Despite the increasing use of “Latinx” in the news media and by some politicians, the gender-neutral word to describe people of Latin American descent is not the preferred term among that group. Just under a quarter, 23%, of those who identify as Hispanic or Latino have even heard of the term “Latinx,” a new Pew Research Center survey found.
Some groups within those who identify as Latino are more likely to use the term than others, said Mark Hugo Lopez, the director of global migration and demography research at Pew.
“Younger people, college-educated Hispanics and notably young, Hispanic women were the ones most likely to say that they used the term Latinx themselves to describe their identity,” Lopez said.
Overall, “Hispanic” is preferred by a 61% majority of people of Latin American descent, followed by “Latino,” which is preferred by 29%, Pew found. Left-leaning people seemed to be more likely to have heard the term “Latinx.”
The term Hispanic first appeared in a full U.S. census in 1980 and Latino in 2000, after some in the community resisted the Hispanic label and its connection to Spain.
“Awareness of the term [Latinx] is relatively low. And it speaks to the relative newness of Latinx as a pan-ethnic term for this population compared to, say, Hispanic and Latino,” Lopez said.
“Latinx” has emerged within a larger push in Latin America to make Spanish and other romance languages gender neutral. In an open-ended question in the Pew survey that asked respondents what the term means to them, 12% said that Latinx is a term they disagree with or dislike, some describing it as an “Anglicism” of the Spanish language.
Criticisms of Latinx are not new, with debates on Twitter erupting every few months. Some argue, inaccurately, that Latinx originated from White-non Hispanic academics.
David Bowles, a Mexican American author and an associate professor of literature at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said that he wasn’t surprised at the survey results, because of how slowly language evolves, especially when it comes from a marginalized group.
“Latinx is definitely the term that has arisen from the queer community,” Bowles said. “Those are the people that were feeling the need for a term that would stop breaking the world into gender binary.”
Bowles, who is bisexual, says he suspects that some of the visceral resistance to using Latinx may be tied to a larger homophobic sentiment in the Latino community.
“It’s nonsense they can use to, in my view, cover up this anti-LGBTQ sentiment,” Bowles said.
Bowles also points out that those who prefer to use Latinx as a larger pan-ethnic label are not imposing the term on other individuals – he primarily identifies as Mexican American or Chicano with Latino as a secondary label. Like the term Hispanic and Latino before it, Latinx may just be the latest in the evolving process of language.
“Language has been evolving since the very first time we ever figured out how to say words,” Bowles said. “And it will continue to evolve.”