‘Hispanic,’ ‘Latino,’ or ‘Latinx’? Survey Says…

Interesting survey and differences in use:

We’ve been using the term “Latinx” on NPR’s Code Switch podcast regularly. But new research shows it hasn’t really caught on among Latino adults in the U.S.: While one in four have heard of the term, only 3% use it.

The Pew Research Center’s national survey of Latinos queried more than 3,000 respondents about the term Latinx, and I spoke with their director of global migration and demography research, Mark Hugo Lopez, about their findings. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

In Pew’s latest survey of Latinx adults living in the United States, you found that only three percent self-identify as Latinx. What’s being used instead?

a pie chart showing that most Latino adults have not heard of the term "Latinx" and that fewer use it

What we found is that “Hispanic” is preferred by far. Then, Latino, and finally, as you noted, a very small share say that they prefer Latinx. But there’s another important finding in the report, which is about awareness of the term. Latinx is a relatively new umbrella term on the scene. It’s been around for about 20 years, but it’s only recently — in the last five or six years— really begun to be used widely in the news media, in pop culture and by corporations. Universities have been using it for a while, but only about a quarter of people in this population say they’ve actually heard the term. So the term is relatively unknown to the population it’s meant to describe.

You say it’s been around for 20 years. That’s longer than I thought. Where did it originate?

There’s actually been Google searches all the way back to 2004, the beginning of Google Trends’ search data. However, in the ’90s, there were a lot of changes at universities. For example – Chicano studies programs were renamed Chicana/o studies, to better represent the experiences of both men and women, to be gender inclusive.

As people were searching for a way to be inclusive, Latinx emerged sometime in the late’ 90s. That’s the earliest reference that I found as we were doing this study. But it did start to rise in use, especially after the Pulse nightclub shooting. Latinx is a term that is gender inclusive and inclusive of LGBT adults. That’s where you started to see it in headlines and in news coverage. And that may have led to more Google searches. There have been other events, like when Elizabeth Warren used it. But we saw the highest level of searches in June of 2020, more than we’ve ever seen relative to the past, so we’re actually at a high point right now. But just because there are more Google searches, that doesn’t mean that’s the term people want to use to describe themselves.

So, who are the 3% your survey says self-identify as Latinx?

It is young people, people ages 18 to 29 who are most likely to be aware of the term. Forty-two percent of them, for example, say that they’ve heard the term Latinx. Interestingly, only seven percent of that group actually use the term to describe themselves. Another group that uses it more than others are college-educated people. U.S.-born English speakers are also more likely to use it.

a graph showing that one-third of Latinos who are aware of the term "Latinx" say it should be used as a pan-ethnic term

And interestingly, the one group that uses it the most is young Hispanic women ages 18 to 29. About 14 percent of Hispanic women say that they use the term to describe themselves. That’s almost one in seven people, and that’s one of the highest shares of use that we see among the data that we collected.

We’ve done stories on the Code Switch podcast about the birth of the pan-ethnic label to refer to people in the U.S. who trace their roots to Latin America. And we know how hard-won those labels were, whether it’s Hispanic or Latino. But, based on your research, people would still rather identify based on country of origin, not based on these broad umbrella terms.

That’s right. We found over the years, over 15 years of surveys, that when it comes to the labels that people want to use to describe themselves, more often than not, they prefer their country of origin. That’s true particularly of immigrants, but it’s also true even of U.S.-born Hispanics or Latinos who are the children of U.S.-born parents. Into the third generation, oftentimes the most common term used references the country of origin, like Mexican, Dominican, Cuban or Puerto Rican. And that’s something that’s been pretty strong over the years.

In your research over the last two decades, specifically on this issue, do you feel like the adoption of pan-ethnic labels is becoming more popular?

That’s a really great question, because there are a number of demographic trends underway that are impacting the way in which this population that we’re talking about sees itself. About a quarter of all newlyweds who are Latino have a spouse who’s non-Latino. And that’s been true for about 30 years. But, an inflow of new immigrants during the 1980s, ’90s and into the 2000s softened the impact of that of intermarriage in terms of identity. But now it’s US births that are the biggest source of growth of the Latino population.

What does this mean in terms of self-identification? You’ll find that, for example, among immigrants, nearly 90% will say they’re Hispanic. Among U.S.-born children of immigrant parents of this heritage, you’ll also find about 90%will self-identify as Hispanic. But by the third generation that falls to about 75%. And then by the fourth generation, only half of them self-identify as Hispanic.

