The debate over Latino vs. Latinx vs. Hispanic is the song that never ends

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 as a way to demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members. It’s largely celebrated in Mexico with altars like these. (Photo by Rebecca Rivas)

Growing up in El Paso, Texas, in the ’80s and ’90s, the diversity at my school could’ve been broken down into two categories — children who were born in the United States and students who weren’t.

But almost all of the students’ families came from Mexico at some point, and we called ourselves Mexican-Americans or just Mexicans.

Now I tend to identify as Chicana or Latina, but I don’t mind being called Hispanic.

When I was writing my most recent article about Hispanic Heritage Month in Missouri, I sent a text to my parents to ask which term they prefer to use: Hispanic or Latino.

What followed was a long text debate between my mom and dad — who were probably sitting across the kitchen table from each other. In the end, my mom landed on Hispanic, and my dad on Mexican American but would concede to Hispanic if necessary. Neither liked Latino and hadn’t even heard of Latinx.

They both thought being called Chicano was offensive because the word was a racial slur when they were growing up. Historians say it dates back to the early 1900s. Yet I like Chicana because it’s a nod to civil-rights leaders like César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, as well as a new generation of Mexican-Americans who feel a sense of responsibility to uplift our people.

Three Latinos. Same family. Same ethnic heritage. But very differing and strong feelings about identity and the words we use to describe ourselves.

Imagine trying to find a term to categorize an entire nation of people whose roots stem from Latin-American countries, which all have distinct cultures, foods and feelings about their relationship to the United States.

And just when you thought the debate was just between Latino or Hispanic, in comes a new generation with Latinx or Latine as a way to make Latino gender neutral (since Latino is masculine in Spanish).

So what do these words mean?

Imagine trying to find a term to categorize an entire nation of people whose roots stem from Latin-American countries, which all have distinct cultures, foods and feelings about their relationship to the United States.

As Pew Research Center describes, the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are pan-ethnic terms meant to describe the population of people living in the U.S. of that ethnic background.

The U.S. Census Bureau most often uses the term “Hispanic,” while Pew Research Center uses the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably.

Some people have drawn sharp distinctions between these two terms, saying that Hispanics are people from Spain or from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America (this excludes Brazil, where Portuguese is the official language), while Latinos are people from Latin America regardless of language (this includes Brazil but excludes Spain and Portugal). 

“Despite this debate, the ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’ labels are not universally embraced by the population that has been labeled, even as they are widely used,” the Pew Research Center writes.

Aside from my parents, I also decided to pose the Hispanic vs. Latino vs. Latinx question in a chat to some old friends who were part of Adelante, a bilingual newspaper published out of the University of Missouri School of Journalism in the early 2000s. Read more

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