TAMPA — Is it important to settle on a single word to identify people of Hispanic heritage in the United States?
Whatever the answer, many have tried but met with limited success. It’s a question that takes on added urgency as Hispanics grow as a share of the population in the Tampa Bay area, the state of Florida and across the country.
The word “Latinx,” favored by many younger Hispanics as a more inclusive option, got a boost when it was adopted by the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, the largest and oldest Hispanic and Latino civil rights organization in the U.S.
But LULAC announced in December it was dropping the term from its official communications. The organization’s president, Doming Garcia, said Latinx is simply disliked by too many in the community.
One objection: It’s not a Spanish-language word. Another: The “x” — sounded as “s,” “sh,” or “h” in Spanish — makes it difficult to pronounce.
One arena where the debate plays out every few years is the U.S. Census. The term Hispanic was introduced in the decennial population count in 1980. Twenty years later, the Census added the term Latino.
William Aquino, 27, a Tampa activist for human and gay rights, said individuals should choose for themselves how they want to be described.
“Everyone decides what word best defines them,” Aquino said.
He doesn’t find Latinx to be an offensive word and sees it used widely by people whose first language may not be Spanish.
“I believe that it’s a way to also include any other person beyond a specific gender,” said Aquino. “We live in an era where diversity allows us to identify with freedom.”
The generational difference is apparent in two co-workers at Latin Touch Spanish Grocery at 736 W Brandon Blvd. Camila Hernandez, 19, sees Latinx as a word that is “modern and flexible.” Brayan De Los Rios, 40, said the word “doesn’t make a big difference” compared to other words.
Latinx was introduced as a gender-neutral version of Latino and Latina, the male and female versions of the word, said Elizabeth Aranda, an associate dean and sociology professor at the University of South Florida. The idea was to make language more inclusive of the LGBT community.
“Though it is not used commonly among the older Latino/a/x community, younger generations have adopted it in an effort to not exclude anyone who identifies as such,” Aranda said.
One in five people in the United States are Hispanic, according to the 2020 Census. In the decade leading up to the most recent count, Hispanics accounted for more than half the total U.S. population growth. Another trend: More than 20 million people who identified as Latino also identified as “more than one race,” up from just 3 million in 2010. Most of these people checked “White” and “some other race.”
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
In a December 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center, 23 percent of Hispanic adults who identify as Hispanic or Latino had heard the term Latinx but only 3 percent said they use it to describe themselves.
The survey also found that Latinx is most popular among Hispanic women 18 to 29. Fourteen percent in this group use the term compared to just 1 percent among Hispanic men in the same age group.
The term’s usage may grow with time, Mark Hugo Lopez, one of the study’s authors, told the Tampa Bay Times.
“We have a variety of reactions when we ask about Latinx, but the truth is that terms take a long pathway to be adopted by the public,” Lopez said. “It happened during the 70′s, for example, with the term Hispanic, so who knows?”
The debate over using Latinx prompted the nonprofit Tampa Hispanic Heritage to choose the topic for their annual student essay contest. The question: What does Latinx mean and what is its significance for Hispanics today?
Tampa Hispanic Heritage, founded in 1979 to promote, preserve and celebrate Hispanic heritage in the Tampa Bay area, has sponsored the essay contest for more than three decades. Each year, 100 to 150 students submit essays of 800 words or less.
The contest is open to students in grades 6 through 12 attending public, private or home school in Hillsborough County. Last week was the deadline to submit essays, and winners will be recognized during a special event March 26 at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.
“This is an opportunity for students to dive deeper into this topic,” said Veronica Cintron, who has served as chair of the contest, “to share their views about the term Latinx and how their upbringing and personal experiences helped shape these beliefs.”