In the 1970s, many Americans started using the term “Hispanic” to identify people with a heritage in Spain or Latin America. In the 1990s, Americans added the word “Latino” for men and “Latina” for women.
But it bothered some people that we also used the male word for groups that included both men and women. And some people prefer not to identify with either gender.
So now the preferred term, coined in the new millennium, is Latinx. Who prefers that exactly?
A new poll by the Pew Research Center finds that barely a quarter of Americans who identify as Hispanic or Latino have even heard of the word Latinx. And only 3% say they actually use it to describe themselves.
KCRW speaks with Daniel Hernandez, who covered this for the LA Times.
KCRW: Were you surprised to see that only 3% of Latinos were using Latinx?
Daniel Hernandez: “It was pretty surprising and … a little lower than I expected. Because you go online today or you check out some of the campuses here in California and in the southwest, Hollywood, even in newspapers like my own, you do see it sort of popping up more and more.
And I think these results really are kind of a bucket of cold water on the idea that this has become kind of the more normalized or go-to catch-all term for this very big and very diverse community.
And I think that's a bit of a wake up call on the possibility that some of us might exist and operate in these kinds of bubbles or silos of information, in which we sort of think that the way that we're speaking to each other — young people, democratic, liberal, progressive leaning people, English dominant Latinos, U.S.-born Latinos — is kind of the way that everyone speaks to each other. And I think that this survey shows us that that is not the case.”
Why do we have a word like this? What is it describing? Who are the folks that are included in this new label?
“It's important to note that it was coined among queer Latin people. … We need to always recognize and respect and honor the problem that a term like Latinx is trying to address.
Latino and Hispanic both emerged in American English. And it mostly serves the needs of a broader American society to address this massive group. It's similar, let's say, to Asian American, which can be used to describe Korean Americans, Chinese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, and so on. But among the Asian community, people identify generally usually by their national origin. Well, the same is true among the Hispanic, Latino community. People generally identify as either Cuban or Mexican or Salvadorian or Guatemalan.
… This is a term that tends to serve non-Latinos to sort of have a term for all of us.
But secondarily, I would say the current debate over this term — because there is actually a pretty hardy, raging debate over its use — should it erase the needs to center queer Latinx people, and understand that they don't feel represented by either Latino or Latina?”
What would Latino or Latina people prefer to be called then?
“It gets to sort of where we fit in society. I've always said blow the whole house up. We don't need these terms at all, or very rarely.
Oftentimes we will use Latino when we are referring to the guys outside the Home Depot who are day laborers. But Latino could also refer to someone like Alfonso Cuarón or Guillermo del Toro; Mexican-born, Mexican-raised Hollywood directors; even Antonio Banderas, who's from Spain.
It is such a broad grouping that really any term, I think, is always going to have kind of dead zones that aren't being addressed. So I think moving forward, we're never going to agree … on any single term that is useful for all of us.
It will be interesting to see if Latinx does gain more traction. But I think … Latinx attempts to address a problem in Spanish for a term that was invented in English. And so that's why me in particular, although I am queer myself, I do sort of feel that Latino tends to be the most generally useful term still to … identify this group when large-scale grouping and identification needs to occur.
That might change in five years. That might change in two years. That might change in 100 years. But once you start attempting to degender, ‘Spanish,’ well, you're literally going to have to change half of the words in Spanish and half the language. And Spanish will end up being just a collection of x’s across your page. And I just don't think that is viable or reasonable at this point.”
— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Christian Bordal