Latinx: The Power in a Word

November 7, 2017; NBC News

Have you noticed the word Latinx (pronounced “La-teen-ex”) lately?

According to a recent article from NBC News, the more inclusive, gender-neutral term for people of Latin American heritage is both “embraced and scorned by Latinos.” The term is on the rise with college students and millennials, but resisted by those who don’t understand why we need yet another term to describe this heterogeneous population. Some say that the reaction is driven not only by gender, but by privilege.

Proponents of Latinx generally make two arguments about why the word is important. First, some people do not see themselves as either Latino or Latina, so using the term is a way to include them when referring to a group of people. Second, Latinx is a gender-neutral term that does not give preference to either the masculine or feminine form of an identifier.

The term “Latinx” serves to include people of Latin American heritage who are outside of the gender binary, “such as transgender people or those who are gender fluid.” It apparently began to appear in 2014 among Latinx LGBTQ communities; by June 2016, Google trends show a spike in people searching for the term during the time of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

According to NBC News’ Raul A. Reyes, “Lately, the term has been popping up in mainstream outlets like the New York TimesWashington Post and USA Today, and it is increasingly visible in Hispanic [sic] media as well.”

As with other romance languages, Spanish nouns are gendered. Not only are people gendered, but things and places are too. Those who don’t like the word see it as a first step in a move to neutralize the Spanish language. In a 2015 column in The Phoenix, the independent campus newspaper of Swarthmore College, Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea write that it is a “misguided desire to forcibly change the language.” They fear words like “hermanx” (siblings) and “niñx” (children) could follow.

Roy Perez, associate professor of English and American Ethnic Studies at Willamette University, says, “No one is out to neutralize the whole Spanish language, and it would be impractical to do so.” He thinks the debate surrounding the term stems from an underlying resistance to inclusivity. The term just offers one more “solution to the complexity and slipperiness of labeling Latinos.”

Maria R. Scharron-del-Rio, associate professor at Brooklyn College, says, “For people who are traditionally marginalized, that millisecond of politeness and recognition towards someone who is gender queer, tells them that you see them, that you are an ally.” According to Reyes, she summarizes the debate this way: “People who do not have a history of being excluded may not understand the importance of being included.”—Cyndi Suarez