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Representing Hispanic and Latinx People and Culture in Imagery

Celebrate Hispanic and Latinx heritage in your imagery and illustrations with authenticity and accuracy, just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month.

September 15th to October 15th marks National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. While you don’t need an annual event to celebrate your ethnic heritage, it’s a great time to honor these respective cultures and educate ourselves on how to accurately represent cultural traditions in imagery. As storytellers, we have the power to celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of the Hispanic and Latinx people and their communities every day in the imagery we create.

National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated in the USA from September 15th to October 15th. License this image via Diego Cervo.

What is Hispanic Heritage Month? 

The U.S.-centric celebration was meant to recognize, educate, and celebrate the achievements of the Hispanic American community. It focuses on the positive impacts and achievements Hispanic Americans have left on the country. Ancestors of Hispanic Americans came from across the world— from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America, and South America. 

Hispanic vs. Latino: What’s the difference between Hispanic and Latino?

According to the PEW Research Center, the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx” are pan-ethnic terms meant to describe people of that ethnic background. The two terms have both been debated by Hispanics and Latino, Latina, or Latinx-identifying individuals. Some state that the identification “Hispanic” is from Spain or from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, while Latinos, Latinas, or Latinx are people from Latin America, regardless of language.

With this understanding, a Brazilian could be non-Hispanic but Latino. Meanwhile, a person heralding from Spain could be Hispanic but non-Latino. A Peruvian could be both Latino and Hispanic. 

License these images via Julaix, Sabrina Bracher, and Arturo Lopez Llontop.

Because of these distinctions, it’s important to check with the individual person or persons on how they choose to identify their ethnic background. This is especially important when capturing images of Hispanic or Latinx individuals. You should always check with your model on their preference before assuming how they identify their ethnicity.

What does the term “Latinx” mean?

The identity label “Latinx” has emerged over the past few years and was created as a gender-inclusive choice for Latino and Latina-identifying individuals. It is a gender-neutral term—sometimes used in place of the gendered, binary terms Latino or Latina—used to describe a person of Latin American origin or descent. Similar to other ethnic terms and debates, some critics say that it minimizes the Spanish language and its gendered form of speaking and writing, while others recognize Latinx as both a gender- and LGBTQ-inclusive term.

License these image via JOSE_ESCUDERO, schlyx, and Rotzio.exe.

The emergence of the term Latinx partners with a global movement to use gender-neutral nouns and pronouns versus female and male specifics. For the context of this article, we will be using Latinx to describe Latino, Latina, or Latinx identities as a whole.

Why is it important to discuss Hispanic and Latinx culture relating to visual imagery? 

As of 2023, the Hispanic population in the U.S. is 62.6 million. It is now the largest minority group in the country. This number needs to be representative in the imagery that we have in stock photo collections. We also need Hispanic and Latinx individuals to be involved in the creation of that content to truly showcase accurate and representative imagery. Initiatives like Shutterstock’s Create Fund prioritize diverse artists and creators to make this mission happen.

If we do not have an accurate view of society as a whole in visual content marketplaces, we show a partial and particular view of society. Depicting Hispanic and Latinx culture and heritage in visual imagery in non-stereotypical ways is important to have an inclusive and visually representative marketplace. Imagery is key for visualizing the true world.

License this image via AlessandroBiascioli.

How to Select Authentic Latinx Images

Be Gender-Inclusive

When selecting images that depict people who identify as Latinx, you are putting a face to the Latinx community. It is, therefore, important to choose images wisely — that are inclusive and diverse. Above all else, Latinx describes a diverse group of people from Latin America of any race, color, or pronoun.

Gender-neutral pronouns, such as Latinx, can be depicted in androgynous portraits that challenge traditional gender norms. Androgyny is an identifier we use to describe those who fit into an ambiguously-gendered appearance. Depicting Lantinx people as having physical elements of both femininity and masculinity—whether expressed through androgynous fashion, body language, or the way they style their hair—ensures you’re inclusive of everyone, regardless of how they identify.

Evidence suggests it is more socially acceptable for female models to wear traditionally male clothing but not for male models to wear traditionally female clothing. It’s time we put an end to gender stereotypes — depicting genders in stereotypical ways — in favor of photos that challenge and deconstruct gender-conforming social norms

License this image via seto contreras.

While “Latino” is masculine” and “Latina” is feminine, Latinx also represents those who identify both outside and within the gender binary. All genders of Latin people should be represented within the photos we select. 

Show Scenes from Real Life

In addition to the inclusivity and diversity of the photos we select, it is also important to select images that are uniquely representative of Latin Americans. Contextual images that connect the subject to the environment can help establish their Latin American roots. People going about their everyday lives in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Argentina, and other nations subtly tell the viewer that the subject is Latinx.

Images that depict subjects partaking in cultural activities or experiences unique to Latin American American cultures—such as Brazilian carnivals—is another way to embrace scenes of real life, whether those scenes take place in the United States or in another location. 

License these images via Yadid Levy and Cavan Images – Offset.

Traditional dress—an ensemble of garments, jewelry, and accessories—is rooted in the past and worn by an identifiable group of people. Photos that depict people in traditional attire can, therefore, connect them to Latin roots. A guayabera is synonymous with Cuba. Huipils are the distinctive embroidered rectangular shirts worn by indigenous women in the Mesoamerican region

License this image via ItzaVU.

