National Hispanic Heritage and Latinx History: “Latinx or Hispanic?”

September 30, 2021

Hispanic Heritage Month began as a commemorative week when California Congressman George E. Brown first introduced it in June of 1968. In 1987, U.S. Representative Esteban E. Torres of California proposed expanding the observance to cover its current 31-day period that goes from September 15 to October 15 to properly observe and coordinate events and activities to celebrate Hispanic culture and achievement.

From early Spanish colonialism, to civil rights laws, to famous recent Supreme Court decisions on immigration, American Hispanic and Latinx history is rich, diverse, and long. It includes immigrants, refugees, Spanish speaking, and non-Spanish speaking indigenous people living in the United States long before the nation was established.

From the recent past to the present, I would like to mention Cesar Chavez, Migrant Workers Union Leader and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court of USA – great admiration for those fearless advocates that were and are the voice of Hispanic/Latinx people in the U.S.

The terms Latino, Hispanic, and Latinx are often used interchangeably to describe a group that makes up about 18 percent of the U.S. population. While it is now common to use umbrella terms to categorize those with ties to more than 20 Latin American countries, it brings with them traditions and cultures from Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American and Iberian nations. Every Hispanic or Latin American country is unique in its own way. We acknowledge we all have a different taste for music, food, culture, and tradition. In addition, we recognize our bond to a common language and honor our Hispanic/Latinx colleagues that continue to contribute towards progress of this great nation.

Growing up, I was always confused by school forms that required me to check off a box for my race and ethnicity. I would ask myself, “What was the difference between race and ethnicity?” Things became even more confusing as I got older and forms started featuring “Latino.” “Now, which one was I?” Not to mention that in recent years, kids and adults alike have yet another term to choose from: “Latinx.”

Recently, I decided to join the Latinx Affinity Group at Neighborhood House and wanted to know a bit more about the term “Latinx.”

The word “Latinx” originated in activist circles primarily in the U.S. as an expansion of earlier gender-inclusive variations. Since 2015, curiosity about the word “Latinx” has steadily increased.

While the difference between “Latinx and “Hispanic” largely comes down to how you self-identify, “Latinx” has typically been adopted among people who are looking for a more inclusive and gender-free alternative to “Latino” or “Latina.” Spanish words are automatically gendered to signify a man “-o” or a woman “-a”, leaving no option for those who choose to identify as non-binary, now “-x.”

Even though having this alternative is progressive, its usage can still be confusing – which might explain why a 2020 report from the Pew Research Center found that only 23% of U.S adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term “Latinx,” and just 3% embrace the term for themselves.

What is the difference between “Latinx and Hispanic?”

There is a simple explanation and as with many things dealing with race, culture, ethnicity, and history, there is a more complicated version. The easiest way to understand the difference between “Latinx” and “Hispanic” is that “Latinx” is an ethnic and cultural category, whereas “Hispanic” is a linguistic division. Brazilians are Latinxs, but they are not Hispanic. Spaniards are not Latinxs, but they are Hispanic.

References for this article and to learn more, go to:

By Mina Alvarado, MTD Care Coordinator