"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below."
Latinx, a gender neutral alternative to Latina and Latino, is a term that has recently gained a presence in popular culture. The term is used to describe the diverse group of people who have roots in Latin America. Because the Spanish language classifies most words as masculine or feminine, the term Latinx emerged out of an act of solidarity to include LGBTQIA+ folks who may not want to be classified as male or female. Latinx is an intersectional term that aims to include all people of Latin American descent.
“Latinx is an inclusive term that can collectively refer to people who identify within and outside the gender binary,” say Alan Aja, a professor in the Puerto Rican and Latin Studies department at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Maria Scharrón-del Río, a professor in the School Counseling Program at the same institution.
What is the origin of the word Latinx?
The term Latinx emerged from the Spanish-speaking queer community to challenge the gender binary, explain Aja and Scharrón-del Río. While the exact origin of the term is unclear, its use can be traced back to online queer community forums. Some researchers have found early uses of the “x” in place of the gendered “o” and “a” dating back to the late '90s. The term became recently popularized, however, after the devastating Pulse Massacre in 2016, the mass shooting that occurred at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“We found that after the Pulse Massacre, Latinx was thrust into larger use,” say Aja and Scharrón-del Río. “Perhaps as an act of resistance, solidarity and visibility of non-binary gender identities as the LGBTQ+ [community] was being attacked.”
What are the differences between the terms Latino, Latina and Hispanic?
Because Spanish is a language with grammatical gender, certain words are used to describe men and others are used to describe women. “Latino and Latina are gendered variants of Latinx,” explains Eve Rosenfeld, a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology at the University at Buffalo who researches identity invalidation in Black and white Latinxs. “Latino encompasses male-only groups of Latinx individuals, as well as mixed-gender groups of Latinx individuals. Latina encompasses female-only groups of Latinx individuals.”
Some say the use of Latina and Latino, however, can be exclusionary and inequitable. “Using these gendered terms ignores those with genders that fall outside of the male-female binary. Additionally, the gendered terms center men over women,” says Rosenfeld.
Yael Rosenstock Gonzalez, an author and identity coach, breaks it down for non-Spanish speakers. “An English equivalent of Latino is the use of ‘mankind’ to refer to all humans,” she says. “While ‘mankind’ is understood to include women and potentially other genders, the name is inherently masculine.”
The term Hispanic, on the other hand, refers to an ethnic group in the United States that has its cultural origins in Spanish-speaking countries. You’ll find the term on any federal or state form, college application, or employment paperwork. The label, however, has been flagged as problematic by members of the Latinx community. Using Hispanic assumes that every Latinx individual speaks Spanish, when they may only speak their indigenous languages; it also excludes Brazilians because they speak Portuguese. In addition, Hispanic was first used on U.S. census forms in 1980 and has been tied to a whitening ideology. According to writer Araceli Cruz in her article “The Problematic History of the Word ‘Hispanic,’” it is a term that has racist undertones and has been described as whitewashing the unique heritage of Latinx people.
How do you pronounce Latinx? How do you use it in a sentence?
Latinx is most commonly pronounced “Latin-EX.” It is also sometimes pronounced “la-TEE-nex” or “La-TEENKS.”
Here are the different ways you can use the term in a sentence, explains Rosenfeld:
It can be used as an adjective: Latinx Americans, Latinx members of the LGBT+ community
It can also be used as a noun: Latinxs in academia often deal with microaggressions and discrimination.
It can be used singularly (I am a Latinx woman) or plurally (Latinxs are the fastest growing population in higher education).
It can describe individuals (I identify as Latinx) and groups (Latinxs living in Southern California).
Why do some people have an issue with the term Latinx?
While Latinx is a word created with inclusivity in mind, not everyone supports its use. Some people think that Latinx is an elitist term that is mostly used in academic settings. It has also been called out as a form of “linguistic imperialism,” meaning some think the term Latinx represents English policing the Spanish language in a way that doesn’t correspond with its grammar or conventional way of speaking. Because Latinx doesn’t sound like other words in Spanish, it could also potentially alienate non-English speaking people of Latin American descent.
Rosenstock Gonzalez offers an alternative: the term “Latine” (pronounced La-TEEN or Latin-EH). She says, “The use of ‘e’ does not have gendered associations. For example Latine, elles, todes, amigues — all of which would be easier to incorporate into the Spanish sounds that already exist and is therefore an easier sell to Spanish speakers.”
While a single word may never perfectly describe such a diverse and rich culture, using intentional language counts. “The use of Latinx and Latine is an act of solidarity and resistance against the violence that racist, sexist, heterosexist, classist, xenophobic, ableist and other oppressive structures inflict in our communities,” say Aja and Scharrón-del Río.
Natalia Sylvester, author of the YA novel Running about a Latinx teen whose father is running for president, says, “The term Latinx may not be a perfect one, but the willingness to change (and more importantly, to listen to the LGBTQ community on this) is vital.”
How can I be an ally to Latinx people?
Given the escalating violence enacted against Latinx people, allies must step up to the plate. To start, employ the language they ask you to use. Then, listen, align and act.
“To be an ally to Latinx people is to first and foremost acknowledge the term’s legitimacy and respect someone’s choice to use it, even if you choose not to,” says Nicholas Patino, a photographer and community leader based in Miami.
Rosenfeld offers an imperative: “The most important thing to do as an ally is to listen, non-defensively,” she says. “Support our causes. Fight against ICE. Dismantle your own racism. Don't invalidate our identities, even if our appearance diverges from your expectations. Don't assume things about us based on our identity. Not all of us are immigrants. Not all of us speak Spanish. We are extremely diverse. Recognize that diversity. Center your allyship around our voices.”
More on Hispanic Heritage Month
You Might Also Like