Not All Latinx Are Hispanic, But Most Hispanics Tend to Be Latinx

Terms regarding the Latinx community can get confusing for some people, I get it. Consider this article your 1-800-EducatedByACortez. 

For many non-Latinx people, words such as Latinx and Hispanic are interchangable. But before we open up that can of worms of straight-up wrong, let’s deconstruct the difference between Latino, Latina and LatinX. 

“Latina” refers to Latin American women. Easy enough, right? Good, I’ve got your attention.

“Latino” refers to Latin American men. However, if you are in a room with 6 Latinas and 1 Latino, you would automatically revert to the masculine— Latinos — regardless of how many women outnumber men. Traditionally, even if you had a room full of Latinas, you would still use the masculine Latinos. It was only after extensive Latina feminist movements that Latino had it’s feminine counterpart, Latina

Recently, there has been serious momentum within the Latin American community to recognize this inequity of restrictive gender binaries and be more inclusive towards our nonbinary friends and family members. Thus, LatinX was formed. LatinX is not without it’s own controversy though. Depending on who you talk to, usually the older generation, LatinX is completely invalid. Generally, they say something about how we need to preserve the Spanish language, Even though many linguists say that when language doesn’t change as the needs of the new speakers change, the language dies out. Primary example? Latin. Nobody really knows or speaks Latin anymore. 

LatinX is meant to recognize everyone within the Latin American community. It is meant to be non-binary. Instead of just using Latinas or Latinos (which have restrictive binaries), we now have a new option to recognize Latinos, Latinas, and every other way a person from, or descending from, Latin America chooses to identify by using LatinX. 

Now that we’ve gotten LatinX out of the way, let’s explore the differences between Hispanic and Latinx. First of all, the word “Hispanic” wasn’t created by the Latin American people or even Spanish-speaking people. In fact, it was a label the United States government created in the 1970s. The word “Hispania” originally denoted a relationship to Portugal and Spain, thus labeling the people colonized by these countries “Hispanic.” The reason why so many people who are actually LatinX self-identify as Hispanic is because “Hispanic” has literally been a category on the United States Census since 1980.

So now that we have established the colonial roots of the word “Hispanic,” let’s move on to what it actually means. “Hispanic” refers to people who speak Spanish, and/or are descended from Spanish-speaking populations. 

Recall, Latin-o/a/X refers to someone from or descended from people from Latin America. 

What’s the difference you ask? NOT EVERYONE IN LATIN AMERICA SPEAKS SPANISH! 

In fact, the word Hispanic excludes more than 30 indigenous languages spoken in Latin America. More specifically, this equation of Hispanic and Latinx as synonymous hurts everyone involved. 

Assuming one is Hispanic just because they are from or descended from a Latin American country is problematic for a number of reasons. I always think of Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan indigenous rights activist who was awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize (the first woman from Latin America and the first indigenous person ever to receive the award). Menchu was raised in the Quiche branch of Mayan culture and did not speak Spanish. All her family members perished when guerrilla organizations occupied her area during her childhood and young adulthood. Her advocacy within the Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC) in Guatemala included educating indigenous women and children on how to resist mass military oppression. Due to death threats in 1981, Menchu fled Guatemala, remaining in exile for 10 years. Calling her Hispanic would be wildly inappropriate. 

When she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 she stated, “I consider this prize, not as an award to me personally, but rather as one of the greatest conquests in the struggle for peace, for human rights and for the rights of the indigenous people who, along all these 500 years, have been split, fragmented, as well as the victims of genocide, repression and discrimination.”

Words are powerful. When we use words like “Hispanic” when we really mean “LatinX,” or people from or descending from Latin America, we erase important histories of indigenous populations. We also ignore how linguistically diverse Latin America is. Spanish spoken in Mexico is not the same as the Spanish spoken in Cuba, or even the Spanish spoken in southern Texas. If you need anybody’s testament to this, just ask my father— he is convinced Cubans speak Spanish too fast. Even speakers of indigenous languages in different regions of Latin America cannot understand each other, although they’re both technically speaking the same languages.  

Yes, the Spaniards and the Portugeuse colonized the majority of Latin America, so many people from Latin America speak Portuguese or Spanish. These languages have entrenched themselves in the culture within Latin America. However, Latin America is not a monolith. We have different ways of speaking, of being, and of thinking. We are united in Latinidad but we are also different. Our stories are not exactly the same. So please, use these words carefully and with intent.