Before we went on an end-of-summer hiatus, we asked you, our followers, what you think about the term Latinx (pronounced la-TEEN-ex, rhymes with Kleenex) as a catch-all for the group formerly known as Latinos and Hispanics. It turns out that 500 of you had strong feelings — not only do 43% of you dislike “Latinx,” another 42% have never even heard of the term.
Latinx is meant to be an inclusive term that is welcoming of transgender and non-binary people without giving hierarchical preference to masculine forms.
When Latinx came onto the scene a few years ago, many were eager to share their opinions on the issue, mostly among a highly educated and “woke” subset of the population that would fall under its theoretical umbrella. The debate has had a resurgence with all the talk about the influence of the Latino/Latinx vote at the fore of the presidential election, along with our perennial debate on identity brought about by the U.S. Census. Not only are Latinos relatively undercounted, some people who are forced to mark off Latino/Hispanic would prefer to identify as something more specific, such as chicano, or Borderlanders, Brazilian Americans, or boricuas, or any number of potential checkboxes.
So, what is the fuss about Latinx, and what is it trying to accomplish? Like lots of other languages, Spanish defers to the masculine plural when referring to groups of things or people (“Latinos” includes men and women, just as “tus hermanos” can refer to your six sisters and one brother, more akin to the neutral “siblings” in English). Latinx is meant to be an inclusive term that is welcoming of transgender and non-binary people without giving hierarchical preference to masculine forms.
Referring to the Latino/Latinx population as a monolith is like saying that all New Englanders think alike, or all Scandinavians eat fish.
Latinx —though it has cousins in the 90s-era Latin@s and in the new-agey Latines— is primarily a United States convention, leading some to consider the term an overly intellectualized imperialistic imposition that has no place in their daily vernacular. Before Latinx there was “Hispanic” (hispanos), which for many harkens back to colonial Spanish America, hardly representative of all the millions of people from Latin America currently living in the United States whose heritage languages are just as likely to be Portuguese or Quechua, Nahautl, or other Amerindian languages.
Ed Morales, a Columbia University professor who wrote Latinx: The New Force in American Politics and Culture told culture reporter Concepción de León that “the X, which is so strange and is not Spanish, sort of marks this new hybrid idea … I thought it was a futurist term, imagining a future of more inclusion for people that don’t conform to the various kinds of rigid identities that exist in the United States.” Speaking of the future, a recent report, El español: una lengua viva, projects that by 2060 the United States will have the second-largest Spanish-speaking population after Mexico.
“The X, which is so strange and is not Spanish, sort of marks this new hybrid idea.”Ed Morales, Columbia University
But the issue of Census categorization goes beyond the linguistic: Referring to the Latino/Latinx population as a monolith is like saying that all New Englanders think alike, or all Scandinavians eat fish. It is to ignore individualism and generational differences and, most importantly, the fact that Latin American immigrants come to the United States from over twenty countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and that diversity in culture, customs and beliefs evolves as it is passed down to children and grandchildren. Two-thirds of the population considered Latino was born in the United States. And did you know that the concept of “Latin America” as a region dates back only to the 1860s, when Frenchmen under Napoleon III coined the term seeking to forge an inclusive “Latin race” that would align the people of the Americas more closely with Latin Europe? But we digress.
Speaking Spanish is not a prerequisite of the category of Latinx — on the contrary, and somehow the ‘x’ seems to broaden the scope of the term. Though Merriam-Webster added it to the dictionary in September 2018, a quick search of that king of the Spanish language, the Real Academia Española, yielded the following response: “Aviso: La palabra latinx no está en el Diccionario.” Essentially the equivalent to a 404 Error message. Now there’s a snub.