This piece was published as part of the News’ 2022 Lifting Up Latinx Identity special issue, celebrating Latinx Heritage Month from Sep. 15 to Oct. 15.
The terminology used to describe people of Latin American or Hispanic descent has become increasingly confusing for people in the Latinx community and others alike.
The term “Hispanic,” historically the most popular, refers to any descendant of Spanish-speaking communities in the Americas and Spain. According to an infographic by Sebastian Ramírez Feune for the Harvard Institute of Politics, the term “Hispanic” is a complicated one — serving as more of a linguistic label that includes most Latin American countries as well as the African country of Equatorial Guinea, another nation with colonial ties to Spain. The term does not refer to all Latin people, only the Spanish-speaking ones, and has received backlash recently because of its ties to Spanish colonization. Many Latin people feel that the United States Census Bureau imposed the label Hispanic on all Latin immigrants, regardless of nation of origin or language spoken.
The term “Latino” encompasses all Latin people with roots in Latin America, which includes Portuguese-speaking Brazilians and Haitian-Creole-speaking Haitians, but not Spanish-speaking Spaniards.
But in recent years, the term “Latino,” too has faced criticism for being inherently male-gendered. “Latina,” its counterpart, only refers to those of the same background who identify as female.
One gender-neutral term to describe someone of Latin American descent is “Latinx.” About one-in-four U.S. Hispanics have heard of the term, and only 3 percent use it, according to a Pew Research study from 2020. Yet the Spanish language is naturally gendered and conflicts with gender-neutral terms arising from the usage of “Latinx.” The use of “x” to replace the “o” in “Latino” is seen with disdain by many in the community, as they feel it crosses a line — anglicizing an identity label to the point where, for many, it loses its meaning and cannot be pronounced within the Spanish language.
A solution that some use is “Latine” — another gender-neutral term that can be used in lieu of “Latinx” — as it aims to remove the gender binary found in the general Spanish language by using the neutral “e” to end the term instead of an “a” or “o,” while still preserving the linguistic norms of Spanish. This term then opens the door to gender-neutralizing all Spanish nouns by replacing the “a’s” and “o’s” with “e’s,” and it is easier to pronounce and acclimate into the Spanish language and grammar. Many still disagree with this proposition because of the old linguistic traditions of “o’s” and “a’s” that the Spanish language has upheld for hundreds of years, considering the appending of an “e” to be antithetical to the language.
The University and La Casa Cultural, which describes itself as Yale’s Latino Cultural Center, refer to this month of recognition as Latinx Heritage Month. For that reason, the News has decided to use the gender-neutral term “Latinx”. Though we choose to adhere to what the University and La Casa use in the present, the News wants to recognize that each of these terms has its own set of pros and cons and should not be used interchangeably.
PALOMA VIGIL is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College from Miami, Florida. She can be reached at email@example.com .