Latinx, which is usually pronounced “La-TEEN-ex,” is a gender-neutral way to refer to someone of Latin American descent.
What does this replace?
It’s a non-gendered alternative to “Latina” or “Latino,” but it doesn’t necessarily replace those terms.
OK, so if it doesn’t replace those terms, it’s an additional term?
Alright, so why would there need to be an additional term?
In an April 2018 piece for TIME, Katy Steinmetz explained why the term has appeal:
For some, using Latinx can feel feminist. Cristina Mora, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, says she first encountered it as a gender-neutral term that young people were using because they were “tired of reaffirming the patriarchy inherent in language.” For example: In Spanish, a group of women is referred to as Latinas, while a group of men or a mixed group — even one that is mostly women — is a group of Latinos. Feminists might balk at this the same way they’d balk at using he as a default pronoun or referring to mixed groups as “guys” but never “gals.” The subtext is the same: It’s a man’s world, you ladies are just in it.
Latinx gives people a way to avoid choosing a gender for a group or an unknown individual, much like using singular “they” avoids the choice between “he” or “she” in English. Both are gaining steam in a time when America is rethinking gender and whatever boundaries might come with it.
“They” is also a choice for non-binary people, right?
Yes, and that’s part of the appeal of Latinx, too. It is more inclusive that Latino and Latina, because it can include and refer to someone who would use neither term. Similarly, linguist Ben Zimmer told Steinmetz, there are other terms that have been recast using the gender neutral “x.” Chicanx is an alternative to Chicano and Chicana, and Filipinx is an alternative to Filipino and Filipina.
How far back does Latinx go?
Writing for Latina.com, Raquel Reichard explained the term’s origins:
“Latinx” emerged within queer spaces of the Internet in 2004, but its usage didn’t take off until a decade later. By 2015, most academics as well as LGBTQ and Latino rights groups were familiar with the word, and many made it a part of their lexicon.
According to Katherine Martin, head of Oxford’s US dictionaries, the term entered the mainstream after the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando:
It was a gathering spot where patrons were likely to have roots in both the LGBT community and Latin American culture, and the word cropped up time and again in the media coverage about what happened there. “That was the inflection point,” Martin says.
OK, so now that there is the word “Latinx,” should I no longer say “Latina” or “Latino”? Would those be considered offensive?
Not necessarily. And there are people who oppose “Latinx.” In the aforementioned Latina.com piece, Reichard referenced a 2015 essay that two Swarthmore College students wrote for the college paper. In that essay, Gilbert Orbea and Gilbert Guerra argued that the term “Latinx” was not only unnecessary, but offensive:
It serves as a prime example of how English speakers can’t seem to stop imposing their social norms on other cultures. It seems that US English speakers came upon Spanish, deemed it too backwards compared to their own progressive leanings, and rather than working within the language to address any of their concerns, “fixed” it from a foreign perspective that has already had too much influence on Latino and Latin American culture. The vast majority of people in Latin America from personal experience, would likely be confused and even offended by this attempt to dictate for them how their language is to be structured and how they ought to manage their social constructs.
And Dave Huber, writing for TheCollegeFix.com, dismissed “Latinx” as overreaching “political correctness.”
OK, so now I am torn on whether to use it or not.
You’re not alone. Natasha Pongonis, co-founder and co-owner of The Nativa, a multicultural communications agency, pointed out that even the community “Latinx” is supposed to reference is torn about its use:
We don’t have a consensus among ourselves yet about the word Latinx, so it would be hard for mainstream corporations to embrace it… Unless you are in news, PR, or academia, this is still a very new word… Latinx is used primarily among college students and millennials, so things could start to change as more of them enter the workforce and begin to reshape it… What is interesting is that some federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have begun using Latinx, so we see them bringing awareness to the term.
In an article for Complex, Yesenia Padilla said Latinx is “not the perfect identifying term, so it shouldn’t be treated as the answer in the ongoing quest to develop a cohesive postcolonial identity.” Still, Padilla said, it “will hopefully challenge every Latin American to think about what it truly means to be part of this complex culture.”
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