FAU Study: Latinx Through the Lens of Latin Americans

Wheel of terms for Latin

by Teresa Crane | Monday, Apr 20, 2020

Webster defines Latinx as an all-inclusive term, “all people of Latin American origin and descent, as well as a gender neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latina or Latino”. Conclusive evidence of the origin of the term Latinx evades researchers, but repeated use by U.S. scholars has popularized the term in articles and presentations, often without clear definition. Thus, a community of individuals have been identified as Latinx, but do Latin Americans identify themselves as Latinx?

Cristobal Salinas, Jr., Ph.D., addressed the lack of published research focused on the students’ perspective through a novel, qualitative study titled The Complexity of the “x” in Latinx: How Latinx/a/o Students Relate to, Identify With, and Understand the Term Latinx. Salinas investigated whether participants, 34 Latinx/a/o college students, self-identified as Latinx or used the term in their communities.

Participant interviews were guided by a set of questions focused on how they learned, related to, identified with, and understood the term Latinx. Data were analyzed employing categorical aggregation to cluster complex data into categories to search for meaning. Three themes emerged, learning about the term Latinx, defining the term Latinx and using the term Latinx.

Participants first encountered the term Latinx via social media and in higher education settings. The majority were confused by social media posts. One student recounted seeing Latinx first on Facebook, “I grew up in Los Angeles…I just assumed the ‘x’ stood for LA because of LAX.” Most students learned about the term from peers in higher education. Only three students said that they learned the term from professors in a classroom setting.

Participants defined Latinx as people who do not identify along the European settler-colonial gender binary, as well as inclusive for all people of Latin American origin and descent. Most students agreed that Latinx aims to be inclusive and has the intention to include those who do not identify as Latinaor Latino. Participants recounted a variety of characterizations for the term;  “…an inclusive way of describing our community”, “…inclusivity for the LGBT community”, inclusive “of everyone” including “transgender folks,” “gender nonconforming,” and undocumented students, “…all-inclusive term that would include potentially ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation.” One student found the term as “trying to be inclusive”, but noted that it cannot include everyone if it is only supported by the English language.

All participants used the term Latinx to refer to their community as a whole. Three students self-identified as Latinx in higher education spaces, but not in their home or community. The majority did not identify as Latinx, rather they self-identified a Latiné, Latinu, Latina, or Latino. The term Latinx was not threatening to the identity of Latino men, while most Latina women did not wish to lose their identity as independent women of color and/or erase their accomplishments as Latinas with a gender-neutral term. “I do not self-identify as a Latinx because yo soy mujer [I am a woman],” said one female participant.

Salinas concluded that “it is essential to recognize that the term Latinx is not commonly used among people of Latin American origin and diaspora…” and that “Latinx as a form of self-identity is central to subjectivity.” He proposes the need for an alternative term that encompasses the fluidity of social identities. Salinas offers Latin* (pronounced Latin) as an all-inclusive, adaptive term which “creates a space that encompasses gender fluidity and identity labels that already exist, as well as those that have yet to be included in mainstream vocabulary.” The asterisk in Latin* could also be used within a search as a placeholder for words attached to the prefix Latin. In this sense, Latin* can consider Latinx, Latiné, Latinu, Latino, Latina, Latina/o, Latin@, Latin, or Latin American.

Cristobal Salinas, Jr. is an assistant professor in the College of Education at Florida Atlantic University. His research explores the economic, social, and political context of educational opportunities for historically marginalized communities of people. In particular, he explores the three levels of oppression: institutional, cultural, and individual levels.

Salinas, Jr., C. (2020) The Complexity of the “x” in Latinx: How Latinx/a/o Students Relate to, Identify With, and Understand the Term Latinx. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 19(2), 149-168 Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1538192719900382#


Article first published online: January 12, 2020; Issue published: April 1, 2020