Another reminder about labels

Sunday was the final day of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Or maybe you’ve seen it labeled as Latinx Heritage Month. Or Latino/a Heritage Month.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is the name the United States government uses, but many people whom the month celebrates don’t identify with the word Hispanic. And while Latino and Latina are sometimes used as synonyms for Hispanic, they have a slightly different meaning.

The terms "Hispanic" and "Latino/Latina/Latinx/Latine" are not always interchangeable. "Hispanic" refers to people who come from or whose ancestors come from a Spanish-speaking country, while "Latino" refers to people from Latin America. "Latino/Latina/Latinx/Latine" is often the preferred term, but ask for a person's preference. It's OK to use "Latinx" or "Latine" without further explanation to refer to a mixed-gender group or if someone identifies that way. "Latine" can be more suitable for Spanish pronunciation.

Latinx emerged in the mid-2000s as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino and Latina, but a Pew Research Center survey conducted in late 2019 found that only 23% of adults in the U.S. who identify as Hispanic or Latino have even heard of the term and only 3% use it.

Part of the reason for its slow adoption might be that the word isn’t well suited for Spanish pronunciation. Latine is emerging as an alternative, but it doesn’t have widespread adoption yet either.

This serves as an important reminder to never automatically assign a label to someone else and instead ask how they identify when possible. But what about when you’re talking about a group, like during National Hispanic Heritage Month? It’s never easy to apply a simple label to a broad and diverse group, but making thoughtful choices starts with talking to the community you’re serving with your writing.

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