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Ethnic Studies programs face obstacles

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On Oct. 9, the Swarthmore Indigenous Students’ Association highlighted in their demands to the college that the school does not have an Indigenous Studies program and offers few courses in indigenous studies in general. The creation and backing of ethnic studies programs has lagged behind other departments for many years, due to structural and institutional obstacles.

Students have called for a Black Studies major since at least the 1970s, as reported in the Feb. 29,1972 issue of The Phoenix. At that time, the Student Council endorsed a Black Studies major, as proposed by the Swarthmore African-American Students’ Association (SASS), and supported SASS’ proposal to revive an Ad Hoc Committee on Black Studies to discuss the idea further. Answering faculty questions about the proposal, a member of SASS said that “Swarthmore is coming late to the black studies field.”

Another Phoenix article — this one from November 20th, 2003 — said that many students in a debate about the issue “felt that there should be a major in black or Africana studies, but opinion differed on whether or not a separate department for black/Africana studies should be created, and, if so, what the major should focus on.”

Members SASS and head of the Black Studies program Nina Johnson were not able to be reached for comment.

Black Studies is still not a major and is a interdisciplinary program rather than a department, offering honors and course minors. Latino and Latin American Studies (LALS), and Asian Studies programs are interdisciplinary programs, not departments. As detailed on the college’s website, the Black Studies program offers honors and course minors, the LALS program offers honors and course minors along with a special major, and the Asian Studies Program offers honors and course majors and minors.

Some of the college’s peer institutions have majors or departments in these or related fields, but others have only minors or concentrations. For example, while Amherst has departments and majors in Black Studies, Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Latinx and Latin American Studies, Williams has concentrations in Africana Studies and Latino Studies and a department in Asian Studies.

Provost Tom Stephenson outlined the process for creating and expanding interdisciplinary programs. He said that programs originate from faculty proposals based on the need for more curriculum in these areas. The authorization to offer a minor comes with the establishment of the program, and programs must apply to offer regular majors. Criteria to expand or establish a program include a “compelling argument” from faculty and adequate staffing to run the program.

Karen Avila ‘20, a board member of ENLACE, the college’s Latinx student group, believes that professor retention is critical for the survival of ethnic studies programs. She called Milton Machuca-Galvez, a visiting professor in Latino and Latin American Studies, “the backbone of the Latino Studies department,” and said that other students in ENLACE agreed with her.

“I still don’t understand why his position is not secured within the Latino Studies department,” Avila said. “That’s a very significant defect in sustaining the LALS department. If you can’t even keep a professor who clearly is so fundamental to the program, you’re not interested in making the program something institutionalized, because you’re not listening to students’ feedback in the first place.”

ENLACE students would also be interested in expanding the LALS program more generally, according to Avila, but she said they couldn’t do it on their own.

“I feel like we’re all on board if there was something that the institution would offer us a chance to partake in,” she said. “We can’t forefront a project; we need some support.”

Professor Edwin Mayorga, an Education professor affiliated with LALS, is offering some of that support. He has started talking with students and faculty about expanding ethnic studies and organizing the programs in a more sustainable way.

Addressing why ethnic studies programs have not become traditional departments, Stephenson said it’s largely because of “institutional culture.”

“We have chosen to look at [ethnic studies] as best taught in the context of the traditional disciplines,” Stephenson said. “I think that’s been the approach of the current faculty that we’ve had who are staffing the Black Studies interdisciplinary program; that’s not to say it won’t evolve in the future.”

As an example of how the programs could change, he cited the way the Film and Media Studies has evolved from an interdisciplinary program to a department that offers a regular major.

But Mayorga questioned the stability of interdisciplinary programs.

“The suggestion of interdisciplinary focus seems premature as a rationalization” for not having more stable programs or departments, said Mayorga. He said that the LALS program was “very fragile” and that the various ethnic studies programs often relied on visiting professors, or, in the case of indigenous studies, student-run courses. He called for more conversation across constituencies and then translating that conversation into action.

