How Do Latinos Self-Identify?

U.S. Latinos have used a variety of identifying labels over time. Often, labels are a reflection of politics, understandings of self, and of geographies. Latinx is the latest of these identity labels. The term Latinx has risen in popularity since 2016, but according to Google Trends data searches for it remain far below those of Latina, Latino, and Hispanic. 

Labels used most often among Latinos to describe their identity, 2017

Stacked bar chart, title: Labels used most often among Latinos to describe their identity, two thousand seventeen. Vertical bars represent: Self-identified Latinos; Foreign born; Second generation; and third or higher generation. 50 percent of self-identified Latinos and 65 percent foreign-born Latinos identify by their country of origin; 36 percent second generation and 26 percent third or higher generation Latinos identify by their country of origin.  Identification as “An American”: 23 percent of self-identified Latinos; 7 percent of foreign-born Latinos; 36 percent of second-generation Latinos; over 56 percent of third or higher-generation Latinos.

Identity Labels

The identity label someone uses to describe themselves is often influenced by multiple factors. Some key factors are how long ago their family came to the United States, and how close they or their families feel to their ethnic roots or country of origin. Their geographical location is also a factor, but often to a lesser degree.

2018 color photo of four teenage parade queens in Queens, New York City.
I am

On average, half of Latinos most often choose identity labels that reflect their country of origin or heritage. This includes, for example, terms such as Colombian or Puerto Rican. Many identify with multiple labels. Hispanic or Latino was used by 23%. Another 23% most often used American when asked about their identity. Nearly one-quarter say they are Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean; 32% say they are Mestizo, Mulatto, or multiracial; and 25% say they are of indigenous heritage.

Courtesy of Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Image
Color photo of woman and cake in the foreground; cake rests on a decorated two-layer pedestal with gold disc, white sheeting in-between, and pink ribbon around the bottom.
Community Voice: Overcoming Barriers, Enterprising Latinas

“I can see it now!”, said Carmen Galarza, about her dream of owning a bakery in Wimauma, Florida. As the child of migrant farmworkers, she was a bridge between her parents and the world, but now her tenacity and delicious cakes are her bridge to economic prosperity. With the training and business coaching of the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas, women like Carmen in underserved communities work to realize their own vision of success to overcome the gaps in wages and wealth for Latinas in the U.S.

Courtesy of Enterprising Latinas, a UnidosUS Affiliate, 2021.
Color photo of six men playing the drums and one woman dancing in a park; all wear colorful outfits and jewelry.
Find out more: Garifuna

The Garínagu (plural for Garifuna) are Indigenous and African descendants. In 1797, after living on the island of St. Vincent since the 1600s, the Garínagu were expelled by British colonizers. They settled on Central America’s Caribbean coast. Today, Garifuna communities live in U.S. cities like New York and Houston.

Courtesy of Mikhael Simmonds

Google trends for “Latinx” in the U.S., June searches from 2014 - 2021

Line graph, title: Google trends for “Latinx” in the U.S., June searches from two thousand fourteen to2021. Single line starts in June, 2015, popularity of the term Latinx began at just above zero search interest, with 100 indicating peak popularity. June 2016 at 16; June 2017 down to 8; rising in June two thousand twenty to 84, its highest; dropping in June 2020 to 46.


Individual and group identity labels are continuously renegotiated. Shifting politics, understandings of history, emerging senses of self, and other factors contribute to how people identify themselves. The two most used terms by Americans with Latin American ancestry are Hispanic (61%) and Latino (29%). But in recent years a new term, Latinx, has emerged.

Color photo of a 2021 outdoor Pride Fest in Los Angeles. A person in the center of the frame wears a white tank top, green shorts, yellow sunglasses, and holds a rainbow Pride Flag.
Rise in Usage of Latinx

There was a notable uptake in searches for Latinx after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June 2016. In an April 2018 Time magazine article, Katherine Martin, head of Oxford’s U.S. dictionaries, said that the Pulse Nightclub shooting was “an inflection point” for the word Latinx. It was “thrust into the American consciousness.” After the shooting “Latinx” was widely used in media coverage about the traumatic event.

Courtesy of Mario Tama/Getty Images.
Color photo of smiling woman standing at lectern with microphone and sign printed on front, reading, “The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: National Action to Realize the Dream.”
Community Voice: Complex Identities, UnidosUS

The Latino population in the U.S. is large, diverse, and constantly changing; how to define and count our growing community has been the subject of long-term discussion. Even within our communities, the labels “Latino,” “Hispanic,” “Latinx,” and “Chicano” are up for grabs and encompasses a range of countries of origin, races, cultures, languages and generations. The beauty of the Latino population lies in its very complexity:  it is dynamic and hybrid, concepts that counter old-school, static notions of what it means to belong to a particular social or ethnic group. 

Courtesy of UnidosUS, 2021.

Percentage of Latino adults that claim to have a parent or grandparent who is NOT Latino, 2017

Bar chart, title: Percentage among Latino adults that claim to have a parent or grandparent who is NOT Latino, 2017. Vertical bars represent: Immigrant, Second-generation, and third or higher-generation Latinos. Among Latino immigrant adults, 18 percent claim to have a parent or grandparent who is not Latino; second-generation Latinos, 29 percent; third or higher generation Latinos, 65 percent.

Identity Shifts

Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and other non-White groups are projected to be over half of the nation’s population by 2045. In this projection, the Latino population will be almost one-quarter of the U.S. population. This number might be low, however, because around 11% of U.S. adults who say they have Latino ancestry do not self-identify as Latino. 

2014 color photo of a mixed heritage, smiling family.

For several decades, intermarriage rates among Latinos has been consistently higher than among other groups of Americans. In 2015, 25% of Latino newlyweds had married someone who was not Latino. As a result, a growing percentage of Latinos have a non-Latino parent or grandparent. This percentage rises across generations. Only 18% of Latino immigrants have a parent or grandparent who is not Latino. By the third generation, 65% have a non-Latino parent or grandparent.

Courtesy of H. Mark Weidman Photography / Alamy Stock Photo