The Hispanic/Latinx Identity

Hispanic: the more widely used term

From drop-down menus on job applications to check boxes on medical forms, we often see Hispanic and Latino/a/x placed side by side, seemingly interchangeable terms that are supposed to define the race and heritage of a people that make up 18.5% of the total U.S. population.

Before the 1970’s, the U.S. Census Bureau classified Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other communities from Central & South America as ‘white’. Several activist groups, such as UnidosUS (formerly known as National Council of La Raza), campaigned for a separate category to replace this commonly used ‘white’ classification. These activists, who were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, were in pursuit of a new classification as part of a push for equality and recognition of diversity. After several years of lobbying, the U.S. Census Bureau, under the Nixon Administration, created a broad, nationally recognized category that included all these communities.

The result?

Creation of the term ‘Hispanic’

This term caught on amazingly fast, all thanks to Univision and advertisements aired during Spanish-speaking television shows. Today, ‘Hispanic’ envelops a diverse ethnic group of identities with origins in Spanish speaking countries- encompassing all of Spain and Latin America.

What / where is Latin America?

It is a set of countries that belong to the regions of North/Central/South America and the Caribbean whose citizens predominately speak Spanish or Portuguese (two of the many languages that have their origins in Latin).

But did you know??

Some nations/countries in this geographical area are not considered to be a part of Latin America. For example: The Guianas. They were never conquered/occupied by Spain or Portugal, but rather by France (French Guiana), the Dutch (Suriname) and the United Kingdom (Guyana).

Hispanic can also be an incorrect identification!

During my high school years, I attended a scholarship event in the hopes of (wait for it…) obtaining scholarships to fund my upcoming college years. Walking in I knew that there were scholarships that were exclusively reserved for minority students (Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, etc.) so in every single conversation I never failed to mention the fact that I was ‘Hispanic’. There was an older, Latina woman who made a sour face at me as if she had just taken a bite out of freshly cut lemon and said, “No, mijo. You are a Latino, not a Hispanic. That’s just a word that the United States invented for us.”

I was taken aback! No one has ever corrected my use of that term before… and simultaneously left me questioning my own personal identity. The thought stuck with me, propelling me to further research. Where I found that, of course, she was correct!

So… what’s the difference between being ‘Latino/a/x’ and ‘Hispanic’?

Chiefly, the reference to the country of Spain!

‘Hispanic’ refers to linguistic origins from a Spanish speaking country (primarily Spain).

‘Latino/a/x’ refers to individuals living in the U.S. who have cultural AND ethnic origins from a country in Latin America.

Some argue the word ‘Hispanic’ is a nod towards the violent history of Spanish colonialism and SHOULD NOT be interchangeable with ‘Latino/a/x’.

Another way of looking at it:

Hispanic: Language/Linguistic

Latino/a/x: Geographical/Terrestrial

Globally, there are millions of individuals who fit both categories. For example, a woman born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, speaking Spanish as her first language, would be called a Hispanic Latina.

On the flip side of the coin, there are those who do not fit both. For example, a man born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, speaking Portuguese as his first language, would be referred to as Latino because he is from Latin America, but he is not Hispanic because he speaks Portuguese.

Latinx? What’s that?

The term ‘Latinx’ (pronounced lah-teen-ex) is a gender-neutral term used in the replacement of Latino or Latina. This now widely utilized term was created within queer spaces in the early 2000s as an alternative to ‘Latino/a’ to better include those in the Latin American LGBTQA+ community who are gender fluid.

The Spanish language is gender-based with nouns ending in an ‘a’ (considered feminine) and nouns ending in an ‘o’ (considered masculine) and as a language gives superiority to male plurals.

Example: A group of women would be called ‘Latinas’ and a group of men would be called ‘Latinos’. However as soon as one man enters the group of women, they now become a group of ‘Latinos’. If a woman enters the group of men, they will still be known as ‘Latinos’.

Usage of ‘Latinx’ was scarce at first, primarily used by Millennials and those in Generation Z. It wasn’t until at least a decade later that the term became more widely utilized and accepted due to wider availability of personal information technology (i.e.- the internet, cellphones, chat forums, Facebook, etc.).

What term do I use? I’m confused!!!

The distinctions between Latino/a/x and Hispanic are often complex, authentic, and very personal… and everyone will have their own way of identifying themselves.

Here is a tip: when in doubt, just ask! 😉

About us

LEGAL INTERPRETERS LLC is an interpreting agency founded by an actual interpreter with a broad and extensive interpreting experience. Agata Baczyk has been working as an independent interpreter for several years and decided to start her own interpreting agency in order to address the industry's need for professional and experienced interpreters. Most interpreting agencies are not able to screen or assess their interpreters effectively because they don't have the needed tools and knowledge of what that job entails. As a company led by a professional interpreter we are able to ensure that the linguists we contract with are knowledgeable and experienced.


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