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How to explain Latino, Latina, Latine, Latinx, and Hispanic identity terms to kids

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Whether you’re of Latin American or Spanish descent or not, you may have run into some confusion or debate surrounding the use of words like Latinx, Latine, Hispanic and other identity terms.

It can be hard to know what term(s) to use and what to tell your kids about what the terms mean. One word or label won’t always fully capture a person’s cultural identity, but it’s great that there are terms like this that can help us express our identity to others!

Language evolves a lot, and people may want to use the most updated, inclusive words — but that can be complicated. After all, more than 62 million people were counted as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish in the latest Census — and that’s only within the U.S.

Here’s a guide (and suggested script!) for curious kids and families who want to know what these identity terms actually mean, and which ones to use in what situations. For younger kids or kids who don’t want a detailed description, focus on the first and last sections.

Find out what terms kids have heard

“Have you heard people say words like Hispanic, Latino or Latina? What about Latine or Latinx? I’m curious if any of these are used by your teachers or classmates, or if you’ve seen them online.

These are all different words to describe people whose families are from Spanish-speaking or Latin American cultures. They all have slightly different meanings, and some people have different preferences.”

What’s the difference between Hispanic and Latine/Latino?

Hispanic refers to people from Spanish-speaking countries — such as from some Latin American or Caribbean countries, Spain, and other Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. Some people might also informally say Spanish to mean the same thing.

Latino (etc.) refers to people of Latin American descent — meaning they or someone in their family are from a Latin American country. So that could include Brazil or Belize, where other languages are spoken. But it wouldn’t include Spain and some other places where Spanish is also spoken.

But most people probably don’t think about the differences between these words and might use them interchangeably.”

What about Latinx, Latine, and the other spellings?

“Depending on who’s talking or writing, and who they’re talking or writing about, you might also hear or see variations like Latin, Latine, or Latinx. Language varies and changes a lot!

Because Spanish is a gendered language, words tend to end in ‘o’ for masculine, or ‘a’ for feminine. But many people think it’s not inclusive enough to attach a gender when talking about a group of people of different genders.

One solution is to replace the ‘o’ or ‘a’ with an ‘x.’ But that can be hard to pronounce because ‘x’ isn’t a sound normally used in Spanish, so some prefer to use an ‘e’ at the end instead. For instance, Latines or amigues.”

What’s the debate?

“Many think Latine or Latinx is the most inclusive term because it can include people of any gender identity. But many others of Latin American descent don’t feel comfortable using one or both of these terms.

Every person of Latin American or Spanish descent might have their own favorite word — or might not like any of them! There are more than 62 million Hispanic or Latine people in the U.S., and there is a ton of diversity within that label, so of course everyone is not going to agree on just one word.”

Which term should we use?

“If we are talking or writing about someone else, we should find out first what word they prefer to describe themselves. Since words like Latino are very broad, some people like to use more specific words based on their families’ country like Guatemalan or Venezuelan.

People feel most respected when they use the words they are most comfortable with, and others follow their lead. So let’s remember to take the time to listen to others, and to reflect on our own identity words as well.”

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.