Latino, Hispanic or Latinx? Which term should you use and how do Utahns feel about them?

An illustration highlights some panethnic terms like Latino and Hispanic as well as country-specific terms like Boricua and Mexican.

An illustration highlights some panethnic terms like Latino and Hispanic as well as country-specific terms like Boricua and Mexican. (Sydnee Gonzalez,

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Hispanic, Latino, Latinx or something else? Which term should you be using and which term do people prefer?

For those who fall under the panethnic umbrella of one of these terms, cultural identity is much more nuanced and profound than a simple label, so the answers to these questions are as varied as the over 510,000 in Utah who identified as Hispanic in the most recent census.

So what is the difference between the terms Hispanic and Latino?

  • Latino/Latina: Refers to individuals with Latin American heritage, including non-Spanish speaking countries like Brazil.
  • Hispanic: Refers to Spanish speakers or those with heritage from Spanish-speaking countries, although it has become popular to interchange it with Latino.
  • Latinx: This is a gender-neutral version of Latino or Latina that comes from American academia. It has been criticized for breaking English and Spanish grammar rules and being awkward to pronounce in Spanish. "Latiné" is another gender-neutral option that is easily pronounced in Spanish.

But for many, deciding which term to use is a matter of preference — and those preferences can vary significantly.

Jacob Flores, of Orem, and Gabriel Muñoz, of Magna, both have Mexican heritage and prefer to use the term Latino. Flores said the term "feels the most broad," while Muñoz said the term is simply "what best describes me."

Yet Oliver Antuna-Valencia — whose family is from Baja California Sur, Mexico, but lives in West Valley City — prefers the term Hispanic.

"It was what I grew up calling myself, so it's just a term that is familiar. It is also gender neutral unlike Latino/Latina," he said.

Gonzalo Peña hosts the "InnoLatino" podcast, which interviews Latinos across the country about innovation, diversity and leadership. Although he uses Latino, he sees it as a misnomer since it can be construed to refer to individuals from countries with languages descended from Latin — which would include French, Italians and Romanians as well. He also used the term Latinx for awhile, but stopped because he felt the term was coming mostly from outside his community.

Peña believes the term that makes the most sense to label individuals with roots both in the Iberian Penisula (Spain and Portugal) and Latin America is "Ibero-Americans." But he's not pushing people to use that term.

"I would say let's strive for unity. Because the more divisions we create ourselves, the harder it's going to be for people to relate to us and for us as a community to move forward," he said. "And that's why I'm not throwing it out there like, 'We should call ourselves Ibero-Americans because it's the most accurate' — because, hey, it's adding one more variable and people are gonna get confused even more."

So he's landed on Latino as his preferred term, not only because it's become so widely adopted after decades of use both in the U.S. and Latin America, but because it includes individuals with ties to non-Spanish speaking Latin American countries like Brazil.

Alicia Betancourt, a 31-year-old Puerto Rican living in West Valley City, prefers Latina. But says she supports efforts to add inclusive words into Spanish.

"I think 'Latiné,' as a way to either address someone who is non-gender-(conforming) or as a way to address a group of people in an inclusive manner, is the latest addition that is used more in Latin American countries," she said. "To me, 'Latinx' is good but outdated now. We should go with the flow with how language evolves within our society because why not?"

Angel Castillo, whose father is from Jalisco, Mexico, prefers using Latinx because of its inclusivity.

"I am all about inclusivity, especially as it pertains to honoring a person's pronouns. Using 'Latinx' is a way of affirming, 'I see you, honor our heritage and I am a safe person to be your authentic self with,'" he said. "I've noticed many people my age (over 50) seem to prefer Hispanic, with higher usage of Latinx with people 30s and below."

Jasmine Delgado, a 23-year-old Colombian living in Sandy, however, disagrees.

"Latinx is just a way for white people to try to sound educated and inclusive when talking about a different race," she said. "It is actually offensive to most people I know."

Others prefer not to use a panethnic term. For example, Matias Pedreira, a 33-year-old University of Utah student from Uruguay, instead opts for country-specific labels like Uruguayan.

