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Inclusive Language for Hispanic Heritage Month

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at ASU chapter.

In my Human Event class at Arizona State University this year, my professor provided her students with a resource that I had never seen before: an inclusive language guide. In this Inclusive Language Guide, compiled by the Inclusive Communications Committee at Colorado State University, last updated on 01/14/19, I noticed that under word/phrases to avoid was “Hispanic/Latinx/Latine/Latino,” which prompted me to figure out why and what the origin of these terms were.

Being partially Colombian myself, I had never had any issues with being called any one of those terms. However, after doing further research, I realized how they can be problematic.

According to the same Inclusive Language Guide referenced earlier, “Hispanic/Latinx/Latine/Latino” should be avoided because, ‘Hispanic’ is a widely used term to describe individuals from Spanish-speaking countries. It can sometimes be seen as problematic because of its origins in colonialization and the implication that to be Hispanic or Latinx/Latine/Latino, one needs to be Spanish-speaking. While the term ‘Latinx’ has been widely used in recent history as an inclusive identifying term for members of the community, it is important to note that Hispanic is still widely used and stands as a personal preference and point of pride for many individuals, while others may not identify with the term.” The suggestions for replacement were “Latinx/Latine/Latino/Hispanic (if an individual identifies with one of these terms) or using the person’s country of origin such as Cuban-American or Bolivian”.

Similarly, the Human Rights Campaign published an article last year entitled, “Latinx Heritage Month: More Than One Word, More Than One Heritage,” which also discussed proper terminology.

The HRC adopted the term ‘Latinx’ to “ represent the identities of non-binary, gender non-conforming and gender-expansive people. ‘Latinx’ also centers the lives of indigenous, Brazilian and other non-Spanish speaking people in this celebration.” Like how the Inclusive Language Guide acknowledged the problems with origins in colonialization, the HRC explained the implications of institutionalization through the U.S. Census with the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino,” which “may not resonate or encompass all identities and populations they have historically been used to refer to.” The HRC also had Juliana Martínez, author and assistant professor at American University, provide a breakdown of the terms:

  • “‘Hispanic’ is the oldest term used to refer to the largest and one of the most diverse growing minorities in the U.S. The word is often associated with the origins of Spanish colonialism in America and can exclude indigenous, Brazilian and other non-Spanish-speaking groups.”
  • “‘Latino’ is thought to be more inclusive in terms of geography as it doesn’t relate to language and embraces the whole region. However, the androcentric nature of this Spanish-language term, i.e. the use of masculine form as universal, excludes an entire group of identities.”
  • “‘Latinx’ a newer term that has recently gained popularity among scholars, activists and millennials that is inclusive of gender-expansive and gender non-conforming individuals. Additionally, ‘Latinx’ challenges the binary nature of the Spanish-language term Latino(a). The powerful ‘X’ has opened the door to a variety of identities, and it is also used in the term ‘Chicanx(o/a)’ to highlight the broad indigenous heritage of many groups.”

Essentially, the labels “Hispanic/Latinx/Latine/Latino” can be disrespectful to some individuals, but not to others. It is important to not call someone one of those terms based on their appearance or name without first asking how they identify themselves. Even though the terms are not problematic to every individual, it is crucial to always take personal preference into account on and off campus to ensure that everyone feels respected and valued.

To celebrate Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, consider diving deeper into the history and contributions of each diverse culture that encompasses this vast community.

Ashlyn Robinette is an Arizona State University and Her Campus ASU alumnus. She received her B.A. in journalism and mass communication with a minor in digital audiences from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Barrett, The Honors College.