In contrast, Professor Christopher Fraga, program coordinator for LALS, said that one of the LALS program’s “greatest strengths is that it is robustly interdisciplinary,” and also pointed out the transnational perspective of the program.

“In the past three to five years, there’s been a pretty concerted effort, I think, to broaden the scope of the courses that we’re offering to include not only Latin America as a geopolitical region but also Latina/Latino/Latinx experiences in the U.S. as well,” said Fraga. He particularly mentioned Professor Désirée Díaz’s focus on Latinx studies as responding to “a felt need” of both students and faculty.

Still, Fraga acknowledged the program’s instability.

“I think it’s fair to see the program as being in a moment of transition or transformation right now,” he said, largely because the faculty associated with it were predominantly junior faculty, although many of them are on tenure track.

Although the proposals to expand interdisciplinary programs have to come from faculty, Fraga pointed out the value of student voices in influencing the expansion of LALS.

“Student interest has been very powerful in our case, and I would also just take a moment to say that student interest in other kinds of ethnic studies programs is also going to be a really important thing for our institution; I’m thinking of, for example, Asian-American Studies,” Fraga said.

That student interest is definitely present from members of ENLACE, the college’s Latinx group and the Swarthmore Asian Organization (SAO).

“What we want to do is kind of different from Asian Studies, what we want to do is Asian-American Studies,” said co-president of SAO Josie Hung.

She highlighted the dearth of Asian-American studies courses, which have been largely supported by Bakirathi Mani, a Professor of English who teaches an Asian American Literature course. According to Hung, members of SAO have talked to Professor Mani about possible barriers to expanding the courses on Asian-American studies.

“What admin like to see is numbers. That’s super hard because sometimes [Mani’s] classes would be really popular, sometimes they wouldn’t have that many people, and you have to show people that there’s interest,” said Hung. “But we’ve also talked about how there’s this cycle that’s going on: if you don’t have any courses that are offered about your identity, sometimes you don’t know you need it, or you don’t know there’s these issues that exist, or you might have other interests and it’s nice to not always have to address only your identity.”

She called for faculty members teaching courses that discuss race and ethnicity to go beyond the black/white binary and to work in other ways to support Asian-American studies.

“I think the push has to come from faculty members, because I think they’re the ones that suggest inviting or hiring other faculty members,” said Hung.

William Gardner, the program coordinator for Asian Studies, also highlighted Professor Mani’s role.

[Professor Mani] is clearly an important faculty member and has been responsible to a large extent for holding up the Asian-American part of the curriculum at Swarthmore, together with different visiting faculty over the years, but I think it’s still something where we’d like to see more permanent faculty,” said Gardner.

He also mentioned Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant and her new course on Taiko and the Asian American Experience as an important addition to the program. But Hung said there was pushback to having Bryant’s Taiko and the Asian American Experience course under Asian Studies. Regardless, Gardner emphasized the program’s support of Asian-American studies and work on the Asian diaspora.

“My sense from the faculty [in Asian Studies] is that we’re open to see how Asian American Studies and ethnic studies at the college evolve,” said Gardner, “We think it’s a really important part of what Swarthmore should be teaching, and what students should be learning.”

Similarly to Asian Studies’ attempt to include Asian-American Studies, LALS faculty members have tried to include indigenous studies, according to Fraga.

“I think particularly Professor Machuca and myself as the two anthropologists contributing to the program have tried to ensure that indigenous perspectives and indigenous history in the region are featuring in our courses,” said Fraga. “If there were dedicated positions for people doing indigenous studies, absolutely LALS would be the kind of program to write letters of support, to include courses as being cross-listed, assuming that they’re relevant. In principle I think that there’s a great opportunity for allyship there, and a great opportunity for collaboration. I’m not aware of any specific opportunities that are currently on the table, but I wouldn’t preclude that from being the case in the future.”

Fraga emphasized the limitations of these opportunities, saying that “there’s not a blank check to just bring in all of the different kinds of scholars that everyone in the college would like to have present.”

