What Our Use of the Terms, Hispanic, Latino or Latinx, Says About Us and Our Organizations

So it’s time to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Or is it Latino Heritage Month? Or maybe it is Latinx Heritage Month? As we celebrate what has traditionally been called Hispanic Heritage Month, from September 15th to October 15th, we should take the opportunity to be mindful of the terms we use to describe the largest minority group in the U.S. and reflect on how these terms are far from being synonymous.

Although the U.S. government uses the term, Hispanic, not all Latinxs feel that it is appropriate. For one, the term is associated with Spain and conquistadors, which had a history that included ravaging the Americas and decimating Indigenous populations. That is not exactly an association which those of us with Indigenous roots want to embrace. In addition, the term, “Hispanic” is anglicized and not easy for all Latinos to pronounce. That should not be surprising, given that the term did not come from within its people; instead, the Nixon administration in the 1970s adopted it as a method of classification.

Some publications, such as newspapers like the Los Angeles Times have made it a point not to use the term, Hispanic, opting instead for the term, Latino. “Latino” can roll off a Spanish and bilingual tongue fairly easily. But that term too can be viewed as problematic because it is gender specific (the -o ending in Spanish is a masculine form) and binary. In effect, it is patriarchal and not inclusive of LGBQT+ communities. As a result, the term Latinx has become increasingly popular, though with some resistance. An August 2020 Pew Research Center poll, for example, found that only 3% of individuals who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have ever used the term, Latinx. Yet, undeniably, among artistic, literary, and academic circles, the percentage is bound to be much higher.

Naturally, change is not easy and presents challenges. For one, the name, National Hispanic Heritage Month, is part of an official U.S. government proclamation that was enacted as legislation in 1988. Two, organizations that were founded decades ago bear the term, “Hispanic.” The Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities, and the Hispanic National Bar Association, are but a few major groups that have the term in their names. Still, more than anything, the presence of the term is a mark of how long organizations have been around rather than whether they embrace the term above any other. Coincidentally, we like to think of our name, Latino Stories, as a badge of honor that illustrates that when we started up in 2006, we were one of the first websites focusing on Latino/Latinx literature and groups. Still, we have not entirely transitioned into the full use of Latinx because we recognize that those who use search engines to find us use mostly the term Latino.

Of course, not one of these terms is a souvenir that we pick up and drop after October 15th, only to recycle the following September. Truly inclusive organizations take the time to listen to their employees and do not force their own definitions of inclusion upon them. And they recognize that dialogue about ethnic and racial terms is in turn an evolving dialogue about peoples’ complex histories and cultures that should take place throughout the year.

Within all of our own spaces, be they workplaces, schools, or organizations, we should not be surprised if someone tells us they have one strong preference over the other. Nor we should be surprised if they prefer to use a term that is more closely aligned with their ancestors’ cultures and identities. They might prefer to call themselves Chicano, Chicanx, Chicana, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Nuyorican, Dominican, Dominican-American, Cuban-American, Salvadoran, Salvi, Salvadoran-American, and so forth. Whatever terms we use, we have to avoid thinking of this as a choice of being politically correct but instead look at it as being respectful and sensitive to why individuals prefer one term over another. After all, we should all have a voice in what we choose to call ourselves.

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