First stepping foot at USC’s campus, I was ready to discover myself and find a community of people like me. It felt simple until I realized that even describing myself was difficult. All my life, I identified as ‘Latino’ and referred to other people as ‘Latinos’ or ‘Latinas’ not thinking anyone was being excluded. Instead, I saw the word ‘Latinx’ plastered everywhere – clubs, organizations, and the cultural center. What did the term mean? I didn’t know, but the last thing I wanted was to be ostracized for not using it or for seeming ‘politically incorrect’. I never received a formal education on the term nor did I expect anyone to sit me down and tell me what the term meant. Then I was hired at the cultural center, and the stakes were much higher for me and the term I used. I strapped myself and started using ‘Latinx’ more than ever. One random day, I woke up and realized what was once the ‘Latinx at USC’ group chat became ‘Latine at USC.’ The explanation was that the term ‘Latinx’ isn’t pronounceable in Indigenous languages that don’t have an ‘x’ in their alphabet; a new term was born. Being struck with a new term when I have barely wrapped my head around the old one, I sometimes wonder how people will be able to catch up on politically correct terms when they’re constantly being thrown out and developed into new ones. Inclusivity is important but is there a term that is able to expand past the unlimited identities in the community? Or are we hopelessly going in circles trying to find one that everyone is comfortable using?
Hispano, Hispana, Chicano, Chicana, Chicanx, Latino, Latina, Latinx, and the list goes on. These terms attempt to embrace the various identities of the community, yet ironically divide us more and more as new terms arise. With certain people remaining static to the original ‘Latino/a’ and certain people using the ‘inclusive’ ‘Latinx’ and ‘Latine,’ there’s not a consensus around what we call ourselves.
Encountering the new ‘Latinx’ and ‘Latine’, I struggle to keep up with political correctness. Unsurprisingly, I’m not alone in this experience. The Pew Research Center published findings regarding the term ‘Latinx’ and saw that only one-in-four Hispanic people in the U.S. have heard the term and a small 3% actually use it, most of which are in higher education. ‘Latinx’ hasn’t found its way into the general public nor has it stuck with people. The use of the ‘x’ is met with resistance because Spanish-speakers feel as though the language is being disregarded:
Thank you for advocating for Latinos. Please note, we overwhelmingly reject “Latinx” as cultural imperialism that disrespects our language. I am both “una persona latina” and “un latino”. In Spanish the gender of the word does not necessarily denote the gender of the person.— Andre Mann (@adventuremann) October 14, 2020
Much like the tweet states, I have always believed that ‘Latino/a’ captured the entire spectrum. For a male or female, one could use the standard ‘Latino/a.’ For a non-binary person, one could say, ‘Ellos son Latino’ and still be respecting their pronouns as ‘Latino’ can sometimes serve as a gender-neutral term. To me, it seems counterproductive to be labeling people as ‘Latinx’ when the standard ‘Latino/a’ was already inclusive to begin with. To create a brand new term for Latinidad, inaccessible to those not in higher education, causes disjunction within our community when we aren’t in agreement on what to label ourselves.
Being a student worker at a cultural center, I found myself struggling between using the socially-acceptable ‘Latinx’ and using ‘Latino/a’ based on my own experience as a Spanish-speaker. I often asked myself: do I use the word I’m comfortable with or do I use the word others might want me to use? It’s an internal conflict I’ve had since coming to USC where I don’t want to make others feel unwelcome but also don’t want to go against my own grammatical knowledge.
Reading more on the terminology, I stumbled upon a scholarly article – "The Complexity of the “x” in Latinx: How Latinx/a/o Students Relate to, Identify With, and Understand the Term Latinx." Associate Professor Dr. Cristobal Salinas, author of the article, conducts empirical research on the development of the term ‘Latinx’ and analyzes its effectiveness. He finds that its use is inclusive to an extent, but also potentially erases people’s individual identities.
“What intrigued me was that going into spaces, people would ask me what my pronouns were and they would not respect those pronouns. ‘Latinx’ would then be ‘Latino’ or ‘Latina’ depending on the pronouns, but people would call me ‘Latinx’. If you’re given the pronouns, they should be matching the term”, says Dr. Salinas.
Analyzing Dr. Salinas' point, the term erases the individual’s pronouns to create a merged unit known as ‘Latinx.’ It’s ideally used in group settings where multiple genders may be present. It becomes counterproductive when used in individual conversations where it might be appropriate to fill in the ‘x’ to accommodate the individual’s preferred pronouns. Without a formal education or definition, ‘Latinx’ can often be used without care or consideration for the individual it’s directed toward.
On the other hand, La CASA Student Worker Kristal Silva finds herself identifying as ‘Latine’ as a way to empower herself and also asks others what their preferred term is.
Silva says, “I find that the Spanish language is extremely masculine and extremely sexist, and the community itself is extremely sexist. I never liked saying ‘yes, I’m a Latino’ or ‘oh yes, I’m a Latina’ because it always made me feel degraded in a sense. By identifying myself as Latine, I feel powerful. I’m not undermined by the language nor the community. As for other people, I ask them ‘is it okay if I can use this to identify you?’”
It seems the most appropriate way to go about its use is to be mindful of others and ask what form of Latin* to use as it varies from person to person. While ‘Latinx’ and ‘Latine’ aim to be inclusive of all, it’s nearly impossible to have one single term that everyone is content using. Preferences on the use differ based on upbringing, age group, cultural background, political beliefs, and geographical location.
University of Missouri-Columbia student Debora Paez learned about the term through social media and recognizes the inclusivity that comes with the term.
“I choose to use [Latinx] because it’s a gender-neutral label and so much of our language isn’t. I feel like it’s inclusive. At first, I found it peculiar to use because it’s something you’re not used to doing. It just didn’t feel natural, like everything that’s new, but once I started using it, it became like second nature”, Paez says.
Most people go through a journey when first encountering ‘Latinx’ – one of either skepticism or acceptance. Because people often encounter the term spontaneously on social media or in higher education, it can become offputting for older and younger generations alike. When do we use ‘Latinx’? When is it appropriate to use ‘Latino/a’? Is there even an issue with the original term? Where most people find common ground is that we don’t receive a formal education on the developing terms, and many of these questions arise as a result of that. As more terms come to fruition, Latinidad becomes both more inclusive but also more ambiguous. The preference around these terms depends on several factors – their accessibility beyond elitist higher education circles, the upbringing of individuals, and an individual’s geographical location just to name a few. While there will never be a consensus on a single term, the numerous terms can at least guarantee each individual an identity under the umbrella of Latinidad.