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Are we really being inclusive by using Latinx?

Title: About One-in-Four U.S. Hispanics Have Heard of Latinx, but Just 3% Use It

Author(s) and Year: Luis Noe-Bustamante, Lauren Mora and Mark Hugo Lopez; 2020

Journal: Pew Research Center (open access)


TL;DR: The acceptance and use of the term Latinx varies among self-identifying Hispanics, ranging from support of the term to complete disagreement. This Pew Research Center Report goes on to break down who feels comfortable using Latinx, how common is its use, and if the term should even be adopted. Understanding this debate helps science communicators engage Hispanic audiences with more humility and empathy.

Why I chose this paper: As a native Spanish speaking Latina, I’m interested in learning more about how we prefer to self-identify. This report provides valuable insights into the Hispanic vs. Latina/o/x debate and which term should be used for different audiences and contexts.


The Background

Spanish, like other romance languages, is gendered. Meaning that all nouns have an assigned gender, masculine or feminine. For example, house or casa is feminine, with the feminine article la preceding it, la casa. While car or carro is masculine, el carro. This rule also applies to the use of the term Latino or Latina, with Latino being masculine and Latina feminine.

But, where would non-binary and LGBTQIA+ folks fall? Is there a more inclusive option?

This is where the term Latinx comes into play. Latinx, as described by a recent Pew Research Centerreport, ‘is a term used to describe people who are of or relate to Latin American origin or descent. It is a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino or Latina.’ While this alternative aspires to be more inclusive, it has not been well received. As science communicators, understanding this debate not only helps us approach the Hispanic community with more humility, but it also helps us avoid generalizations, outdated language, and unintentionally mislabeling individuals.


A total of 3,030 U.S. Hispanic adults were surveyed December 2019 by the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center is a self described ‘nonpartisan fact tank’ that conducts social science research including opinion polling and demographic research. Results for this report originate from a self-administered web survey and a Google Trends analysis for the terms “Latinx,” “Latina,” “Latino” and “Hispanic.” Survey questions included both open-ended and close-ended questions.


Survey results indicate that 76% of Latinos were not familiar with the term Latinx and only 3% use it. Of all Hispanics interviewed, 61% prefer this term while 29% prefer Latino. And while according to this report the term Latinx has risen in online popularity since 2016, terms like Hispanic, Latino, and Latina are still more common.

When it comes to who is most likely to use the term Latinx to self describe, young adults between 18 and 29, U.S. born Hispanics, college graduates, democrats, and bilingual or English dominant Hispanics were among those most likely to be familiar with the term and use it. The report highlights that young Hispanic women are the most common users of Latinx and Republicans and adults over 65 were the least likely to have heard of the term

Among those who have heard of the term Latinx, one-third suggest that this is their preferred term to describe the Hispanic or Latino population. Of those who are familiar with Latinx, 42% describe it as a gender-neutral term. When this group was asked what they think of the term Latinx in open-ended questions, their responses ranged from complete agreement with the term, “Latinx is the progressive term for Latino individuals. It is gender neutral. I like the term because of its inclusivity in the Latino community,” to lack of knowledge about it, “Unsure, but I've heard of it,” to complete disagreement, “It is a ridiculous portmanteau that doesn't really work with a romance language wherein nouns are gendered. It is also supposed to be an all-inclusive term for people of Latin American roots, regardless of gender.” This wide range of responses captures the Latinx debate and begs us to consider if this is the most appropriate term.


While Latinx was added to the Merriam Webster dictionary, it is still not commonly used and its use is a source of debate. While many prefer Latinx because of how gender-inclusive it is, others indicate that it ignores the Spanish language and its gendered nature going on to say that it is a way of anglicizing the language.

So, what term should you use? There is no clear cut answer. The Pew Research Center report indicates that in 15 years of polling the Hispanic population, 50% indicate not having a strong preference between Hispanic or Latino. It is important to note that the same surveys indicate that country of origin labels are preferred (e.g., Puerto Rican, Colombian, Mexican).

It is important to note that Latine is a newer term that hopes to provide the same gender-neutral approach as Latinx, while adhering to Spanish rules and pronunciation. This term is used among LGBTQIA+ communities in Latin America and is now making its way to the United States. Latine might not be as widely used as Latinx, but the Merriam Webster dictionary has also recognized this term.


How we define ourselves is a uniquely individual experience. And we should approach it that way. So when science communicators debate if Latinx, Hispanic, Latino, Latina, or Latine is the better term, the best thing you could do is ask a member from the community how they self identify and respect that decision. It is also important to have the flexibility to understand that this response might change in different groups and as individuals we might favor different terms at different times. Practicing this humility and empathy when referring to the Hispanic community promotes understanding, steps away from generalizations, supports diversity, and will help your science communication efforts be more nuanced and anchored in the realities of this community.

Edited by Rebecca Dang and Niveen AbiGhannam

Cover image credit: Photo by CSUF Photos via Flickr.

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