We live in a very big world that is full of diverse and rich cultures, places, and people. There are many differences between our many cultures that we should celebrate, but far too often overlook. One such example of letting lines blur too easily, are the terms Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx. All three of which tend to be used interchangeably and incorrectly. These three terms are not the same and necessarily don’t represent the same groups of people. Let’s explore what each of these terms means and the one unifying factor that links these different groups together.
Hispanics vs. Latinos vs. Latinx
Before we look at what unites these different groups, let’s look at how they differ and where some of the confusion about their differences may stem from. In many cases these terms overlap, but they do mean different things.
Hispanic. The term hispanic is used to refer to those that come from a Spanish-speaking background and does not reflect their geographic location.
Latino. This term does in fact relate to location and not to language. In order to classify someone as Latino, they generally need to come from the geographic region of Latin America. The term Latino includes people from many areas in Central and South America, alongside the Caribbean. In many cases people identify as both Hispanic and Latino, as both terms apply to their backgrounds. For example, someone from Brazil is a Latino, Latina or Latinx because they are from Latin America, but their language is not Spanish, it is Portuguese. Whereas someone from Colombia is both a Latino, Latina or Latinx and also Hispanic (because they speak Spanish).
Latinx. While the term Latinx is relatively new, it is becoming an important term used in conversations about gender equality and inclusion. Spanish is a gendered language, which means words are associated with the female or male gender. A Latin American woman is a Latina and a Latin American man is a Latino. Latinx has appeared as an alternative to be inclusive of people who don’t associate with either gender. Essentially, Latinx is a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina. If someone is Latino, they are also Latinx and vice versa. The primary purpose of this term is to be inclusive of people who don’t consider themselves to be female or male.
A Diverse Presence in the US
The US Census Bureau counts anyone who says they are Hispanic as Hispanic, which allows residents to choose how they identify. As cultural norms evolve surrounding what it means to be Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx in the US today, this enables those self-reporting to identify as they see fit. As of July, 2019 it was estimated that almost 61 million Hispanics lived in the U.S. accounting for 18.5% of the nation’s total population.
What Unites Them
Ultimately, all of these terms are labels and very wide labels at that. Within each label, there is so much diversity and many countries of origin that fall under them. Sometimes, the only thing that unites these groups is a shared language — Spanish. In the US, many Hispanics from different countries are united by their shared language. Because all these Spanish speakers of different nationalities coexist in the US and interact with each other and with English speakers, the language has and continues to evolve and adapt. The Spanish language one can hear in the US is known as US Spanish.
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