What Makes A Latino, Hispanic Or Latinx?

Estimated read time 5 min read

For those of us whose heritage or origin is linked to Latin America this seems to be the age-old question: what’s the right term Latino or Hispanic? Fast forward to 2017 and now you also need to think about the gender-neutral term Latinx. After 13 years living in the US and as a speaker in the topic of multiculturalism, I want to weighed in the conversation in hopes that next time you think about what makes a Latino, you go beyond just term and origin and take into consideration other factors.what-makes-a-latino-hispanic-latinx

When I first moved to the United States I lived in Michigan; as a new immigrant who didn’t know much about the different labels and how controversial they can be since many people have strong feelings about being called one or the other, I just identified myself as Dominican. This is really common for new immigrants from Latin America as we are used to define our identity based on our nationality.

As time passed and I became more culturally assimilated, the term Latina felt right because coming from Latin America, I also identify as a latinoamericana. Even before I was calling myself Latina, I had heard about the term Hispanic in Michigan and it seemed to be link to Mexicans at the time, just because in Grand Rapids there is a large Mexican community. Later I learned more about how the term Hispanic came about and why many people disliked it.

What Makes A Latino: Let’s Review Terms

As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term Latino has two definitions: a native or inhabitant of Latin America or a person of Latin American origin living in the U.S. The main difference of the term Latino is that includes the people from Brazil and excludes those who were born in Spain. Still, many American born people with ancestry in Latin America don’t feel connected to the term. Like I mentioned before, what makes a Latino goes way beyond the definition of a term.

The Merriam-Webster also has two definitions for the term Hispanic: of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain or of Spain and Portugal or of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the U.S.While one of the things that differentiates the term Hispanic from the term Latino is that this one includes the natives of Spain or with Spanish descent and excludes those who are native of Brazil or of Brazilian descent, there is so much more politics and controversy involving the term Hispanic.

Although the term hispano (Hispanic) wasn’t invented in the United States, as it is a Spanish word that means belonging or relating to Hispania, native or Spain, and belonging or relating to hispanoamérica (the Americas), it became in use officially in the United States in the early 1970s during the Richard Nixon’s presidency. The US government decided to adopt Hispanic to have a universal term that could serve to include all Spanish-speaking groups in the United States.

Many people prefer to identify as Hispanics, personally I prefer Latina but don’t mind being called Hispanic as I know it is a US term that has been in use for decades. However, for those who identify as Hispanics there are two reasons I’ve found to be very common: either they feel more connected to their European roots or they are US born and grew up with the use of the term as the official one.

For people who are opposed to the term, in most cases it comes down to disliking a label imposed by the government. When it comes to thinking what makes a Latino or what makes a Hispanic we must not forget that identity has a lot to do with the person’s history and background and also the historical moment in the country when the term started to be in use.

What Makes A Latino: The Latinx Controversy

All of the above being said, we are now witnessing a new way in which gender-neutral Latinos are identifying themselves. Although the term started to be in use online back in 2004 by the queer community, it didn’t become popular until about two years ago when it gained recognition within academic institutions and it use on social media became more common.

While there is no official dictionary definition for Latinx, it is basically a gender neutral term to refer to people with heritage that ties to Latin America. The x replaces the male and female endings o and a that are part of Spanish grammar conventions. The main goal of this new identity term is to be more inclusive, but some people still have doubts.

Now the topic of debates, Latinx is been increasingly discussed online by those who oppose it because they believe it undermines the Spanish language. There are many who are questioning if they should use it and if it is really inclusive or relates more to queer identities. Debate or not, the reality is that Latinx represents a group of people who prefer this identity and as such, it is now another way in which we refer to American Latinos.

When it comes to identity a term is not just a term, it is the way we view ourselves and that keep us grounded in the way we show up in the world. If you are doubtful about how to call an American Latino, you can simply ask how they identify so you can refer to them in the way the feel more comfortable with. As for Latinx and Spanish grammar conventions, I see this as a term rooted in English, that comes from American-born Latinos who want to be more inclusive and gender neutral, as English language is.

What about you, have you ask yourself what makes a Latino? If you are one, which identity fits you best?


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  1. 1
    Yuri Batres

    Why not just refer to us by what we REALLY are: American, Meso-American, Native American, Amerindian, American Indigenous, Mexican, Guatemalan, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, etc.?

    Latin, Hispanic, Latino/a, Hispano/a, Hispánico/a, Latinx are all incorrectly applied to us, that is NOT us.

    Latino originates from Latin: the language, culture, and peoples who originate from Europe, the Mediterranean, precisely Rome and Italy. Inclusively it can be expanded to those which developed and expanded from that same root – Spain, France, Portugal, Romania, etc.

    Hispanic originates from the region, culture, and Latin peoples (read previous paragraph) from Hispania (the peninsula of Spain and Portugal) and its diaspora.

    How are we LATIN/HISPANIC American? Our culture and civilization originated, developed, and flourished for millennia prior to any other contact and is rooted neither in Latin nor Hispanic culture.

    Why does speaking an imposed language change who/what we are? That would be like saying that African Americans like Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, etc. are not Black and are White, Anglo, Germanic because they speak English within a predominantly White institutionalized society and may have some mixed White due to ancestral rape. Are then so Canadians Latin if they are of French descent?

    What about countries in Africa and Asia who were colonized by Italy, France, Spain, or Portugal and speak one of those languages and/or recognize it as an official language? Are they Latin African/Latin Asian people? No, they are African/Asian. Do they live in Latin African/Latin Asia. No, they live in African/Asian.

    This imposition and continuation to try to Europeanize us, White wash us, make us foreigners in our own land, destroy our identity, history, culture, and heritage, and rob us of our natural right to live here has got to stop.

    Furthermore, the whole Latinx is useless and redundant. It is seeking a non-binary, non-gender specific, all-inclusiveness term. English adjectives – unlike Spanish – are already that, they show no gender, number, sex: black, white, big, small, hot, cold, Asian, Cuban, Nigerian, . . . LATIN, for those who choose to identify with that ethnicity. Yes, Latino/Latina is just a translation for Latin.

  2. 2
    Darnell S. COLLIER

    I grew up in a house hold that embraced my mother’s Mother’s background (Latino, French & Jewish). I always was drawn to my Spanish roots because we ate mostly Spanish food and Jewish food growing up.
    My Mother never cooked soul food.
    Now that iam older…I embrace my Latin blood more. As per my DNA I have roots in Spain/Portugal…My Indian Roots come from Latin America (South & Central America). Am I wrong for embracing my Latin blood line?

  3. 3

    I have a question, if you have latin american but u were born in spain does that still exclude you from the term latin@?

  4. 4
    Deborah Velazquez

    Most Mexican Americans or Americans with Mexican decent identify as Chicana/Chicano

  5. 5
    Martha Garcia

    I don’t mind being called Latina or Latinos because I know Latino is world wide term for us Hispanics

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