During National Hispanic Heritage Month, you may have come across the term Latin@. Don’t necessarily assume it’s just a typo. This way of writing the term is a meaningful choice.
Latin@ is a gender-neutral shorthand for Latino/Latina. According to sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, all of these terms refer to “two different but related groups: those who come from and identify themselves with the countries of what is today called Latin America; and those within the United States who are descended from the first group."
To be gender-neutral, a growing number of people have begun using the term “Latin@," which cleverly incorporates both the “-a" and “-o" endings in the @ sign. The pronunciation of Latin@ varies, with some reading it aloud as “Latino or Latina" and others pronouncing it as “Latinow," like the sound in “cow."
Why use "Latin@" over "Latin/Latina"? The words Latino or Latinos are derived from Spanish, a language where nouns, adverbs, and some conjugations of verbs connote a specific gender. Typically, masculine words end in “-o," and feminine words end in “-a." It is simple enough if you are referring to a group of people of entirely one gender. For the word Latino/Latina, an all female group would be referred to as “Latinas," while an all male group would be referred to as “Latinos."
It becomes more complicated when you are referring to a group that includes various genders. If there are any men in the group, even if they are in the minority, Spanish grammar dictates that you refer to this group as “Latinos." The term "Latin@" avoids all gender-specific references.
So when is the term “Hispanic" appropriate? The U.S. Census use the terms Latino and Hispanic interchangeably, defining them as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race."
However, “The Associated Press Stylebook" differentiates between the two terms: while both Hispanic and Latino refer to “a person from — or whose ancestors are from — a Spanish-speaking land or culture," Latino is also used for people who are from Latin America. For example, someone from Brazil would not be considered Hispanic but would be considered a Latin@.
Christian, Darrell, Sally Jacobsen, and David Minthorn. Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2013. Print.
Demby, G. ’Latin@’ Offers A Gender-Neutral Choice; But How To Pronounce It?. Retrieved from NPR
U.S. Census Bureau. (March 2011). Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010. Retrieved from 2010 Census Bureau Briefs
Wallerstein, I. (2005). “Latin@s: What’s in a Name?" in R. Grosfoguel et al., Latin@s in the World-System. Retrieved online.