Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx? Why the difference matters.

By \ September 20, 2022

National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) is here!

Before you fire up your brand’s content calendar for the celebration, you may be asking “is the word Hispanic really the right way to address this audience?”

It‘s an important question, and we’re glad you’re asking it. As with all important questions, the answer is as nuanced as the task at hand. Honoring a rich and complex culture in a sensitive yet empowering way can be tricky.

Start with the following tips.

Consider historic context before you choose terms

Unfortunately for anybody currently sweating under a publication deadline, there’s no easy “correct” answer to the term-choice question. But the background information behind the choice can be summarized with a single word: variety. 

As previously mentioned in the Beyond Google Translate: Multilingual Design & UX article, the Latinx diaspora is far-flung, spanning more than 20 countries across three continents. Other than a root language (and another experience we’ll discuss later), these distinct cultures can have very little in common, and even within a single country (take the U.S., for example), any consensus around a cultural issue can be hard to come by. 

We have a complex relationship with our shared (or not) language and experiences. It makes sense that there’s no unifying label that will make us all happy all the time. Before you choose, start with a recognition of the incredible variety of experiences and cultures that you may be addressing, and then try to make an informed choice about which specific Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx audiences you’re trying to engage.

When might “Hispanic” be the most appropriate term?

This term is a bit more old-school and mainly used by non-Spanish speakers (not to say that people don’t use the term Hispano or Hispana in Spanish, but it’s not as common.) This term has come under more recent scrutiny as Latinxs try to address their confusing heritage and ancestry. Since Hispanic is too closely related to Spain, many younger Latinxs have come to resent the term as just a way to describe them in relation to the language and culture of their colonizer (and also erasing non-Spanish-speaking Latinxs). While National Hispanic Heritage Month isn’t probably changing its title soon, it’s become a hot-button issue amongst some.

When might “Latino” be the most appropriate term?

A more commonly accepted term, Latino provides some unity for Central, Caribbean, and South-American communities beyond their language. While what constitutes the Latino identity is still in flux, it’s a fairly innocuous term that shouldn’t cause much issue. However, if you’re targeting a younger LGBTQIA+ demographic, there is another version that might be better suited.

When might “Latinxs” or “Latines” be the most appropriate term?

Spanish is an incredibly gendered language. Words like puerta (door), mar (sea), and escritorio (desk) are gendered (la puerta, el mar, el escritorio). While using gender-neutral language in English requires a bit of effort, it can become a titanic labor in Spanish (as is common with other Latin languages). As Latinx communities continue to discuss what gender-neutral language looks like, keeping an eye on what’s widely used is the best course of action. Latinx is the most commonly used term, with Latines increasing in popularity due to its ease of pronunciation in Spanish (the ‘x’ and ‘e’ sounds are similar in Spanish, with the ‘e’ rolling off the tongue easier.)

Final thoughts

Choosing your brand’s preferred term can be difficult but a worthwhile effort. If you want to engage with Latinx audiences (or any other group you might not belong to) meaningfully, every detail needs to have careful consideration put behind it.

And you can always share your thoughts on the challenges involved in the process, as others have done.