In the year since Donald Trump was elected President, the Hispanic community has found itself at the forefront of many a debate and breaking news story. Although nearly 234 million Americans used Mexican food and ingredients in 2016, chants of “build that wall” echoed throughout Republican rallies throughout that same year, showing just how many citizens want to keep people of Latin descent outside U.S. borders. While some conservatives follow the misguided belief that all Mexican immigrants are all criminals and “bad hombres,” the Hispanic community is having an identity crisis all its own: is the term “Latinx” one that should be embraced or shunned?
The gender-neutral term is one that’s divided much of the community. By referring to people of Latin descent as Latinx (pronounced “La-teen-ex”), people who identify outside the gender binary can feel included in important conversations that impact them. Considering that those who are of Latin descent and are transgender were recently found to face greater hardships — including unemployment, poverty, harassment, discrimination, and mistreatment by law enforcement — than those who are white and transgender, this small change in language could allow those who identify as transgender or gender-fluid to feel more accepted in the Hispanic community.
But the term isn’t just important to those who identify as neither Latino nor Latina. Latinx has become a way to promote the idea of fairness and inclusivity in general; because it does not give preference to masculine nor feminine identifiers, it’s a catch-all term that makes sense to use (much like black or Asian).
Still, some people in the Hispanic community are resistant to the word. Some say it feels like their identities are being stripped away, particularly if they are proud to be Latina/Latino. But as many community experts point out, the idea isn’t to take identities away; it’s to give identity to a greater number of people.
That said, Spanish — like other romance languages — is gendered at its core. Opponents of “Latinx” argue that swapping out terms like Latino and Latina for Latinx would change what so many people value about the way those in the community communicate.
In an oft-cited column published in 2015 by The Phoenix (Swarthmore’s independent campus newspaper), Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea wrote, “We see… a misguided desire to forcibly change the language we and millions of people around the world speak, to the detriment of all.”
But according to Roy Perez, an associate professor of English and American Ethnic Studies at Willamette University, that’s not what the term is all about.
“No one is out to neutralize the whole Spanish language, and it would be impractical to do so,” Perez told NBC News. “This is really an English-language and Spanglish debate that can get blown out of proportion… Why should we only have one word to describe ourselves? Latinx is just one solution to the complexity and slipperiness of labeling Latinos. And it doesn’t have to supplant other words.”
Embracing “Latinx” doesn’t mean individuals need to drop other self-identifiers in the process, explains Brooklyn College associate professor Maria R. Scharron-del Rio.
“By using Latinx, nobody is telling you how to identify. It’s up to you if you want to be Latinx, Latino, or something else,” she explained to NBC. “It’s really a way to be inclusive. For people who are traditionally marginalized, that millisecond of politeness and recognition towards someone who is gender queer, tells them that you see them, that you are an ally.”