Where You Fit in the Confusing and Gendered World of Hispanic/Latino/a/x

In our own countries, we have little use for sloppy umbrella terms such as Latino or Hispanic – we are simply Colombiano, Mexicano, Hondureño. However, once we, or our parents, or our grandparents, start to build lives in the United States, suddenly the labels we have for ourselves cease to matter. Government forms and standardized exams do not care if you came from Panama or Paraguay, what they want to know is simply if you are Hispanic/Latino (check yes/no.)

So where do each of us fit in this system? Hispanic, linguistically the standout of the group, also has the most distinct meaning. Referring to someone with heritage from a Spanish speaking country, the term Hispanic includes Spain, which is not in Latin America, but is Spanish speaking, and excludes Brazil, which despite being in South America, speaks primarily Portuguese. The terms Latino/a/x, on the other hand, refer to someone from a country geographically located in Latin America, from Mexico down to Chile, and excludes any language requirement, a definition which includes Brazil and excludes Spain.

The differences in the o/a/x suffix attached to Latin has to do with the gender of the thing being described, which stems from Spanish itself being a gendered language. As many know, an “a” ending refers to a female subject or group of female subjects, and an “o” ending refers to a male subject or a group which includes at least one male subject. A woman would describe herself as Latina, a man as Latino, an all-female family as Latina, and a family that includes at least one male as Latino. Easy enough. So where does Latinx come into play? The term Latinx encompasses a Latin identity, describing someone with heritage from Latin America, but without a gendered component. Queer people within the United States Latino/a/x community are largely responsible for the popularization of the term, as many queer people do not strongly identify with gendered language. Now, the term Latinx has found wider use as a term which does not need to presume the gendered makeup of a group, or give supremacy to the men in a group, as the term Latino might imply.

However, the “x” sound as found in the word “Latinx” is a very Anglo-English sound and is hard to use when speaking Spanish. Within some Spanish speaking countries and communities, the term Latine (Latin-e) is slowly but surely entering the mainstream, making use of “e” as a gender-neutral ending that translates well in Spanish and can be applied to other words in the language as well. Nonbinary people, who do not strongly identify with the concept of being a man or being a woman, can make use of the gender neutral “e” as well as the relatively new gender-neutral pronoun elle (e-ye). For example, one could say “Elle es alte y Latine” when referring to a nonbinary person. However, that is not to say that Latine is only for people who do not fit within the gender binary, instead, Latine can be used wherever Latinx is, which is always. Hispanic, Latina, Latino, Latinx, and Latine each have their own meanings, and however you identify is up to you, but together, we form one community.

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