A growing number of lawmakers are using the gender-neutral term Latinx instead of “Hispanic” or “Latino”—but they’re overwhelmingly Democrats.
After examining social media posts from accounts managed by members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives between January 2015 and July 2020, Pew Research Center found one quarter of lawmakers used the term during the 116th Congress—up from just 2 percent of legislators during the 114th Congress.
But there’s a real partisan divide when it comes to use: Nearly half of Democratic lawmakers in the 116th Congress used Latinx on social, versus 1 percent of their Republican colleagues, according to the new analysis.
Democratic lawmakers also used the terms Latino, Latina and Hispanic far more frequently in their social media accounts than Republicans—90 percent compared to 44 percent.
Hispanic members of Congress were the most likely ones to use the term Latinx, with nearly 70 percent of Latino Democrats and 13 percent of Latino Republicans using it on social media.
The analysis comes weeks after the Pew Research Center released a report surveying 3,000 U.S. Hispanics that found only 23 percent had heard of the term Latinx and a mere 3 percent used it to describe themselves.
Awareness of the term differed among Latino subgroups, with young adults, college graduates, and those who identify or lean towards the Democratic party among the most likely to have heard of the term, the Pew Research Center reported.
More “Latinx” in political circles
Pew’s latest data also shows that while the term is gaining traction in the political sphere, it hasn’t gained as much popularity among the general population.
Only 1 percent of U.S. adult Twitter users tweeted the term in the same 5-year span that saw use among members of Congress go from 2 percent to 25 percent.
Even among those who are aware of Latinx’s meaning, using the term remains a controversial practice, as evinced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s use of the term during her 2020 presidential campaign, which sparked both supportive and critical responses.
Proponents of Latinx say the term is inclusive and validates different Latinos’ identity, particularly those who are LGBTQ. They also argue that Spanish’s gendered structure privileges men in many ways and that the simple, everyday uses of gendered pronouns reaffirm social relationships in which women are viewed as inferior.
Studies support the idea that gendered language can reinforce existing inequalities between men and women, which can affect economic productivity. One such study by a researcher at the Rhode Island School of Design who studies the role of norms and identity suggests that countries that speak gendered languages have less gender equality than countries that speak in genderless languages, particularly in terms of economic participation.
The term’s detractors, however, criticize Latinx as elitist and unnecessary and argue that it erases the Spanish language.