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Latino/a, Latinx or Latine? Conversation around Hispanic identity is changing

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, community members are sharing why their cultural identity is important to them.

SEATTLE — For decades, people who trace their roots to Latin America or Spain have used the word “Latino” or “Hispanic” to describe themselves.

But over the last few years, conversations surrounding ethnicity and gender identity have become more conventional. 

With these conversations came new terminologies that have left some people confused about which word to use.

Some of those terms include Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx, and Latine.

Latino refers to a male from a Latin American country, while Latina references a female.

Latinx is a relatively new term that recently gained popularity in academic and some progressive circles. It’s used to describe a person of Latin American origin or descent. 

Latine is noted significantly as an LGBTQIA+ and gender-inclusive alternative to Hispanic and Latino.  

So, who uses which term? 

KING 5 producer Chelsea Hernandez spoke with members of the community to explore some of these confusions. The majority of the answers echo one main idea; people are more than just their labels.

“Latinx… Latine is the newest one that I’ve heard… I don’t even know if I’m pronouncing it correctly. L-A-T-I-N-E?” said Jolinda Hernandez, a teacher.

“I came up with the conclusion that people that don’t want to identify themselves as she or he, like to use the term Latinx,” said Sylvia Rubio, human services director at El Centro de la Raza.

“I think the younger generation will move towards Latinx because I’m seeing that now,” Rubio said.

According to the Pew Research Center, the emergence of Latinx coincides with a global movement to introduce gender-neutral nouns and pronouns into many languages whose grammar has traditionally used male or female constructions. In the U.S., the first uses of Latinx appeared more than a decade ago. It was also added to the English dictionary in 2018, reflecting its greater use.

“I thought this was good because we are being inclusive of people’s gender identity,” Hernandez said.

Even though Latinx pushes inclusivity, only about one in four people who identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term. That's according to a bilingual Pew Research Center survey conducted in December 2019. Researchers surveyed 3,030 Hispanic adults in the U.S., questioning all participants about their awareness of the term Latinx. They found only 23% of adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves.

“When I think of Latino, I don’t… my first thought isn’t any male Latino man, just the people themselves,” said Edgar Ramirez, a concrete worker.

While some Hispanics say Latinx should be used as a pan-ethnic term, others say they prefer it over others. The Pew Research Center study shows about 61% of people prefer Hispanic to describe the Hispanic or Latino population in the U.S., and 29% prefer Latino. Meanwhile, just 4% say they prefer Latinx to describe the Hispanic or Latino population.

“I hope the Latino community will stay proud and true to the traditions that have been going on for years,” Ramirez said.

When Hernandez asked the group if they were proud of their identity, the response of "estoy orgullosa" summed it up.

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