“Latinx” is the latest twist in this saga. It began to circulate on the Internet around the turn of the century, primarily through chat spaces and early forms of social media, adopted first by queer-identifying people of Latin American descent. Since 2015, young people have embraced it with particular exuberance, especially in university settings.

Where and by whom “Latinx” is used has helped spur the complaints that it may alienate working-class Latino communities (especially those that speak Spanish) or at least fail to reflect their preferences. “I keep thinking, people who are watching this, do they identify with that term?” asks Richard T. Rodríguez, an associate professor at the University of California at Riverside, of political messaging during the pandemic that has used “Latinx.” “The x is jarring, kind of like biting in glass.” (Rodríguez also pointed out that even though “Latinx” is often used in solidarity with the trans community, a transgender person who has fought for his or her gender identity to be publicly recognized can also be marginalized by the term.)

Today, surveys show that people of Latin American ancestry in the United States often prefer to describe themselves by referencing their specific countries of heritage, according to a 2019 Pew survey. For second-generation Americans of Latino descent, country of heritage is used equally often as “Hispanic” or “Latino,” according to the survey. And those nationalities are not gendered in English.