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The feeling of being limited to one identity was always present for junior Cici Salazar as she grew up. Checking off boxes in any application that asked about race and ethnicity, the first question she always had to answer was ‘are you Hispanic/Latino?’ But those two terms weren’t enough to describe the actual cultures and backgrounds for not only her, but for others who either identified as Hispanic or and Latinx. 

As a Mexican American, Salazar said she identifies as both Hispanic and part of the Latinx community. But growing up, that was not always the case. 

“I say Hispanic first because I was always put into that category as a child, so that is what I automatically say nowadays,” Salazar said. 

The term Hispanic refers to people who are from a Spanish speaking country and speak Spanish, which includes Spain, Argentina, El Salvador and other countries. The term Latinx refers to the people, cultures and countries in Latin America. 

The cultures and language are what distinguish the two terms, but as seen in America, especially with the introduction of the term Latinx, there have been conversations about identity and tracing heritage back to either Latin America or Spain. Latinx particularly arose in the states as an alternative to the terms Hispanic or Latino, but it’s usage is primarily for describing the Hispanic nation’s population.

“The concept of being Latinx or Hispanic has been politicized a lot of the time,” said Sylvia Muñoz, director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education. “When we say Hispanic, we are including everybody that speaks Spanish and who were colonized by Spain, and that includes Spain. Latino is an interesting concept because it has a lot to do with the culture.”

Salazar said cultural representation has always been important to her, but she didn’t truly begin embracing it until the 2016 presidential election. 

“I’ve always struggled with my identity and it wasn’t until it was senior year of high school and freshman year at Elon, where I would say it loud and proud that I’m Hisapanic,” Salazar said. 

In addition to Salazar, the overall Elon undergraduate number of Hispanic American students in the 2020-21 academic year was 6.5%. There were 10 Hispanic faculty members at Elon in the 2020-21 academic year. 

Using Latinx

The term Latinx first appeared in 2004, according to Google Trends, in a piece of Puerto Rican academic literature, and in 2018, it was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. However, the term is not widely used. A Gallup poll in June 2021 found that only 5% of Hispanic adults in the United States prefer the term Latinx, whereas 37% prefer the term Latino. Further, 57% prefer Hispanic over both.

Using the term Latinx, and even asking if someone identifies as either Hisapnic or Latinx, varies across the nation, let alone in other countries. 

“If you were to ask this question in Texas, the answer would be completely different because it depends on the location and the region,” Munoz said. 

Professor of Spanish Juan Leal-Ugalde has been at Elon for almost three years now, teaching classes on Latin America and Spanish literature art, where he focuses on the representation of historical events that have made up the Hispanic and Latinx culture today. In his teachings and around Elon’s campus, Leal-Ugalde said he believes the term Latinx represents the communities here, but it’s important to understand the meaning behind it. 

“I reinforce the term to represent the communities here, but at the same point, I encourage to think about the diversity beyond that term,” Leal-Ugalde said. 

Leal-Ugalde also said that while some may not agree with using the term ‘Hispanic Heritage Month’ or even steer away from using Latinx, the most important thing to think about is the community and culture that is being recognized. 

“I think it’s important for everyone to understand the culture and their identity. It’s important to belong to something –– to the Latinx community or Hispanic community. Their culture is their sense of belonging,” Leal-Ugalde said. 

Today’s numbers

According to the 2020 Census findings on race and ethnicity, Hispanic or Latinx population, which includes people of any race, was 62.1 million in 2020. The Hispanic or Latinx population grew 23% since the last Census. But while there has been an increase in numbers, Muñoz said she believes understanding the many cultures behind the two terms is what should be recognized most importantly.

“We like putting people in boxes,” Munoz said. “We cannot put everybody in a box just because we come from different backgrounds. We have to make that box inclusive as we can, as rich as we can.”