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Navigating the Conversation:  Use of the Term “Latinx”

Navigating the Conversation: Use of the Term “Latinx”

Evolution is key to language. As the world changes, so must language change in order to accurately perform its function. However, language is powerful: it can influence our perception of the world and the people within it. So, it’s no surprise that some additions to our lexicon can spark controversy and debate.

Man and woman

Why Is the Term Latinx Controversial?

The term Latinx emerged in the early 21st century, reportedly first used online in 2004 (Colorado University). Proponents argue that it provides a gender-neutral alternative to traditional gendered terms like "Latino" or "Latina," thereby challenging the inherent masculinity of the Spanish language. They contend that "Latinx" creates an inclusive space for individuals who identify outside of the gender binary.

However, critics of the term often highlight the disconnection between "Latinx" and the linguistic roots of Spanish. With Spanish being a gendered language, they argue that imposing non-native concepts onto the language undermines its cultural significance. Some also argue that the term is a product of Western influence and fails to respect the linguistic and cultural traditions of Spanish-speaking populations. Understanding and respecting diverse perspectives is key to navigating this controversy: rather than labeling the term as inherently racist, engaging in open dialogue and promoting inclusivity can lead to a more constructive discussion on linguistic representation.

What Do Latinos Think of the Term Latinx?

In spite of its apparent popularity in academic circles in the US,  surveys indicate that the majority of Hispanics and Latinos do not identify with the term "Latinx," preferring traditional gendered descriptors.

Ana M. Flores, a prominent Latina author states that "Language carries our history and our struggles. Erasing gendered terms without understanding their roots can lead to a dilution of our cultural heritage."

As such, the conflict within the community results from within: the inherently gendered nature of the language, and the way in which an implementation of change can potentially undermine the historical essence of the language and tradition. That said, it is critical to view these changes as an  attempt to include folks that have traditionally been marginalized and excluded from the community.

Pride Mexico

Intersectionality and Representation

Advocates for the use of "Latinx'' stress that it not only challenges gender norms but also fosters inclusivity for individuals who identify as LGBTQ+. The term aims to provide a more encompassing label, ensuring that the diverse experiences of our community are acknowledged and respected.

Though critics argue that the term can overlook cultural diversity within Hispanic and Latino communities. For instance, in a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 23% of Hispanic adults were familiar with the term "Latinx" in the United States, with the number even lower in Latin America  at a mere 3%. This suggests a  disconnect between the term and the broader community it seeks to represent, especially south of the border. 

And, by imposing a catch-all label, some argue that the term may inadvertently erase distinct cultural identities and histories, achieving the exact opposite of its original purpose.

Activist Erika L. Sánchez articulates, "The power of language lies in its ability to reflect and honor our lived experiences. It's important to remember that the term 'Latinx' doesn't resonate with everyone, and we should respect that diversity of perspectives."


A Path to Greater Inclusivity

Supporters of "Latinx" argue that the term offers an opportunity to challenge systemic inequalities and foster greater inclusivity. By expanding the language and engaging in discussions about identity, they believe society can create a more equitable future. 

Critics frequently point out that focusing solely on language may divert attention from pressing social issues affecting Hispanic and Latino communities. They argue that the emphasis should be on addressing economic disparities, access to education, healthcare, and social justice, rather than linguistic debates.

Scholar Dr. Daisy Verduzco Reyes believes that "While language is significant, it is essential that we prioritize the material and structural changes needed to empower our communities."

The debate surrounding the use of the term "Latinx" is a nuanced one, reflecting the complexity of identity and the intersections of language, culture, and social justice. As society progresses, the challenge lies in finding a balance that recognizes and respects the diverse perspectives and experiences within Hispanic and Latino communities. 

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