Language matters: Hispanic, Latinx, Latino/a, Latin@ or Latine?

Keep an open mind and listen first. Labels can shift, change and adapt.

When talking about Latin identity, language matters. Different labels carry connotations that you need to know. Listening to the labels people are choosing to identify themselves should be a standard practice. Do not correct or suggest a different label. 

In our own team, we have people who may choose to identify as Latina in some contexts and as Latinx in others. As Latinos the labels we use are situational and we may be using them strategically. The same person may claim different labels in different situations, just as you may wear different clothes to go out with your friends than to got to a job interview. You’re the same person. Latino has been widely used and circulated lately but because Spanish has such a strong gramatical gender order (nouns that end in “o” tend to be masculine and words that end in “a” tend to be feminine), it may feel too focused on the experiences of men. One option is to “desdoblar” or unfold the ending: Latino/a. Now women are included. 

However, there are many identities that do not identify with the gender binary, and a way to be inclusive of all of them is to use the “x” ending, instead of choosing “a” or “o.” Queer Latinx communities spearheaded the use of Latin@ since the 80’s. Nowadays, Latinx is an option favored by young people in the US. The ending in “e” in Latine achieves the same sense of inclusion but it is favored by those living in Latin America, where the use of “e” as way to overcome the binary is gaining momentum (and it is a sound easier to pronounce for Spanish native speakers).

Hispanic has long been a label favored by the US government, so in this context it has generated certain resistance from groups to seek their own label. Hispanic in Spanish means “Hispanoamerican who lives in the US” (DRAE). See what happened? the “American” aspect was literally lost in translation. Hispanic traditions are developed through centuries of colonial rule of Spain over Latin America and Spanish heritage. Using Latin/o/a/x/e excludes the Spanish heritage component and focuses on people whose ancestry comes from Latin America. That being said, older people in the US may prefer Hispanic for historical or cultural reasons. 

So, where do we stand? On this blog we encourage everyone to use the label they feel works better for their identity, their situation and the audience they are engaging. Language has given us options for us to use creatively, with respect and pride.

Published by walkingtogether0520

A collaborative digital humanities project on migration supported by the College of Arts & Sciences of the University of St. Thomas.

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