So what happens to the identity and self-identifying with this group over the course of several decades with high rates of intermarriage and without a new inflow of immigrants? What would that mean for this population in terms of how they identify?

What pan-ethnic label do you use? I heard you say Hispanic and Latino a lot.

The Pew Research Center uses them interchangeably in our reports, as does the U.S. Census Bureau. For me personally, it varies depending on where I’m at, because it does matter who asks. For example, I might say I’m Hispanic in a certain part of the country. I’m here in Southern California right now, here I tend to use Chicano, because my dad had been in the Chicano movement in the ’60s and ’70s locally, and so it was important to identify as such. And when I travel abroad, for example, I might actually say that I’m American because most people in Europe, for example, may not be aware of the distinctions between Hispanic, Latino, etc. And if I am in other parts of the country, I might use Latino. It depends how I feel that day. I think that’s really important here, what people use can change depending on the circumstances, who’s asking and how and where they are.

Source: ‘Hispanic,’ ‘Latino,’ or ‘Latinx’? Survey Says…

Why Labeling Antonio Banderas A ‘Person Of Color’ Triggers Such A Backlash

Interesting reflections on identity and who is Latino or Hispanic.

Same issues emerge with respect to Canadian visible minority classifications: Argentine and Chilean are not formally classified as Latin American by StatsCan yet ethnic media regularly portrays Canadian politicians of Argentine and Chilean origin as Latino (e.g., Heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez):

As Oscars night approaches on Sunday, movie fans are being reminded of a persistent diversity problem in the film industry’s most anticipated awards event: Few nominees aren’t white.

Only one person of color was nominated in the acting categories: Cynthia Erivo for her role as Harriet Tubman in the biopic Harriet.

Some media, however, also alluded to another actor as an exception to the #OscarsSoWhite dilemma: Outlets called Antonio Banderas, nominated for best actor for his role in Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, an actor of color.

The thing is, Banderas is from Málaga, Spain, and does not identify as a person of color. There are nonwhite Spanish people, but this isn’t the case for him.

In an interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos in January, Banderas was asked about the controversy. He chuckled and said he prefers to take it with a bit of humor.

“I don’t know what I am,” he told Ramos. “When I’ve gone to the U.S., I’ve considered myself Latino, because those are the people I’ve connected with the most.”

Banderas then recalled filling out an official form in the U.S.: When he went to check the box for “white” under race, he was told that was wrong, that he was Hispanic.

“I said, ‘Hispanic isn’t actually a race,’ ” Banderas told Ramos, but he went ahead and checked the Hispanic box. “Great, I’m happy to be Hispanic, Spanish, Latino, and if I’m a person of color, well then I’m a person of color.”

The idea that Banderas is a white European may be obvious to many, especially those in the Latinx community, but it’s not the first time a white Spaniard has been referred to in the U.S. as a “person of color” or Latinx.

After all, Spaniards are technically considered Hispanic by the U.S. Census Bureau, which defines the term as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”

And Latinx is a gender-inclusive variation of Latino/Latina, which generally includes any person of Latin American descent.

Banderas has often taken on Latin American roles in movies, including a Mexican mariachi assassin in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado.

A person of color?

After the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees last month, the news site Deadline wrote that the men’s acting categories “were dominated by white actors with Antonio Banderas being the lone person of color” and later tweeting that “only two actors of color were nominated in the major acting categories.” The publication eventually deleted both comments, although the previous version of the article is on other sites.

Vanity Fair wrote — and eventually deleted — that “while Spaniards are not technically considered people of color, it should be noted” that Banderas was also nominated.

And Reuters initially referred to Banderas and Erivo as the only “not white” actors nominated. The news agency later corrected the mistake, but some publications had already run the original version.

The backlash in Spain has been fierce.

Spanish media pounced on the word choice. Some publications accused the U.S. of having an “absurd obsession” with race. Others criticized Hollywood, saying that it was “convenient” to consider Banderas a person of color to appear more diverse.

To make things more confusing, Spanish media translated “person of color” literally — persona de color — a phrase that, in Spain, isn’t used in the same way as in the United States. While different Spanish-speaking countries have variations of the concept, in Spain the term persona racializada is usually used instead.

To many Spaniards’ ears, persona de color made it sound like Americans were saying Banderas was black. Twitter users made jokes about the term, saying Banderas is a person of color — the color white.

