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Hispanic, Latino, Latinx? Identity terms evolving in Latino communities

Hispanic Terminology
Posted at 2:57 PM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-14 16:47:06-04

Each year, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the accomplishments, contributions and history of Hispanic Americans.

However, the origin of the term "Hispanic" has a history of its own. Some people grouped into this category find it controversial and prefer to use other identifying terms.

Questions about ethnicity and race are often found on job applications, census surveys and other paperwork.

For some, the word Hispanic is a bit complicated.

"I get really upset that there’s no box that says Mexican-American. There’s no box that says Cuban-American, Colombian-American. Why?" asked Hector Gonzales, a lifelong El Paso resident and community activist. "Yes, we have a lot of similarities and language and things like that, but each country and each people needs to be recognized for who they are."

It was first used by the U.S. government in the 80s for the census.

"It was their best attempt to try to account for people that they perceived as having roots in Latin America and also even in Spain," said Dr. Richard Piñeda, director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.

According to the latest census data, there are more than 62 million Hispanic or Latino people living in the United States.

Some who fall into this group said the label doesn’t accurately reflect who they are.

"Hispanic is a generic term to encompass everybody," said Dr. Miguel Juarez, another El Paso native.

"There is no Hispania," added Gonzales.

People like Juarez and Gonzales said their ancestors’ history with Spanish conquerors also makes the term a sore subject.

"We consider ourselves Mexican-American," Gonzales said. "To use that terminology to refer to Mexicans or indigenous peoples is really kind of a stab in the back."

Piñeda said past studies suggest people prefer a term that describes their national origin.

"The research at that time indicated that people thought that was a better representation of who they were because it tied to a place and a particular culture," he said.

Identity terms have evolved over the years and can be influenced by politics and social issues. Piñeda said even the era people grew up in can have an influence.

"You can almost gauge when you grew up historically and when you grew up based on your identity terms," he said.

Latinx is a newer, gender-neutral term.

"This generation of students is growing up in a world where gender identity is fluid, ethnic identity is fluid, so this idea of being Latinx appeals to them," Piñeda said.

Piñeda also added however one chooses to identify, it's something defined by the individual. For Juarez and Gonzales, how they identify is rooted in culture and pride.

"We have to recognize our past," Juarez said.