Food can also tell us a lot about where someone is from or how they identify. Some of the most foundational foods in Latin America are corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, rice, plantains, and peppers. Photos that depict your subject(s) sharing a meal together can reveal a window into who they are.

License these images via Hero Images on Offset and Hero Images on Offset.

License this image via Fernanda_Reyes.

How to Select Authentic Hispanic imagery

Be Mindful of Inclusivity

As discussed, Hispanic refers to a person with ancestry from a country whose primary language is Spanish. It is a narrower term, referring only to Spanish speakers. 

When it comes to selecting authentic Hispanic imagery, perhaps knowing which images to avoid is the best place to start. As mentioned, the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx” are often conflated. 

It is, therefore, important to make sure you’re not representing Hispanic people with images of Latinos from non-Spanish-speaking countries like Brazil and Portugal. Yes — a recent study found that many Brazilians identify as Hispanic despite the Census Bureau’s definition of what it means to be Hispanic —  but maybe hold off from weighing in on that debate, unless you are directly involved within it. Refrain from selecting images from the stunning beaches of Rio to depict Hispanic people, if you yourself aren’t Brazilian and identify as Hispanic.

Representing Indigenous People

It is also important to note that countless indigenous communities in Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico and Guatemala may not identify as Hispanic. Many speak their own native language, in addition to or instead of Spanish. Always be mindful and respectful of the identities of models within the stock images you select. 

Calling to Spanish Roots

A pointed way of representing Hispanic people is by selecting photos that feature Spanish writing. Perhaps the model within an image is reading a book in Spanish or is watching a television show that’s in the Spanish language. Or maybe they’re wandering the streets of Madrid, and a street sign in Spanish serves as a tell-tale sign of where the subject is from.

Spanish architecture is widely recognized across the world. It can serve as a distinctive clue that the photo was taken within a Spanish-speaking country. White haciendas with red tile roofs or the architectural masterpieces of Buenos Aires serve as a perfect backdrop for Hispanic imagery. 

Catholicism and the Spanish state were inseparable for some time, historically speaking. Many people of Hispanic origin choose to wear a symbol of their Catholic faith. License these image via AnnaART and cheapbooks.

License this image via CarlosDavid.

Questions with Todos Juntos on Latinx and Hispanic Visual Imagery

Shutterstock’s ERG Todos Juntos supports and brings voices to our Hispanic and Latinx employees. Members have heritage from many locations around the world, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Spain, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, Cuba, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. In speaking with Todos Juntos members about the lack of representation for Hispanic and Latinx culture in visual imagery, members of the group shared key thoughts which should be takeaways for creating and sharing imagery in this space.

What are the biggest misconceptions you see about Hispanic and Latinx heritage and culture?

Kaori Abe, Senior Manager of Sales and Marketing for LATAM (Latin America). Kaori identifies as multi-racial, Latina, Japanese, and Brazilian: “That they are all the same. Latinx is a broad name, but every culture is a completely different world.”

Lorena Jimenez Serra, Senior Billing Operations Analyst. Lorena identifies as Spanish: “As someone who is Spanish and is from Spain, this becomes misunderstood around the world. In the U.S., Spanish meant I was from Mexico or Latin America instead of from Spain.”

Abraham Guerra, Software Engineer III. Abraham identifies as Hispanic, Latinx, Latino, Ecuadorean, Ecuadorean American, and American: “I don’t see an appreciation for the history and culture.”

There is no one same Latina, Latino, Hispanic, Latin American, Latinx person. License this image via manux mundo.

What are the biggest gaps in visuals representing Hispanic and Latinx heritage and culture?

Kaori: “The lack of cross diversity. For instance, Hispanic people with disabilities, identifying as LGBTQ+, seniors, or of different body types.”

Lorena: “Different bodies, skin tones, races, and languages. We have so many, and all of them are incredible!”

Abraham: “The representation of people. The diversity of Latinx individuals includes all shades of skin, textures of hair, sizes, etc.”

We need more images of representative Latinx and Hispanic families in everyday situations. License this image via Marcos Castillo.

What do you want to see our stock artists create more of at Shutterstock?

Kaori: “Authentic latin lifestyle. We do have some Hispanic content, but the majority of images are dated. Some new imagery would be awesome!”

Lorena: “Diversity! Something that every single person can identify with.”

Another member of the group suggested that Shutterstock “create more local incentives for contributors in specific geographic areas to apply and share their unique culture through a local lens.”

Diversity of ages, skin tones, ages, and abilities should be a priority in the images photographers submit. License this image via Diego Cervo.

How would you describe your culture to someone?

Lorena: “Rich, hard, and colonialism beliefs are there but there’s also a feeling of being on the same boat and something stronger that bonds us together as people. Calor, playa, arepas, chipotle, bright colors, music, salsa, friendship, family, and smiles. That means everything to us.”

Traditional tortilla making in Yucatan, Mexico. License this image via Leon Rafael.

Abraham: “Latinx heritage is rich with historical accomplishments and leaders. It’s a culture vibrant with food, music, and strong family and social networks. My Latinx heritage is a great source of pride for me.”

If you’re a contributor interested in applying and submitting your work to Shutterstock, click here to apply. If you’re a Latinx or Hispanic artist who is interested in winning a Create Fund grant from Shutterstock, apply here.

License this cover image via schlyx.

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