Hispanic. Latina/o. Latinx. Which term are you supposed to use? Well, it depends.
Researchers have grappled with discussing race and ethnicity for years, but there is still no clear solution, especially with continuously evolving identities.
While many surveys and government forms often ask students to self-identify, the options provided do not always reflect how many students, especially those of Latin American descent, identify.
For Nadia Flores, a Mexican-American and Latina/o studies junior, having to choose a race has often left her baffled. Her options were often something along the lines of “White,” “Black or African-American,” “Asian,” “American Indian,” or “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.” But Nadia didn’t feel like any of these described her.
“When I was a kid, I was really confused because I was like, ‘I’m not white, but I’m not indigenous,” Flores said.
Nadia prefers the term Mexican-American, but she usually fills out forms as white and Hispanic.
“As I’ve gotten older, I understand that for the sake of forms I have to put white.”
Since 1997, the U.S. Census Bureau offers five race options and a second question asking whether respondents are of “Hispanic or Latino” ethnicity.
Although race is a social construct, said Kelly Raley, associate director of UT’s Population Research Center, the U.S. Census Bureau does not list “Hispanic or Latino” as a race in its reporting.
In order to meet federal requirements, UT currently follows this approach and uses the term Hispanic in their institutional reporting.
“This approach is confusing to many who see Hispanic/Latinx as a racial category,” Raley said in an email.
So how did we end up with these standards?
Before the 1970s, there was no official category. John Gonzalez, an English professor and director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, said initially different institutions categorized people by country of origin, last name or language. Then government moved, in the landmark 1954 case Hernandez v. Texas, to ensure equal resources for Mexicans and similar ethnic groups. And to better allocate resources, the government had to come up with population estimates. So the term Hispanic arose in the 1970s.
“The thinking at the time was that they kind of all speak Spanish and are of common Spanish origin,” Gonzalez said.
The term Latino emerged in the late 1970s. Gonzalez said this term arose as a way for Hispanics in the U.S. to recognize their Latin American roots.
“The objection to Hispanic was that it ignored the African and indigenous roots,” Gonzalez said.
The term Latino was officially added to the U.S. Census in 1997, but college students are creating terms of their own to better represent themselves.
The letter “x” in Latinx tries to avoid the gender binary inherent to the words Latino (male) and Latina (female). For political communications junior Julia O’Hanlon, identifying as Latinx allows her to share her Mexican roots despite also being half Irish and Polish.
“It makes space for us Americanized Latin people to still appreciate our culture,” O’Hanlon said. “In my dream census, I would love Latino/a and Latinx as an option.”
Latinx did not exist almost five years ago, Gonzalez said. But it has now become increasingly popular among high school and college students.
The 2020 census will only allow Hispanics to further specify their ethnicity, such as Mexican or Puerto Rican.
But Gonzalez said there could be room for change, especially if students continue using the terms beyond the college.
“Whoever kind of has some influence in the community, they’re the ones who push the terms to go,” Gonzalez said.
You decide: What term should The Daily Texan use?
The Daily Texan wants your input to help us better describe UT’s community. Let us know which term you would prefer for us to use in the poll below.