Putting Spanish in the same box

But others thought the term offensive and called it racist.

Juan Pedro Sánchez, 25, who lives in Madrid and weighed in on the Twitter discussion, criticized those who responded negatively, saying the concept of race and ethnicity varies according to where you are. He said Spaniards were all too quick to point out that they’re white.

“A lot of people in Spain are bothered if others confuse them for Latin American because Spaniards see Latinos as people of color, and they don’t want to be associated with that,” Sánchez tells NPR.

He says this confusion happens often to Spaniards traveling outside Spain. He experienced it firsthand when he spent a summer in Chicago in 2017.

“It’s a reoccurring problem — they put Spaniards in the same box as Latinos,” says Sánchez. “What bothers me is not being considered a person of color, but that people ignore that Spain was a colonizer country. It erases that history.”

There’s another part of history that’s sometimes overlooked. Whiteness within Spain itself is complicated. There have been historically marginalized communities, including people with Roma or North African ancestry, who are often considered nonwhite. At times in history, many Spaniards have also felt like the “other” in Europe.

Not just about language

Spanish-speakers have a variety of backgrounds. Many people labeled Hispanic also identify as white, black, Middle Eastern, Indigenous, Asian or any mix of these. But many Hispanic and Latinx people don’t speak Spanish.

Confusion around labels can lead people to assume that someone identifies as Latinx or as a person of color simply because Spanish is their mother tongue, according to sociologist Jennifer Jones at the University of Illinois.

“There’s just a presumption that anyone who speaks Spanish is of a certain background,” says Jones. “I think there’s this interesting slippage, which has happened from the beginning of the invention of the so-called Hispanic category, that it was primarily understood by a lot of folks as about language and less about country of origin.”

Jones says there’s a reason the term Hispanic is so vague. When it was first introduced into the U.S. census in 1980, the idea was to be as inclusive and all-encompassing as possible, so as to not leave out any groups. Before 1980, people of Latin American descent were labeled white by the U.S. government — but by being grouped with whites, there were few statistics on the Latinx community and therefore no way of knowing what its concerns and needs were.

“There wasn’t a lot of consensus about what it meant to be Hispanic in the first place, and so [those lobbying for the term to be created] were kind of reluctant to give very clear parameters around that,” says Jones. “But they realized there was power in numbers to be able to make claims to the state, in terms of resources and support, to create a voting bloc and to get lawsuits around these kinds of issues. So they sort of banded together as a way of asking for a category.”

Linguistic anthropologist Jonathan Rosa at Stanford University says it’s precisely because of this inclusive language that people from Spain can now strategically access certain political and economic markets — and benefit from the ambiguity of the definition of Hispanic.

“People fought really hard to have these categories or to make recognition possible for artistic or athletic or intellectual prowess,” Rosa says. “And I think there’s legitimate concern when someone who isn’t associated with the kinds of histories of marginalization and exclusion … is benefiting.”

Latin music?

He gives the example of Spanish flamenco-trap singer Rosalía, who has won various Latin music awards since her career took off internationally in late 2018: an MTV award for best Latin video, five Latin Grammys and, just last month, a Grammy for best Latin rock, urban or alternative album.

“She then ends up being a sign of these really troublesome layered forms of marginalization where not only is there only one category [for Latinx music] but the only person who can be honored within that category isn’t even associated with the experience that that category was allegedly created to recognize,” says Rosa.

But that experience can be hard to define. Even within the Latinx community itself, people face different kinds of marginalization. Many factors are at play, including race, socioeconomic class and education level. A white, middle-class person from Chile may be treated differently in the U.S. from a working-class person from El Salvador with Indigenous roots.

“Things need to be complicated”

And then there are the different experiences between new immigrants and Latinx people born in the U.S. or whose families have been stateside for generations. What’s more, the terms Hispanic and Latinx have frequently fluctuated to include or exclude different communities and nationalities.

As Banderas notes, in the U.S., Spaniards are considered Hispanic. That may mean that they receive similar treatment to those in the Latinx community.

In Rosa’s view, that’s not as much a problem as the risk of overlooking Spain’s history of colonialization.

“People say you’re making things more complicated, but things need to be complicated,” says Rosa. “I just worry that we end up flattening out history. My goal here is not to police Latinidad [Latin-ness],” he says. “My goal is to draw attention to these power dynamics.”

Source: Why Labeling Antonio Banderas A ‘Person Of Color’ Triggers Such A Backlash