The origins of the term “Latinx” and the debate on how people choose to identify

·2 min read

The original National Hispanic Heritage Week was first established in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1988, it was extended to a month by President Ronald Reagan. Since then, Americans have observed the holiday from September 15th to October 15th by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

This year more Americans than ever will be celebrating as the latest census shows the number of Latinx and Hispanic people in the United States have surpassed 60 million, making up roughly 19% of the population.

The recent Yahoo event Celebrating Latinx & Hispanic Heritage Month welcomed leaders from the Latinx and Hispanic community to discuss family, culture, politics, media and music. One of the discussions focused on the term “Latinx”, its origins and how the group it is meant to represent views its usage.

Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Global Migration and Demography Research at Pew Research discussed the latest stats on the ‘new’ term and that according to 2019 research only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have even heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves.

“Latinx, it's been around for a while, it came out in the 1990s, as part of again, a broader movement to be more inclusive of the stories about people who whether women or men, people who may be of a particular gender, it's meant to be all encompassing and inclusive in a number of ways. And that's why I think you see many celebrities, companies, universities, news media organizations using the term Latinx.”

With such a diverse population with vast and rich histories it is hard to label an entire group with one name. For years, the term Hispanic has been used to represent this population of American citizens but that term has been phased out recently as Arianna Davis, Senior Director of Editorial and Strategy for Oprah Daily, describes.

“Language is always evolving. Terms are always going to be evolving. Hispanic is a phrase that people are no longer using as much because it was created by the government. So, I think it's really personal, what you personally prefer to be called. And I think, you know, just trying to keep up with what the latest races are so that you can be as inclusive as possible is always important as well.”

Davis, the author of the book “What Would Frida Do: A Guide to Living Boldly” knows that one term even with good intentions may not be a cure-all to describe a robust group of people who hail from many different countries with many different customs and traditions.

“You know, I think the key with identity is “I”. I think that identity really is personal. And so my philosophy is always however you personally want to identify, I personally still identify as Latina, but as a journalist, and as a writer, I use “Latinx” because I want to be as inclusive as possible. And I think that in today's times what takes priority when it comes to talking about large groups is being as inclusive as possible, making sure you're not excluding anyone.”