There’s been a lot of debate over the term Latinx. What exactly does it mean? How is it different from Latino or Hispanic? Is it positive? More inclusive? Elitist? The term itself and its popular usage especially by Millennials has sparked a lot of debate and started conversations about identity, gender and ethnicity. It seems like this term isn’t really going anywhere any time soon, but considering the wide range of opinions on the matter, should we just stop using the word ‘Latinx’ altogether, or are there some merits for this more encompassing term to describe the Hispanic community?
What is Latinx?
Think of Latinx as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina. For those who don’t want to identify as gender binary, or who are tired of having to assign themselves or others as “he” or “she,” Latinx offers a more neutral way of identifying to their Latin roots. It seems that the term evolved due to a need for a term to replace the more masculine words (Latino, Chicano etc.) with a term that is more inclusive. Consider how a group of women are referred to Latinas, but a mixed group of men and women are called Latinos, with the male gender dominating the identity. Some people are tired of being wrapped into a male-dominated identity, and using Latinx feels like a feminist choice. Others are ready to embrace a term that doesn’t force them to identify as any single gender.
While The Oxford English Dictionary does not have an entry for Latinx yet, Oxford’s free online dictionary defines Latinx as an adjective “relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina).”
According to NBC News, “Latinx is a gender-neutral term for people of Latin American heritage. By dropping the traditional –o or –a ending at the end of the root word ‘Latin,’ Latinx encompasses those who identify outside of the gender binary, such as transgender people or those who are gender-fluid.”
Latinx refers to anyone in North America with roots from Latin America — male, female or gender-nonconforming. You might be wondering if the term “Hispanic” serves the same purpose and has the same meaning as Latinx, but there are differences. Hispanic refers to anyone from Spain or Spanish-speaking parts of Latin America. But that doesn’t include those with Afro-Latina origins, or indigenous people. While the terms are often used interchangeably, they don’t mean the same exact thing, and the term Latinx is by far the most inclusive of all the terms. It does not discriminate, it is inclusive, and it does not give preference to either the masculine or feminine form of an identifier.
Macarena Gómez-Barris, head of social sciences and cultural studies at Pratt Institute in New York, calls the “x” of Latinx “a “queering” of the gendering of nouns and adjectives natural to the Spanish language, which also turns Latinas into Latinos the moment one man enters the group. The x marks a kind of political resistance and provocation,” she said in a NY Times article.
So, What’s the Debate Around Latinx?
For years Latino was seen as the more progressive choice over Hispanic, and now Latinx is the more progressive choice over Latino or Latina. But not everyone is on board with this new terminology.
For starters, many people, especially those of older generations don’t know what it means, they don’t know how to pronounce it (it’s pronounced Lah-teen-ex by the way, like Kleenex), and they don’t know the appropriate usage or purpose. Others wonder if this term even makes sense. Why the “x”? Critics reject Latinx because the term is actually foreign to the Spanish language, and some argue it feels fabricated and forced.
If you ask Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea, the Spanish language, like all romance languages, is inherently gendered. In a 2015 column for The Phoenix, the independent campus newspaper of Swarthmore College, they discussed the perils of using the term Latinx, and how it contradicts the Spanish-speaking heritage of Latinos all over the world. While they are not arguing against gender-inclusive terminology, they feel that the use of Latinx is “a misguided desire to forcibly change the language we and millions of people around the world speak, to the detriment of all.” They continue to say, “this is a blatant form of linguistic imperialism — the forcing of U.S. ideals upon a language in a way that does not grammatically or orally correspond with it.”
Another argument against the use of Latinx is that not all people of Latin American descent can be grouped into one cultural identity. There are Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans… Hispanics often identify in terms of their nationality, so why do we need a pan-ethnic term that attempts to create a de-racialized identity and group different cultures together.
And of course there is the debate between generations, where older more conservative generations of Hispanics feel that Latinx is an elitist term that aims to erase cultural history and traditional gender roles. To replace the cultural terms of Latino and Latina is to disrespect and disregard the generations that came before us. Some argue that this new terminology focuses too much on gender roles and inclusion, and not enough on the cultural, social and political issues facing Latinos in this country.
But for those who are non-binary, the term Latinx helps them feel seen. It gives them a way to define their ethnicity and their heritage, and to embrace their rich culture without sacrificing their gender identity, or even having to address their gender identity. They are not male or female; they are simply Latinx. They can exist without gender restrictions, celebrating who they are and the background that they are proud of without the constraints of strict gender boundaries.
According to Mark Hugo Lopez, who directs Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center, “Latinx fits within our broader history in the U.S. of using various terms to describe our identity. It is pan-ethnic like Hispanic, and political in a sense like Chicano.” While the Pew Research Center has considered incorporating the word into its census surveys, no changes have been implemented to date.
Ed Morales, in a piece for The Guardian, explains why he embraces Latinx. “I embrace Latinx because of its futurist implications. Like superheroes of color and the possibilities inherent in girls and everyone else who code, Latinx represents an openness that is increasingly under threat in a political climate that is most intent on drawing borders, keeping outsiders out, and using violence to keep it that way.”
Some argue that the term Latinx does not need to supplant other terms, but rather offer another option for those who do not identify as Latino or Latina. It’s not about taking away someone’s identity; it’s about giving everyone the opportunity to identify.
What is the Solution?
Do we as a culture nix Latinx and stick to the traditional terms that have been used for years and generations before, or do we embrace the new, more inclusive term? There will be some unhappy or uncomfortable individuals who don’t want to identify as Latinx, and there will be those who finally feel like they are recognized and seen when they can self-identify as Latinx. It seems like a no-win situation, where someone will always feel uncomfortable with one term or another. But that’s really the point of Latinx. It is inclusive for everyone, and people have a right to identify themselves however they wish. And it is a common misconception that, by embracing the term Latinx, people will have to abandon other forms of self-identification. Latinx and Latino and Latina can all co-exist, and at the very least, there will finally be more options for those who feel they have been excluded or marginalized in the past.
This is definitely not the last you have heard of Latinx. While it is still a new word, and some people are slow to adopt it or hesitant to embrace it, others, especially college students and Millennials are using this new term to replace the gender-specific terms. If you ask María R. Scharrón-del Río, a professor of psychology at Brooklyn College, “we need to see more and that’s part of what the ‘x’ does — it makes visible the fact that people aren’t included within the ‘a’ or the ‘o.’” In The Washington Post she explained that “it’s really a linguistic intervention” that makes you consider those who have felt a lack of inclusion when discussing their own identity in the past.
Ruby Corado, a transgender activist and founder of Casa Ruby, an LGBTQ bilingual and multicultural organization in Washington D.C., is a bit more hesitant to embrace Latinx, despite her mission to support transgender rights. Her old-school upbringing runs deep, and she grew up fighting to be seen as a Latina. While she’s not ready to let go of that term, she recognizes the importance of using the term Latinx, especially among younger generations who are finally feeling seen by their culture. In her eyes, the terms Latina and Latinx can co-exist.
In the end, whether you are empowered by the term Latinx, or offended by this gender neutral term, one thing we can all agree on is that the conversation about whether or not we should be using Latinx is far from over. And that’s a really good thing. The dialogue around self-identity and cultural terminology is a healthy, interesting, multi-layered conversation that doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. The Latinx issue is a part of a much greater conversation that is evolving every day. And if nothing else, it certainly makes you consider how important it is to feel seen and represented in your culture.