What’s In a Name? Identity, Terminology, and Latino Heritage

Several visitors listen as a park ranger talks about the history of the site, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.
During Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), ranger tours on Liberty Island were offered in Spanish several times per week, involving new audiences in the exploration of American, international, and universal experiences related to the Statue of Liberty.

NPS Photo

There is not a single rule when referring to people of Latin American heritage. The question of whether to use “Hispanic,” “Latino,” “Latinx,” or something else has been increasingly debated in our communities, and many express their own preferences.

Engage With Terms

Hispanic: “A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race” according to standards issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This means anyone who speaks Spanish or is descended from the countries listed. Currently interchangeable with Latino/a in government publications.

Latino/Latina: These terms refer to a person who is from, or a descendant of someone who is from a Latin American country, whether they speak Spanish or Portuguese. In Spanish grammar, Latino includes male and female.

Latinx: Latinx (pronounced in English lah-TEEN-ex or LAH-tin-ex) is emerging as a gender-neutral term for Latino/Latina. It brings attention to factors such as gender, sexuality, race, and geography.

Latine: (pronounced lah·TEE·neh) is a gender-neutral form of the word Latino, created by LGBTQ, non-binary, and feminist communities in Latin America. It uses the gender-neutral Spanish suffix “-e.” This idea is native to the Spanish language and can be seen in many gender-neutral words like estudiante.

Masculine and feminine suffixes

Spanish is one of many gender-based languages that defaults to a generic masculine ending to refer to individuals or groups of individuals. Because this is common usage, we use the term Latino in most contexts throughout this site.

However, the language is evolving. Many people use workarounds to express inclusion, such as using gender-neutral options when possible. For example, using the gender-neutral estudiante is preferred to using alumno or alumna. If there is no gender-neutral option, some use both the masculine and feminine versions of the term if space allows. Some examples are los niños y las niñas, los hombres y las mujeres, los ciudadanos y las ciudadanas. We want to be respectful of all people and acknowledge that self-identification may be fluid.

More to Discover

There are many more terms that people with Latin American heritage identify with. Communities have used specific terms like Chicano, Tejano, and Nuyorican to come together in shared culture, activism, and experience. Reflect on the many terms outlined and on your own identity and how they may change, adapt, or stay the same over the years.

Explore the National Park Service resources featured below to learn more, reflect, and see how different terms can be used.

National Register of Historic Places - National Hispanic Heritage Month

Latinos in World War II: Fighting on Two Fronts

Hispanics and the Civil War

Visit Latino Archeology

HFC Editorial Style Guide - Harpers Ferry Center

American Latino Heritage Theme Study - Telling All Americans' Stories

Hispanic Reflections on the American Landscape: Identifying and Interpreting Hispanic Heritage

Last updated: September 5, 2023