In recent years, use of the term “Latinx,” pronounced “Lah-teen-ex,” has gained popularity among artists, activists, academics, bloggers, and journalists when they refer to individuals with cultural ties to Latin America and individuals with Latin American descent. While some identify as Latinx, the term has also created confusion and frustration for others.
Typically, Latinx is used as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina. Latinx is intended to evoke an appreciation for the existence and experience of gender non-binary, queer, or gender non-conforming communities. It has evolved as a symbol of transgender rights and gender fluidity. The term is thought to have originated in online forums for transgender communities in early 2000s.
“I read it before I heard it,” said Rebel Mariposa, owner of the popular watering hole La Botánica on the St. Mary’s strip, which has hosted Latinx related events such as Mijente Happy Hour. “If someone says they’re Latinx, you don’t know [how they identify] yet. It forces someone to ask them, hey, how do you identify?”
The Rivard Report has used the term for community members who identify themselves as such and when it appears as part of an event title or exhibit. But as debate about usage of the term has evolved in online media circles locally and nationally, the Rivard Report is soliciting community feedback on what the term means to San Antonio.
Just over half – 50.2% – of U.S. babies younger than 1 year old were racial or ethnic minorities in 2016, according to Pew Research Center. As the United States’ demographics shift and conversations about gender fluidity become more prevalent, some say it’s natural for language to adapt.
“It’s 2017. Language is one of the things that evolves around culture and experiences,” Mariposa said. “Languages change. Languages shift all the time.”
Spanish Linguistics Assistant Professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio Whitney Chappell said the x suffix may not be the final chapter in this ongoing debate.
“It is a conversation worth having,” she said. “We can’t stop languages from changing, and if we have the opportunity to make them more open and inclusive along the way, I think we should embrace the challenge.”
Yet as American identities change and evolve, federal agencies charged with quantifying and categorizing the U.S. American public are slow to adapt. In 1977, the federal Office of Management and Budget created minimum standards for data collection about race and ethnicity. Under the 1977 standard, Hispanic is defined as “a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.”
“Hispanic is a government-designated category from the Reagan era when they wanted to lump everyone into one,” said Norma Cantú, Murchison Professor in the Humanities at Trinity University, who identifies as Chicana. “The term Chicano became popular in the Chicano movement of the 1960s, but it was around from before, in the 1920s. [Calling myself] Chicana is a political position, it connotes a resistance and fight for social justice and positions that I agree with.”
The last review of federal standards for reporting race and ethnicity occurred in 1995, where the “Hispanic or Latino” category emerged as a way to acknowledge how people along the East and West coasts identify themselves, according to a revisions statement. The current standard adopted in 1997 defines the categories by which all federal data is collected and reported. In 2016, the OMB called for a review of the 1997 standard.
Before Latinx gained traction, many were using the terms Latino or Latina or even Latin@, Cantú said, and now there are people who also are using the letter ‘x’ in the term Chicana.
Receive updates on the local impact of coronavirus in your inbox every morning.
For many in San Antonio, the current “Hispanic or Latino” category simply doesn’t cut it.
“All of them are misnomers,” Cantú said. “When you lump everyone together, you are erasing an ethnic identity of a national origin – where their ancestors and parents came from.”
The Latinx term allows freedom from the behavioral expectations associated with gender, said Daniela Riojas, a local artist, activist, and lead singer of the popular band Femina-X. “The term feels safe for people since it doesn’t have expectations attached to it, given that our society is trying to break free with a lot of the oppression with gender roles.”
Latinx also has been criticized as a blight on the Spanish language that is difficult to pronounce and incorporate into daily speech. Latinx hasn’t been widely adopted outside the U.S., leading some to associate the term with an imperialist tendency to modify the traditions of other cultures and languages.
“The Spanish language – unlike English – is not gender neutral, which is why embracing that term as a generality would break communication,” said Roberto Diaz, a Mexican national who studied international business at St. Mary’s University and has lived in San Antonio for 11 years. “There is too much emphasis on making everything gender neutral and gender safe, but in the Spanish language certain terms and objects have male and female designations.
“When we see a group of kids and say the word ‘niños‘ with an ‘o’ it encompasses both females and males in the group. You are not giving any preference to any sex. What’s next? Are we going to change the rules of a whole language?”
Opponents of using the term also reference the fact that “Latino” is the correct gender-neutral expression in Spanish, and argue that changing how language is used won’t affect any wider societal issues.
Some people from Latin America don’t even want to embrace the term “Latino” because they also resist those labels from the U.S., Cantú said, and they would rather identify themselves as Chilean, Mexican, or Argentinean, for example.
For many in the Latino/Hispanic community, how they identify is a personal choice, Diaz said, and using Latinx as a blanket term in daily speech might not make everyone comfortable.
“It cannot come from an outsider, trying to modify something you do not partake in,” he said. “Before someone tries to impose a modification in a culture and a way of communicating, they must first understand the culture, how they communicate, and what things truly mean.”
Others argue the term is too new to be considered as an official word, though the Oxford English Dictionary has stated that it has placed “Latinx” on its watch list, after incorporating the “Mx” term (an alternative to Mrs., Miss, Ms., or Mr.) into its official lexicon.
Some who do not identify as Latinx are hesitant to share their perspective of the term that has caused significant controversy within the queer and immigrant communities. Many of the people the Rivard Report contacted for comment declined to share their opinion.
In any case, San Antonio appears to be having the conversation right on time. For Riojas, who identifies as Mexican-American, embracing and using the term Latinx is a conversation starter.
“If it’s a tool for inclusivity and conversation and for connecting and creating an environment where people are learning about each other in a positive way, that’s when terms can be good,” she said.
Do you identify as Latinx? Please share your thoughts and comments below.