trace its origins as far back as 2004, at the time of MySpace blogs and obscure forms. In a time where breaking the gender binary and discussing intersectional identities have taken the forefront, latinx and similar terms make their way into common usage. However, this does not mean that everyone, Latin American or not, uses and accepts it as the primary term of choice to describe an entire group of people.
Although I am not Hispanic or Latin American myself, I speak Spanish nearly fluently, having studied the language and culture for nine years, in addition to having family and close friends from various regions of Central and South America. Until around the time the pandemic occurred, “Latino” or “Latina” was the only term I knew in reference to people of Hispanic or Latin American descent. Even after the term “Latinx” began to pop around in conversations, my friends and relatives often expressed indifference or even discomfort with the new lingo. Even today, when I hear the term being used, it is often by other white Americans or social media posts and organizations attempting to be inclusive.
Although using “Latinx” may be helpful and considerate of those who identify as neither male nor female, such lingo may backfire, as it is not only a relatively new phenomenon in everyday language but also is unique to American English, with some even arguing that using “Latinx” in place of the existing “Latino,” is both improper grammar and disrespectful to the Spanish language and Latin American culture. Pronounced Latin-ex, the “ex” sound does not even exist in Spanish, with the closest pronunciation being Latin-huh, as the “x” makes an “h” sound.
To get other perspectives on this issue, I decided to survey my peers and see what hot takes other college students and members of the Millersville community have. In total, nearly 67% of respondents said they prefer to use Latino, while 22% prefer Latinx, and 11% either use both interchangeably or have no preference at all. Out of those surveyed, 33% identified as Hispanic or Latin American, with all of them either preferring to use Latino or not having a preference for either term. None who chose Latinx as their preference identify as Hispanic or Latin American, with their primary reason being that it may be gender neutral or more inclusive.
“I’ve been raised saying I was Latina, so it’s what I feel most comfortable using,” says one student.
“It feels as if it was a solution to an issue people made up rather than a blanket term to actually ease any confusion,” another student responds, “in the continuously evolving world, I personally do not see ‘Latinx’ remaining prominent for very long.”
This stance is not unique to college students, however – larger scale polls, such as those from ThinkNow Research and the Pew Research Center, indicate that Latinx is either only preferred by a minority of people, with many Latin Americans being unaware the term even exists. Their results were similar to the survey I conducted, with 65% preferring to use Latino, and 33% accepting Latinx being used, while no more than 3% actually prefer and use the latter term frequently in relevant discussions.
While Latino seems to be the popular choice for people of all ethnic backgrounds, using the term Latinx may be used by those either questioning their own identity or trying to be wary or considerate of their gender-non-conforming peers.
“I use both since I’m figuring out my own gender identity, so I use both when talking to people,” says one student.
On that note, both terms exist for valid reasons. The argument is tedious because, at the end of the day, “Latino” and “Latinx” are only slightly different words with the same meaning, referring to a group of people with their own unique interests and identities, who regardless deserve to be celebrated for their contributions to the world. What term you use is ultimately up to you and what you and those you care about feel comfortable with.