The word “Latinx” (pronounced “La-teen-ex”) has been used more and more lately. And, yet, while many people are using the term and identifying as Latinx, there are still others who may look at the word with skepticism and confusion.
In recent months, HuffPost Latino Voices has incorporated usage of Latinx into some of our articles to reflect this change, to which some readers have responded by saying:
“You misspelled ‘Latino.’”
“Latinx isn’t a word.”
“I keep seeing Latinx... what does it mean?”
No, it’s not a typo. Yes, Latinx is, in fact, a word ― one many people identify with for various reasons. And if you’ve been online in the last couple of years, you’ve likely noticed the word popping up in your social media news feeds and in various articles in lieu of such identifiers as Latino, Latina or Latin@. There’s a reason for that ― allow us to explain.
What does Latinx mean?
Latinx is the gender-neutral alternative to Latino, Latina and even Latin@. Used by scholars, activists and an increasing number of journalists, Latinx is quickly gaining popularity among the general public. It’s part of a “linguistic revolution” that aims to move beyond gender binaries and is inclusive of the intersecting identities of Latin American descendants. In addition to men and women from all racial backgrounds, Latinx also makes room for people who are trans, queer, agender, non-binary, gender non-conforming or gender fluid.
“In Spanish, the masculinized version of words is considered gender neutral. But that obviously doesn’t work for some of us because I don’t think it’s appropriate to assign masculinity as gender neutral when it isn’t,” explains queer, non-binary femme writer Jack Qu’emi Gutiérrez in an interview with PRI. “The ‘x,’ in a lot of ways, is a way of rejecting the gendering of words to begin with, especially since Spanish is such a gendered language.”
Latinx is also, as pointed out by writer Gabe Gonzalez, a way to reclaim identity, a form of rebellion against “the language and legacy of European traditions that were imposed on the Americas.”
Here’s why people are using the term “Latinx:”
Languages change in order to accommodate the times in which it’s used, and in a year where discussions about trans and non-binary identity are at the forefront, it makes sense for “Latino” to evolve.
Though it is understood that many people may not identify as Latinx for various reasons, we feel it is important that we respect others who do and who want to be referred to as such. For what it’s worth, using Latinx in general is a way to be more inclusive of identities that go beyond the every day gender and racial norms that are rapidly shifting and being redefined in today’s culture. It’s not a perfect term, but for many people out there, it’s the beginning of a linguistic revolution. “[Latinx] is just one word,” explains Gutiérrez. “We adapt to survive in this kind of environment, you know, we also adapt our language. It’s vital to just expressing who we are and being able to explain to others in our own community, ‘Hey, we’re here. This is how you can be respectful of us. Acknowledge us.’”
Where did the term originate?
Latinx first began to emerge within queer communities on the internet in 2004, and saw a rise in popularity in late 2014, according to Complex. By 2015, Google searches for the term began to increase (see the graph below) and Latinx became a widely-used identifier both on social media platforms like Tumblr and in scholarly work. Many scholars and activists praise the term’s ability to better include many groups of people while challenging cultural and norms.
Why not everyone is on board
Despite the growing popularity of the term, Latinx has been faced with criticism. Many opponents of the term have suggested that using an un-gendered noun like Latinx is disrespectful to the Spanish language and some have even called the term “a blatant form of linguistic imperialism.” However, in defense of the term, Brooklyn College professors María R. Scharrón-del Río and Alan A. Aja argue that the Spanish language itself is a form of linguistic imperialism for Latin Americans.
“Are we not aware that upon the arrival of the conquistadores and subsequent acts of genocide, a few thousand indigenous languages existed in the Americas, and a few resilient hundred continue to be spoken today?” they explain in a piece on LatinoRebels.com. “Not to mention the attempted erasure of African languages via the violence of slavery and colonialism.”
They go on to point out that many of the indigenous languages throughout Latin America and the world range from genderless to multi-gendered.
However, writer Monse Arce argues that Latinx is just as problematic as Latino and Latina. “They’re blanket terms that were invented to group us all under one common colonized identity,” she writes in Affinity Magazine.
Then, there are individuals who say they have chosen not to adopt the term because “Latinx doesn’t roll off the tongue when you’re speaking Spanish.”
As Complex points out, “‘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.” But it’s usage has been gaining traction, and people are taking notice.
It’s with this in mind that Latino Voices is incorporating the term Latinx into our coverage. We believe every individual’s identity is complicated and nuanced ― and deserves to be acknowledged and respected.
Does the term Latinx resonate with you? Let us know, why or why not in the comment section below.
Want to learn more? Below are links to several people breaking down their own Latinx identity: