Latino, Latinx, Hispanic, or Latine? Which Term Should You Use?

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Language helps us identify, categorize, and label our world. When used inclusively, language can create a sense of validity and belonging. As language continues to evolve, our attention to gender neutrality — an effort to avoid distinguishing roles based on sex or gender —becomes more visible.

We take a look at the differences between Latino, Latinx, Hispanic, and Latine through historical and generational lenses to understand their differences and the attention they bring to culture, ethnicity, and gender identity.

The History of the Hispanic and Latino Terminology

Pan-ethnic terms, like Hispanic and Latino, describe a collection of ethnicities and cultural origins, without regard to race. Hispanic and Latino represent people who speak Spanish or descend from Spanish or Latin American ancestry, respectively.

The term Hispanic came into wide use during the Nixon administration of the 1970s.

Coined by the U.S. Census Bureau — and first appearing on the census in 1980 — Hispanic refers to people who descend from Spanish-speaking countries, anyone in Spain, and people in the U.S. who grew up speaking Spanish as a home language.

The term Hispanic was created for political expediency to gather information on these overlooked populations within national politics. It helped identify an important section of the U.S. population, highlighting a need for increased representation. The term came under national scrutiny in the 1990s for its connection to Spanish colonialism.

The term Latino began to replace the term Hispanic across the United States. Latino typically refers to a person with Latin American ancestry, regardless of their language of origin, and excludes people from Spain.

The letter "o" in Latino was used to represent male and female individuals as a group of people. The term Latino was added to the census in 2000, with Hispanic remaining as an additional identifier.

Evolution of the Terms

The evolution of language helps us describe individual and societal changes.

Language can adapt to our need for inclusivity and helps us connect with others. With the rising use of "they/them" pronouns in the early 2000s, gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language also became more widely used.

Latin@, a briefly used gender-neutral term that proved difficult to pronounce, led to a continued expansion of inclusive terms. Latinx became somewhat common in the 2010s as a pan-ethnic gender-inclusive label.

Latinx rose into favor among many, highlighting intersectionality through the use of the letter "x." The "x" also has roots in the Chicano movement of the 1960s. However, some Indigenous people reject the Latinx use of the letter "x," which colonists forced into languages during conquest.

Latine came to mainstream use in the late 2010s as another gender-neutral alternative. Both Latinx and Latine replace the letters "a" and "o" as feminine and masculine identifiers. Some argue that the letter "x" does not honor Spanish pronunciation and prefer the use of "e" instead.

Latine, created by LGBTQIA+ Spanish speakers, uses the letter "e" to illustrate gender inclusivity within existing Spanish pronunciation. While some older generations may feel less familiar with and more resistant to Latinx and Latine, the terms remain in general use by younger generations.

Go to BestColleges Hispanic Heritage Month hub to find more stories and resources.

Why the Differences Between Terms Matters

  • Hispanic: The most widely used term, according to Gallup and Pew Research, is also the oldest used to describe the pan-ethnic communities of Spanish speakers and Latin American descendants. The term was adopted by politicians in the 1970s to identify a population.
  • Latino: The second most widely used term, Latino represents individuals who live in or descend from the Latin American region. While Latina is used to represent women, official U.S. documentation only uses Latino as an ethnic descriptor. Latino/Latina is how the population used to define itself when gender separation was essential and expected/accepted.
  • Latinx: Most widely used in the U.S., Latinx is a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino. Only 4% of Latino and Hispanic populations say they identify as Latinx. While the term continues to hold space for younger generations, some have rejected the imposition of a colonizing letter — i.e., the "x."
  • Latine: The latest effort by the population to define itself in its own lexicon, Latine is used to describe all people. Latine adopts the letter "e" from the Spanish language as a representation of gender neutrality.

Which Is the Best Term to Use?

Language continues to evolve as the terms we use to identify ourselves change. As we determine our language preferences, we find ways to communicate with and understand each other.

While your personal preferences should dictate self-identification, no hard and fast rules exist to determine the best terms for others. Pan-ethnic labels remain a common way to identify larger communities, but knowing which to use can be tricky. Whenever possible, ask how an individual or specific group identifies before making a suggestion.

The debate about ongoing terms used in mainstream society shows us there is still work to do in order for all people to feel included.