Inclusive language for Latinx + Hispanic communities

What’s the most inclusive term? Learn about the debate.

In Practice

September 17, 2021
By Brooke Martin September 17, 2021
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The debate between the terms 

We use language to categorize groups, often failing to effectively — linguistically — describe the people we’re referring to in a single word. People contain multitudes. No one phrase is truly adequate to represent millions of people, especially when so many distinct cultures are lumped together; this is particularly true when it comes to Hispanic and Latino communities. Understandably, there’s always nuance and debate about the most inclusive terminology. Here are numerous terms used, misused, and associated with the Hispanic and Latino communities: 

“Hispanic” vs. “Latino”

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. “Hispanic” refers to Spanish-speaking people from Spanish-speaking countries, whereas “Latino” refers to those from Latin America including Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

“Latine”

Some people, particularly those who come from Spanish-speaking countries, also prefer the gender-neutral term “Latine” because it phonetically fits better with the Spanish language. For those interested in the current movement in Spanish-speaking Latin American countries to use “Latine” (vs. Latinx or Latino), check out this great comic

“Latinx”

While American DEI efforts are quick to use the phrase “Latinx” (pronounced lah-TEEN-ex), it’s not always the best choice. Some people love the term “Latinx,” and others don’t care for it. A Pew Research study cites that only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term “Latinx” and only 3% of self-identifying Hispanic or Latino adults in the U.S. use it to describe themselves. The demographic more likely to prefer the term is younger Hispanic Americans, especially members of the LGBTQIA+ community because the word is more gender-inclusive compared to “Latino” or “Latina.”  

Check out this NPR article from Pew Research Center’s Director of Global Migration and Demography Research, Mark Hugo Lopez, for his thoughts on the study and term “Latinx”.

Here are some different perspectives:

  • Why I embrace the term Latinx — Ed Morales, journalist, and ethnicity and race lecturer, likes the term because he believes it’s a stepping stone into the future for openness and inclusivity.
  • Digging Into the Messy History of “Latinx” Helped Me Embrace My Complex Identity — For John Paul Brammer, writer, speaker, and activist, he uses the term to describe himself because he believes it’s “a word that concedes to malleability, the “x” willing to become whatever it needs to be for the person who wears it.”
  • Can We Please Stop Using ‘Latinx’? Thanx. — Kurly Tlapoyawa, professor and founder of the Chimalli institute of Mesoamerican Arts, believes the term, specifically the “x” in “Latinx”, dismisses cultural inheritance and indigenous origins.
  • The argument against the use of the term “Latinx” — Some, such as Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea, dislike the term because they believe it is “the forcing of U.S. ideals upon a language in a way that does not grammatically or orally correspond with it.” Orbea and Guerra were previously writers for Swarthmore College’s Newspaper, The Phoenix. Orbea is currently attending Yale Law School and Guerra is working in public policy for academic programs.

“Chicano”

Chicano refers to the Mexican American community. The term originates from the 1960s Chicano Movement for civil rights as a way to reclaim and take pride in Mexican-American identity — in much the same way that other activists of the time reclaimed terms used to deride. Like Latino, Chicano is gendered with Chicano/a and Chicanx (gender-neutral, although the same criticisms of Latinx apply). You may have heard of MEChA, or the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan), an organization active on many college campuses that promotes higher education, community engagement, political participation, culture, and history for their community. MEChA highlights ongoing discussions surrounding Chicano identity, with some embracing its activist origins and others seeking greater inclusivity for non-Mexican Americans. To learn more about this intergenerational debate, check out this NPR Code Switch episode.

Who uses what?

All that said, most people don’t have a preferred term. In 2021, 57% of Hispanic Americans surveyed in a Gallup poll don’t have a preference between “Hispanic,” “Latino,” and “Latinx.” If they had to choose a term, 57% chose the term “Hispanic.” Of course, this poll didn’t consider the term “Latine,” a newer term.


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57%

In 2021, 57% of Hispanic Americans surveyed in a Gallup poll don’t have a preference.


So what’s correct?

At the end of the day, the most inclusive, respectful language can vary from person to person. Our advice: ask people what they prefer, adapt when corrected, and stay curious and educated. 

If you do get it wrong, check out this bonus article for tips on navigating bias and staying informed: What If I Say the Wrong Thing? 10 Tips for Culturally Effective People. Perspective dark


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