Latinx Primer for non-Latinx Folks

David Bowles
3 min readMar 12, 2020

Dear non-Latine folks in the US (mostly y’all, White people):

Hey, heads-up. You may be making things harder on the Latinx community by how you’ve been using Latinx, Latine, Latina, Latino, Latines, Latinas and Latinos. Let me explain some nuances for you so that you don’t deploy those terms the wrong way.

First up, a definition. What is a Latine/x/a/o?

A person whose ancestors came from a Latin American country. That means they’re from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, French-speaking Caribbean nations, Central or South America (including Brazil, excluding English-speaking regions). Their people might speak French, Portuguese, or Spanish.

Understand, however, that “Latine” or “Latinx” is an umbrella term, to be used in a particular set of circumstances.

If you’re talking about a group of Cuban Americans? Call them Cuban Americans. If you’re reporting on something that happened on the border to Mexican Americans? Call them Mexican Americans.

Use the proper term for the specific community that’s being discussed.

BUT — if you’re talking about a MIXED GROUP of people from multiple communities in the US with roots in Latin America? Then it makes sense to use “Latines” or “Latinx people” (the latter being an inclusive, non-binary version of the former).


Let me be clear: “Latinx” is not a replacement for specific identities.

We appreciate your desire to do right by us collectively. You’ve heard many of us use the terms Latinx” or “Latine,” and you’ve seized upon it (especially you, journalists). Unfortunately, some of you, in your zeal to label us “correctly,” have exacerbated the problem of erasure.

Latinx/a/o is a SECONDARY LABEL (as is latine in Spanish).

Just like you wouldn’t call a trans woman “an LGBTQ+ person” (one hopes!), you shouldn’t automatically jump to “Latina” when you know the SPECIFIC identity of a particular woman (Salma Hayek is Mexican, for example) or Latino for a man (I’m a Mexican American, for example).

CAVEAT: some (especially younger folks or those of mixed ancestry) DO use Latinx/a/o/e as their primary label.

It’s on YOU to do your homework and get it right. Most people have their preferred identity in an easily searchable place on line. Take a few seconds to research it.

Your cooperation would REALLY help, as some Latinx folks now criticize others for promoting the label, blaming of for the rampant misuse of it in the media, in academia, etc.

This is also true of the acronym POC (people of color––now often replaced by BPOC, Black / people of color, or BIPOC, Black, Indigenous and people of color). If you’re talking about a group of Black people? Say Black people. Don’t erase their Black identity by calling them POC. But if a group of Latinx and Black folks are hanging out, it’s cool to call them “POC.”

Basically, be precise. Don’t misuse labels. Educate yourself.

David Bowles

A Mexican American author & translator from South Texas. Teaches literature & Nahuatl at UTRGV. VP of the Texas Institute of Letters.