What does Latinx really mean?
What does Latinx really mean?
Refinery29 had recently decided to adopt the word Latinx, a phrase born in the early aughts to be more inclusive of Latinos who are gender-non-conforming. By dropping the masculine “o,” Latinx (pronounced lah-teen-ex) does not default to a masculine connotation or exclude anyone it’s meant to include.
I’m an opinionated Black and Puerto Rican feminist who works at a forward-thinking women’s website, someone who prides herself on being inclusive, and using her work to examine her own privilege as well as points of view different from her own. You’d think adopting Latinx would be a no-brainer for me, right? Yet reading my own writing with a word I’d never used — and had only really seen used around the Internet here and there — felt, somehow...wrong. As if I was betraying some part of my culture, or causing the very people who I wanted my article to reach to instead stumble over it, all in an effort to achieve political-correctness.
This seemingly small semantics issue quickly became a dilemma: To Latinx or not to Latinx?
It might sound like a simple word choice, but the decision is a complicated one. On the one hand, the word Latina is a badge I’ve worn with pride for nearly 30 years, a label that I associate with my family and my culture — my people. But on the other hand, if I choose to continue to call myself Latina, or refer to my family as Latinos, does that make me ignorant, or phobic, or an opponent of gender non-conformity? Am I being a hypocrite, not pushing myself to be as inclusive as I ask you, Refinery29’s readers, to be?
I had to learn a lot more before I could decide.
A large part of the issue begins with the origin of the word “Latino” itself, which is problematic, considering that it stems from the colonization of people in Latin America. Around the 1940s, it started to become more commonly used by Americans to lump together a group of people simply because they can trace their roots back to Latin American countries. "Hispanic" was an alternative label that popped up by 1970, but it was even more problematic, just a made-up, non-Spanish word created by the government for the U.S. Census. And many people of Latin descent, particularly those from Caribbean countries, still refer to themselves as "Spanish," though many find that problematic because, again, it's a reference to Spanish colonialism.
So despite its colonial roots, Latino has become the name most widely embraced by its people. It unites millions of people in America whose cultures are not the same, but share similar commonalities, whether they are through our food, music, or our language. Now, when you attend a salsa concert or scroll through Twitter bios or sit at a table of platanos and pernil, you’ll likely encounter the word Latino used proudly. Despite a not-so-friendly rivalry between the Puerto Rican and Dominican teams at the recent World Baseball Classic, many fans were simply proud to see so many Latinos representing on an international stage. (Pero, my people would never forgive me if I did not mention here that, for the record, Puerto Rico did beat D.R…#LosNuestros).
Still, there is a glaring issue with the word Latino. Like all of the romance languages, Spanish is gender-based. While the plural “Latinos” is meant to include all people of Latin-American descent, there could be a room full of 10 Latinas, and if just one guy enters, suddenly the group is referred to as “Latinos.” That basic grammar concept reveals a culture that is inherently patriarchal, always handing men the power, even through its language.
For some, this machismo was not acceptable. While I’m not sure of the exact origin or person who created the phrase, all internet signs point to 2004 as the year members of the queer Latin-American community came up with the term Latinx, replacing the -O or -A with an -X in a move toward gender-inclusivity, as well as a nod to Nahuatl and the other indigenous languages of many Latin-Americans’ pre-colonial ancestors.
According to NBC News, Latinx began gaining in popularity in Google News searches in 2014. It quickly became more commonly used than “Latin@,” another adaptation that rose through the LGBT communities online in the early '00s, with the @ symbol signaling inclusivity by combining the O and the A. That vernacular never fully gained traction, however, because many in the LGBT community pointed out that it still denoted either female or male, therefore excluding anyone who identifies as outside of the gender binary. (Not to mention the @ symbol complicates things when it comes to HTML and Google recognition.)
There’s no denying that inclusivity is essential — especially during an unbelievably divisive political era. But we're also living in a time when, largely thanks to social media, communities can create more comprehensive vocabulary virtually overnight. This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen such an evolution in the name of an identity group in America: Black folks in the U.S. have been labeled, both personally and otherwise, as everything from Negro and Colored People to African-American and now People of Color or, simply, Black — but, importantly, now with a capital B.