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LatinX: What is it & who is using it?

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

by Juan P. Villarroel

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Latinx (Lah-Tee-Nex or Lah Teenks) is a gender-neutral alternative term for referring people from Latin America. This word functions as being inclusive to those who are trans, queer, agender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming because in the Spanish language, masculinized versions of words are considered gender-neutral. "It is an opportunity to encompass different communities and identities. It is a stepping stone for a future of inclusion," said Sonia Guiñansaca from a 2016 article on Univision’s website. Guiñansaca is a queer migrant poet from Cuenca, Ecuador and is also an activist for culture and gender equality as well as for social justice. “Latinx breaks the duality of gender and offers an alternative to masculine or feminine, the “X” helps avoid the use of gender identification,” Guiñasaca said.

The word first emerged on the internet in 2004 amongst queer communities. However, its popularity grew in 2014, and in 2015 google searches began to soar. Lourdes Torres, a professor of Latino studies at DePaul University in Chicago was interviewed in a New York Times article and argued that the word undermines hard-fought feminist battles. “In its attempt to being gender-inclusive, one can argue that it’s gender-erasing of women who have fought for a long time to not just have Latino, but to have the option for Latino and Latina, to make sure women are represented,” said Dr.Torres.

Latinx was added to the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary in 2018 and in the very same year was rejected as a word by the Royal Spanish Academy, the authority of the Spanish language who in part are not big fans of Spanglish or Spanish words developed in the United States. In 2012, they added a definition for “estadounidismo,” which translates to Americanism.

According to Samuel Martinez, the director of El Instituto (Institute of Latin American Studies) at Uconn Storrs, “I believe that the word may only be generational term, maybe in 50 years, especially in Latin America they may embrace the usage of the word Latine since the X is a hard pronunciation on the throat and there aren’t many words that have that letter.”

Two females from Ecuador were able to provide their points of view of this term as women living in a Latin American country. According to Raquel Panchi, a veterinarian from Latacunga, "I feel like the word is not necessary, it's better to leave things as they are." Paola Rea a preschool teacher from Quito shared the same opinion when asked from her perspective, "Words should remain as they were intended, I think it's foolish there is a need to associate words with genders."

In the 1980s, the US Census Bureau started counting an influx of Latin American immigrants using the new term “Hispanic,” connecting them by linguistic heritage. But the term didn’t do justice to Portuguese-speaking Brazilians. So in 2000, the word “Latino” appeared on the census, and it has since achieved widespread use as an umbrella term for people and communities south of the US border.

As social factors change, sometimes the language has to change. Words such as presidenta or jefa which translate to president and boss respectively didn’t exist until women entered the workforce and took on those roles.

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