"While we are Latinos, each country has its own culture and traditions," Pedreira said in Spanish. "Unfortunately in the United States, there is a lot of ignorance of Latino culture and when they only use Latino/a, Americans immediately think of a Mexican and that everything is like Mexico. Using specific terms would help improve these preconceptions."

Provo resident Andrea Zapata, 21, agrees. Her parents are from Spain and Peru, but she grew up in Spain. She says country-specific terms feel less tied to race.

"I have struggled identifying with a race since in Spain I am considered white and not Latinx and here I am," she said. "I feel like Spaniard is the most accurate, factual name."

Andrea Silva, a 28-year-old Salt Laker, said she also prefers country-specific labels. In fact, before moving to the U.S. from Mexico, she had never identified as Latina or Hispanic.

As a professor at the University of Utah, Tanya Flores has seen an uptick in students' use of Latinx. However, she and other faculty have come up with "Latinidad" for themselves.

"I don't know if that will catch on, but it works for us," she said.

Why do individuals identify with a term like Latino, Latinx or Hispanic?

"The short answer is identity, but it's an interesting question because identifying with any one of these labels implies that the person associates with their interpretation of the difference between the words," said Flores, who specializes in Spanish linguistics. "Of course, there are people who use two or three of these terms interchangeably, or choose one depending on who they're talking to — i.e. other Latinos or not, their ages, etc. — and the context — where they are, why they are needing to employ a label, etc."

"Identity and inclusivity are good reasons to rally around a label. Some terms were created to promote inclusivity and that's a noble attempt, but as I tell my students, language reflects society," she continued. "If there's a social problem, we'll find words/ways to talk about it. The labels (or any word/phrase) can be used for good or for bad depending on the context and users. Using language intentionally can be a powerful way to influence society but the problems can be circular and lead to exclusion."

But so much can go into that identity.

University of Arizona researchers found that national origin, generation, race, and college education play the most notable roles in whether individuals prefer Latino or Hispanic. For example, Mexicans, third-generation-plus immigrants, those who identify as white, those without a college degree are more likely to prefer the term Hispanic, according to the researchers' report.

Young women are also more likely to use Latinx, according to a Pew Research Center study that found only 25% of U.S. Hispanics and Latinos had heard of Latinx and only 3% use it. Those who were ages 18-29 were overwhelmingly more likely to have heard of the term.

Flores added that geography, population size and demographics are also important regarding how people identify with certain labels, including hyphenated terms like "Mexi-rican" (someone who is both Mexican and Puerto Rican).

What makes a term stick?

Although there was strong resistance to using Hispanic a few decades ago, it's become more accepted and used interchangeably with Latino, which has also grown in popularity. Meanwhile, terms like Latinx and Chicano have not yet gained such widespread usage.

Flores said Chicano's usage, for example, has changed over the years, with many of her generation seeing the term as synonymous with Mexican Americans.

"However, it was originally a politically specific term that meant someone was of Mexican descent but didn't speak Spanish. Enough was written about this that I think the attention to that change contributed to its fallout. People tend to avoid self-identifying labels if they have to be careful about using them 'correctly.'"

Social media can also influence how people interact with these terms.

"I think social media and usage in public spaces are more influential. If a celebrity Puerto Rican, for instance, publicly preferred one term over another, their Puerto Rican fans may be more inclined to use that term for themselves, too," she said.

So what makes a certain term stick more than another? A big part of that staying power is institutional support, Flores said. Both Hispanic and Latino are used on government documents — even if their definitions there aren't always clear. In fact, that lack of clarity may also be advantageous to the terms' continuity.

"By the Hispanic/Latino community members, they have been generally accepted as somewhat vague and flexible," Flores said. "This is linguistically useful because the communities they signal are ever-changing populations that are difficult to label."

Most recent Voces de Utah stories

Related topics

Multicultural UtahUtahVoces de Utah
Sydnee Chapman Gonzalez is a reporter and recent Utah transplant. She works at the Utah Investigative Journalism Project and was previously at and the Wenatchee World in Washington. Her reporting has focused on marginalized communities, homelessness and local government. She grew up in Arizona and has lived in various parts of Mexico. During her free time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, rock climbing and embroidery.


Stay current on local Latino/Hispanic events, news and stories when you subscribe to the Voces de Utah newsletter.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast