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Newsroom style guide: Ethnicity

How we reference others’ identities matters.

Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Latine…which is correct?

You may have noticed that we’ve started using Latine instead of Latino to describe those of Latin American descent in our original reporting. (This policy does not extend to republications from other outlets.) Here’s why. definition of Latine

You may (or maybe not) have noticed that we’ve never used the term Hispanic in our reporting. Why? We defer to the leading online dictionary:

“The word Hispanic carries with it the specification of a person’s language, referring to people from or with a heritage rooted in Spanish-speaking Latin American countries or Spain. Latino is used as an identifier among people from or with a heritage rooted in Latin America, irrespective of language and inclusive of countries where Spanish is not the most widely spoken language, such as Brazil and Haiti.”

Basically, people from Latin America don’t just speak Spanish; there are numerous other languages (e.g. Portuguese, French and Creole) and dialects (e.g. Quechua, Mayan), too. Moreover, proponents of recognizing Black and Indigenous cultures as a part of Latin culture argue Hispanic reflects the “imperialist history of Spain as a European colonizer in Latin America,” whose settlement came at the expense and erasure of Black and Indigenous culture and languages. (For similar reasons, the “Latin” in Latin America, considered Eurocentric, is also contested.)

So, Hispanic is out. What about the traditional Latino or Latina or Latinos used in Spanish?

Both are gendered terms (-o endings are masculine in Spanish, -a endings are feminine). The move toward Latinx was a way to describe more than one gender with inclusivity and reflects a broader movement around gender identity in the country.

Latinx and Latine are “gender-neutral, pan-ethnic” alternatives to gendered Spanish language. They’re used to describe a group that includes more than one gender. In 2018, Merriam-Webster added the term to their English dictionary. While online searches for Latinx first appeared in the early aughts, according to a 2020 study by Pew Research Center:

“The first substantial rise in searches (relative to all online searches) appeared in June 2016 following a shooting at Pulse nightclub, an LGBTQ dance club in Orlando, Florida, that was hosting its Latin Night on the date of the attack. In subsequent years, the term’s use on social media by celebritiespoliticians and grassroots organizations has grown. In addition, some academic centers at community collegespublic universities and Ivy League universities are replacing Latino program names that were established in previous decades with new Latinx-focused names.”

Bar chart showing young adults and college graduates are more likely to have heard of and use the term Latinx.

Though it’s been around for a while and has had spurts of popularity, researchers found Latinx has never really gained momentum in wide usage. Awareness of the terms doesn’t translate into usage. Only about a quarter of those the study identified as Hispanic adults have ever heard of Latinx. Of those who have heard of it, 20% don’t use it. Those who do use Latinx:

  • Are more likely to be women (24%) than men (22%)
  • Are predominantly young adults age 18-29 (42%); usage declines steeply with age
  • Are twice as likely to be born in the U.S. than foreign-born (32%)
  • Are four-year college graduates (38%), have earned an associate’s degree or attended some college without earning a degree (31%)
  • Identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (29%)

If Latinx and Latine mean the same thing, why use Latine

It’s really a matter of how the terms originated, and a matter of speaking…literally.

“Unlike many words, Latinx originated in written media, which has resulted in different pronunciations, including [ luh-tee-neks ], [ lat-n-eks ], and, particularly among Spanish speakers, [ la-teen-ek-ees ] (in which the ending -x is said as the name of the letter X in Spanish—“equis”).

This may account for the familiarity that English speakers have with Latinx, which is less so among Spanish speakers. Even with the Spanish pronunciation of X as “equis,” Latinx can be cumbersome to pronounce as well as apply to adjective-to-noun agreement in Spanish.”

The bottomline: Latine, at least in a Spanish-speaking context, is believed to flow more naturally. So, for now at least, we’re taking our cues from Spanish-speakers’ preferences and official word nerds who know better than we do.

This piece is just the beginning of conversations around styles and policies on language used by AfroLA. Equity, inclusion and accessibility is part of our editorial mission, and we always want to use language that reflects that. Stay tuned to more to come.

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