PUBLISHED:October 12, 2021

Hispanic, Latino/a, or Latinx? New Duke Law Podcast episode explores debate over appropriate term


During a roundtable discussion for National Hispanic Heritage Month, Duke Law faculty, staff, and students shared their insights on the terms' usage in legal education and practice.

Hispanic, Latino/a, or Latinx: Which is correct? During a roundtable discussion to mark National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Duke Law Podcast takes a closer look at this debate and provides some insights for today's law students and legal professionals, including reasons why using the correct term when referring to a person or group's ancestry is important in legal practice.

In this episode, Director of Diversity Initiatives Ebony Bryant leads a conversation with three members of the Duke Law community:

  • Sofia Hernandez '09: A senior lecturing fellow at Duke Law and senior assistant city attorney for the City of Durham, N.C.
  • Alyssa Reyes '23: A second-year law student, inaugural fellow of Duke University's Race and the Professions Fellowship, president of Duke Law's Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA), and vice-president of Duke OutLaw
  • Alejandro Fallas Schosinsky LLM '21: A current international student, LLM representative for LALSA, graduate of Universidad Escuela Libre de Derecho in Costa Rica, and attorney with nearly 10 years of experience at BLP Legal, a leading full service law firm in Central America



On the meaning of the terms Hispanic, Latino/a, and Latinx:

Sofia Hernandez '09: "As far as I understand the terms Hispanic and Latino and Latinx, Hispanic is used to refer to Spanish-speaking countries and and Spain. So, really the key distinction there is Hispanic would not include references to Brazil and people from Brazil. Latin or Latino is used for those folks who originate from Latin American countries. So, in that case, Spain would not be included. The term Latinx, which we've seen and you mentioned, has become more common in the last 20 years, has been a development to create a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina."


On a recent Gallup Poll showing only 4% in the U.S. favor Latinx:

Alyssa Reyes '23: "I have many thoughts on this. First and foremost, it doesn't surprise me that only 4% prefer the term Latinx because, as Sofia mentioned, it's so difficult to use in everyday speech. And, to come to defense of some of the progressives who really worked hard to implement Latinx, I will say that language is ever-evolving. Culture is ever-changing. And if I've discovered or learned anything from this new generation's method of advocacy, it's that they're willing to try things. And if they fail, they're receptive to that. And I think therein lies a little of the differences between the generations and our adoption of different terms. However, I will admit that this gender binary is really oppressive for some people. It's, it's almost dangerous for certain people; especially those who are still grappling with issues of their identity. So, as difficult as it is, I'm actually hopeful by the 57% of people who have no preference because that leads me to believe that they're open to finding something that works for, let me be clear, American vocabulary and an American way to identify certain communities and cultures." 

Alejandro Fallas Schosinsky LLM' 21: "It was honestly a big surprise for me to see that there's such a low rate of acceptance for Latinx. And honestly, I thought here in the States there was like more approval to the term and seeing that 57% of the people, they really don't care, or they, they don't mind the term, it reminds me of something that happens back home. At the end of the day, I know that a lot of people are fighting right now to get out these new inclusive terms, to change the mentality or the ideology of the people, but there's a huge chunk of people right now, at least in Latin America, that they don't see this fight, right? They are suffering some other things back home–poverty or drugs or whatever. So, at the end of the day, even though they think this is a big fight, they have this fight at the end of their priority list.


On the history of the terms in the U.S:

Hernandez: "As a professor and as a pseudo-mom of a 21-year old that I have at home, my niece, I've tried to be very responsive and respectful of self-identity because I think that that's important–especially in younger generations. Like how you identify and how you relate to the world based on that identity is so crucial. But I can't say that I felt that a new word was necessary and I will certainly agree with Alyssa that language is so evolving and changing. And I think that that's where you see, you know, in the 50s and 60s, we were all referred to as Spanish, right? And the hard-fought win was the term Hispanic and that became such a win. And certainly for that generation, I think, especially Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Mexicans who were in this country, that term is still preferred by them because they associate that term with a win; with this is the way that we were now seen. In the 1980s, Hispanic got on the census. And then 20 years later, we're talking about the term Latino. And that's when my family first immigrated to this country, in the late 80s and early 90s. And Latino was seen as the win. And then I think it was 2000 when we first saw Latino on the census. So, it'll be interesting to think about what this next 20 years is going to hold as far as language. And, and I agree that having our government see us for whatever label we, as a community fight for is going to be really important."


On the use of these terms in legal practice:

Hernandez: "Well certainly it is incredibly important because the appropriate terms, these labels, these identifiers are a way that we show that we see individuals and respect them. And so I think that any, whether it's a law firm, government, non-profit, whatever kind of entity has the responsibility to put in the work to see these terms and use these terms, both as far as recruiting and good service to the community. I want to say that it's important for us to feel empowered to have those conversations, if we don't see that they're happening. I've certainly had the conversation with my colleagues of Latino versus Hispanic and, you know, they feel like, 'So what's the deal?,' and 'What do you prefer?' And sometimes they're afraid to ask, but, we've had those conversations and I think that they're important."

Schosinsky: "I think it's going to be like really, really complicated to be at that point. But, as you were mentioning, I think it's necessary. Even though it's hard, we cannot quit. We cannot say like, 'Oh yeah, it's not going to happen. So, we don't care.' We need to do it every single day. We need to fight for it. One of the things that Sofia mentioned before is that we are proud when we say that we are Latinos, Latín... and that's something that should be reflected in law, in our practice, and everything else. We are a proud people. If we were born here with family from Latin America or we've gone directly from Latin America, every single person that I have seen here and they identify themselves as Latino, you can see the pride that they have when they say like, 'Yeah, I'm from Latin America. I'm Latin. I'm Latina. I'm Latinx.' And we need to bring that fire to our jobs, to our practices, to our courts, even though it's going to be hard."