By Jennifer Dellapina and Chris Traina
In 1970, the United States Census Bureau coined the term “Hispanic” to reflect the growing population from Spanish-speaking countries. While many identify with the term, others prefer to call themselves “Latino” or “Latina,” reflecting their origin from a Latin-American country. But there’s a new contender on the scene: Latinx.
The use of the term has been exploding, but what does it mean, exactly? Will it replace Hispanic or Latino? Who identifies as Latinx? And should your brand use it in consumer-facing communications?
The term was devised in order to be inclusive of all genders and has become associated with a forward-thinking mindset. By incorporating this into your brand’s language, you will:
- demonstrate solidarity with a broader group of people -- not only those who identify as Latinx, but those who appreciate your apparent support of the transgender and non-binary population
- identify yourself as a brand in line with progressive thinking
- communicate with some younger Hispanics (particularly Millennials and Gen Z) with language that reflects their own
Seems like a no-brainer to use it -- right? Not so fast.
While there’s no doubt Latinx is a more inclusive choice than Latino or Latina, it comes with some very important watch-outs -- primary amongst them, that while 23% have heard the term, only 3% of the Hispanic population identities as “Latinx.”
Although 18 to 24-year-olds are more likely to adopt the term than others, the single largest group who identify as such -- women in this age group -- only amount to 14%. And just a third of all Latinos who are aware of the term agree that it should be used.
So why is the remaining two-thirds not embracing this inclusive term? There are several reasons. Here are a few at the top of the list:
Many Spanish speakers feel the term is not suited to Spanish. It’s not easily pronounceable, it is redundant to other words, and perhaps most bothersome, it seems to have been created for Anglos who don’t have a good grasp on the gendered nature of the Spanish language. A common argument is that usage of “Latinx” mars the beauty of Spanish.
While non-Hispanics may feel uncomfortable referring to an object -- or even moreso, a group of mixed gender people -- as masculine or feminine, it doesn’t have the same awkward feeling to native Spanish speakers. Gendering a noun, even when that noun refers to people, comes naturally. So many native speakers don’t see what issue Latinx ostensibly solves.
Paradoxically, while at its heart is inclusion, some argue that Latinx may actually exclude certain groups -- primarily women, who fought to be acknowledged in a male-dominated culture. The concern is that, with widespread use, Latinx could erase “Latina”, which feels like a loss to the feminist community.
Language is a living entity that is constantly evolving. It expands by adding new terms, and contracts by jettisoning those that no longer serve our collective purpose. We add new words all the time -- unfriended, YOLO, selfie. And we lose them too -- we rarely say “stewardess” anymore, in favor of “flight attendant.” The same goes for “mailman,” which has become “mail carrier.” These are pointed examples, as they show how gendered language falls out of favor in lieu of more progressive terms.
Which brings us back to Latinx. It is commonly used at progressive institutions like universities, art and film festivals, and media outlets like NPR. But even with good intentions, it may irritate some, as non-Latin natives may not be aware of the arguments against it.
Our recommendation to marketers who are thinking of using the term: do some real soul-searching. If you are a company born of Latino values, run by Latinos, targeting the Latino community, then you are probably well within comfortable territory to use Latinx at will. But others must demonstrate an authentic and sustained commitment to the community in order to earn the “right” to use it. And even then, you should proceed with caution.
The time for Latinx may be coming. However, it’s still finding its place and comfort zone among the people it is meant to represent. In the meantime, go with the term that feels true and authentic to the culture of your brand. In the end, your actions speak volumes more about your brand than using the latest buzzwords.
Jennifer Dellapina is Group Strategic Planning Director at Conill. Truth-seeker, fluff-killer and market diagnostician, “JD” loves to get stuff done correctly and quickly. And win awards in the process.