No patience for 'Latinx'

Individuals want to decide for themselves how they are defined

By AARON RODRIGUEZ | December 10, 2021

If you’ve recently filled out a school admission form, read a story in the local paper, or listened to a white politician talk about Latinos, then you may have heard the term Latinx. As a gender-neutral alternative to the term Latino, it has flourished on college campuses and in the mainstream media, yet its reception in the Hispanic community has been chilly.

The reasons for this are many, but chief among them is simply a lack of demand. Outside the safe spaces of college campuses, Hispanics are not calling for a new pan-ethnic label. Instead, the calls for change come from outside the Hispanic community.

A survey published this week by a Democrat-affiliated firm found that a meager 2% of Hispanics had self-identified as Latinx. The survey also found that nearly half of Hispanics polled had considered the term Latinx to be either bothersome or offensive and nearly one-third said that a politician or organization using the term would be more likely to lose their support.

Though the term is unpopular among Latinos as a whole, there is still a hesitancy in the community to criticize the term publicly.

While preparing for this article, getting Latinos to go on record about Latinx proved to be a challenge. Most I spoke to weren’t familiar with the term. And those familiar with it weren’t willing to stand by their opinions. One Latino, a person I respect for his thoughtful and nuanced views, shared his criticism of Latinx only to ask a few hours later that I not publish it.

The battle over terminology is nothing new for the Hispanic community. The term “Hispanic” was created by the federal government in 1980 as the result of a major lobbying effort by Mexican-American community leaders.

But by the 1990s, there were grumblings from academics and activists that the term was etymologically tied to Spain, which they claimed obscured its legacy of colonization and genocide in Latin America. Out of the depths of this dispute emerged “Latino,” a neologism they claimed stressed the independence of Latin-America from its European oppressors.

Even the term Latino hasn’t escaped scrutiny. Today, academics and feminists criticize the term for assuming a masculine form. While it took decades for “Hispanic” and

“Latino” to become mainstream, the biggest stumbling block for Latinx isn’t time -- it’s the suspicion that Latinx is part of a broader Anglo-centric agenda, a type of linguistic imperialism, intended to reshape how Hispanics are supposed to talk.

Moyses Garay, a craftsman from Milwaukee whose parents migrated from El Salvador, first encountered the term Latinx last year while filling out an admission form for his daughter’s private school.

He believes the term was coined by the LBGTQ community in order to validate their movement. “I think the term is pure propaganda,” Garay said. “It’s an attack on Christian society.”

Garay’s daughter, who is 13, attends an all-girls Catholic school in Milwaukee. He was surprised to learn that a social studies teacher asked the class for a show of hands who had identified as Latinx. Nobody raised their hands, but his daughter said the girls were initially confused and didn't know what to do. “They looked around the room at each other like they were waiting for someone else to raise their hand first to see if it was okay,” his daughter explained.

The teacher, not surprisingly, is young, 22 years old, and a recent graduate from Mount Mary University, according to Garay. Last year, a Pew Research poll showed that just 23% of Hispanics are familiar with the term Latinx. When considering just the 18-29 age group, the number climbs to 42%. The poll also found that Hispanics with a college education are more than twice as likely to be familiar with the term than those with a high school education.

Cristobal Salinas Jr., associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, observed that the term Latinx gained a lot of traction in higher education and activist spaces, but when Hispanic university students returned home to their communities, they no longer used the term as an identifier. This behavior is sometimes known as code-switching, the altering of language to fit into a peer group.

Even though most Hispanics dislike the term and others consider it offensive, cultural and corporate influencers outside the Hispanic community continue to peddle it to ingratiate themselves with minorities. And since nothing screams “outsider” more than foreign terms popularized by academics, this entire label-making enterprise comes off as out-of-touch and patronizing.

It’s important to remember that the movement behind Latinx isn’t just about how we identify Latinos, it’s also a push to make the Spanish language gender neutral. Spanish is a highly inflected language that marks its adjectives, nouns and pronouns by two distinct genders: male and female.

Masculine nouns typically end in -o and feminine nouns end in -a. Since “gender binary” is inherent in the Spanish language, academics and liberal activists have sought to “de-genderize” it by changing its gender inflection.

For instance, descriptors like Latino or Latina have gendered endings. The term Latinx replaces the ending with an x, making it gender neutral. It’s not only a nod to nonbinary people, but it’s an affirmation to them that they have the right to choose the identity of their own making.

Therefore, Latinx is supposed to be a gender-neutral alternative to those who feel they have no recourse in a restrictive male/female binary system. That’s fair. If they want to identify as Latinx or modify noun endings in Spanish, it’s their choice.

But the agenda has become much bigger than individual choice. It’s taught in colleges and in middle schools; it’s in dictionaries and in children’s books. Large corporations like IGN, Apple, and Ritz are promoting it in their marketing campaigns. The spread of Latinx throughout corporate America is primarily driven by white elites, not members of the Hispanic community.

Yet, the concerns over reprisal for not acquiescing to the cancel culture warriors is not merely an abstraction. Despite being overwhelmingly rejected by Latinos, the impact of linguistic imperialism and cancel culture are felt in the Hispanic community.

Dominant culture may be making its move, but it’s still ultimately up to individuals in the Hispanic community to choose how they are defined.

Aaron Rodriguez is an Oak Creek freelance writer. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are cited.