The word “Latinx,” has become more popular in recent years. We can thank scholars, activists, and journalist for this, whether it’s written on a poster on campus, a march or an article – people are using it. Latinx (pronounced “La-teen-ex”) is defined as the gender-neutral term often used as the inclusive-alternative for Latino or Latina (referencing Latin American cultural or racial identity). As the word becomes more familiar in our communities and conversations, so are the questions like: what is it? Why has it gained so much popularity in recent years? What does it mean and most importantly why does it carry mixed feelings among people in the Latin American community?
I recently stumbled upon an article in Latino Rebels, written by Maria Scharron that spoke the opposition and resistance against the word, and knew I had to touch base on this term.
So here’s the thing, the Spanish language is gendered. As a Latinx born and raised in the U.S., I recall finding it strange and confusing how words could be feminine or masculine in Spanish while also learning English grammar, which does not carry gendered pronouns. A word with “la” written in front of it is feminine while “el” is masculine. For example, if you would like to say the bike, you will say “ la bicicleta” but if you want to say the car you will say “el vehiculo”. The language also supports the dynamic in which the masculine word has higher status than the feminine word. The most popular example used to explain this dynamic is when its a group of women, they’re considered Latinas, but as soon as there’s at least one male they’re automatically considered Latinos. Another example is when you are with friends. If it’s a group of women they’re considered “amigas” but as soon as one man is in the picture the term switches to “amigos”.
The “x” in Latinx is a way to challenge not only the patriarchal culture dictating the language but also a way to challenge gender norms in Latin American cultures. By replacing Latino with Latinx, we become more inclusive of others who might not identify as either or both. This term has been widely used among people in the LGBTQ community. Considering the fact that it has been used by scholars since the 90s, the term is known now more than ever. But why now? First, we can thank social networks like Tumblr and Twitter, these platforms helped spread awareness through retweets and hashtags from people who are trans, queer, agender, non-binary, gender non-conforming or gender fluid. Second, we have to take note of the political climate in recent years, scholars, activists, and journalist have really pushed the term especially with LGBTQ issues leading many political debates and narratives in the media.
The Latino Rebel article touched base on the opposition topic and the frustration that the Pro-Latinx feel from the writings and resistance. “By reducing Latinx to a “buzzword,” the suggestion that we should not strive to make our language and culture more inclusive because “Latinx” does not address systemic change is remarkably disturbing. This is an argument often used by people of privilege to resist “progressive” structural change. Can we really be comfortable implying that we should continue to marginalized sections of our people while we figure out a way to stop doing it in a manner that is “really” meaningful?” wrote Scharron. Despite its popularity, the term does bring feelings and has faced criticism. Some people feel as though this term might ruin the Spanish language, some have a hard time including it in everyday language because the “x” doesn’t roll off the tongue when speaking Spanish, and others feel as though it’s just as problematic as Latino or Latina. Latinx isn’t perfect, but it’s the first step towards postcolonial change.
The Spanish language we speak today isn’t the Spanish first introduced to us through colonization. It’s a language mixed with Arabic, indigenous, and African terms as well, so to say it’s ruining the “traditional Spanish” is incorrect because what is spoken today isn’t traditional.