Members of SISA also could not be reached for comment.

Despite efforts from students and faculty to expand and stabilize ethnic studies programs, changes are likely to take a long time and a great deal of work.

IC celebrates 25th anniversary, hires new LGBTQ+ fellow

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With a new LGBTQ+ fellow, heritage celebrations such as Pride Month and Latinx Heritage Month, and the approach of its 25th anniversary, the college’s Intercultural Center has a busy year ahead.

For its anniversary, the IC has a program for each month. This month, the center is highlighting 25 facts about the IC, which are posted in various places around campus. For example, Fact #15, found in Wharton AB 1, reads: “At a certain point, Swarthmore’s admissions department began creating admissions brochures for specific populations, such as LGBTQ+, Asian, and Latinx prospective students.”

“Our goals this year are to continue to expand the visibility and reach of the Intercultural Center in order to advocate for identity-based groups to ensure marginalized [and] oppressed voices and perspectives are included in college-wide initiatives and decision making,” said IC director and dean of the sophomore class Jason Rivera in an email.

On Sept. 25, The IC had a kickoff event for Latinx Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Future events for the month include an a “Celebrating La Familia” event, a Moment of Silence and Town Meeting Observing Indigenous People’s Day, and a Breakfast, Latinx Documentary, and Discussion.

This past Monday, the IC had an open house for faculty, students, and staff that featured food from different cultures, music, and a chance to talk to each other and IC staff.

“I’d like to think the IC Open House … was very successful,” said Rivera. “I was especially happy to see so many students from each class year interacting.  Also, at one point, I looked over at the Fragrance Garden, in the IC Courtyard, and saw students, faculty, and staff interacting — some sitting on the grass and benches, some standing and mingling, and others swaying to the sounds of the music as they chatted with each other. It was a beautiful moment — one that I hope we can continue to recreate.”

Next year, Rivera plans to host a joint open house with the Interfaith Center and the Office of International Student Services in their new space in Sproul Hall. Joyce Tompkins, director of religious and spiritual life, and Jennifer Marks-Gold, director of international student services, were present at the IC Open House.

Dean Rivera said that the IC could also improve on some missions, such as working more closely with student organizations.

“I don’t think we do this poorly now, but I certainly think there is room for improvement,” he said.

Cooper Kidd, the new LGBTQ+ fellow, will be working with organizations like COLORS, a group for queer students of color, and the Swarthmore Queer Union. He majored in sociology with a focus in stratification at the University of Maryland at College Park, where he worked closely with the LGBT Equity Center. During his time there, he helped program a weekly support group for transgender students and one for students who identify as queer and Asian. This work motivated him to join the staff here, and he thinks this background will prove invaluable at the Intercultural Center.

“I feel that I am better able to offer logistical and functional support having had experience doing similar work to what students at Swarthmore do,” said Kidd. “In a similar way I feel that my personal experience also informs my work here as I know what it is like to be a queer person navigating college.”

In addition to working with the LGBTQ+ student organizations, Kidd will be a resource for students and will work with the Pride Month Committee. Pride Month runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 20. Kidd appreciates that the committee has been intentional about planning intersectional events, such as the Latinx movie screening.

“The foci that I have this academic year are around creating intentional programming that focuses on intersectionality and processes and practices that are more inclusive for trans students,” said Kidd.

Ignacio Rivera’s visit to campus on Sept. 8 provides one example of this intersectional program. Rivera (they/them/theirs) is “a Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit, Black-Boricua Taíno … activist, writer, educator, filmmaker, performance artist, and mother,” as described in the email announcing their visit. Rivera’s events on campus, “The Evolution of the Talk and Sexy Survivor” and “All of Me Poetry Performance,” focused on discussing these identities in the campus community.

One way Kidd hopes to help transgender students on campus is by helping the Self Study Action Committee streamline the name change process.

Kidd also wants to help students access queer-related events both on and off campus. He took students to the Philly Trans Health Conference in early September and to Princeton University on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to see black queer female writer Roxane Gay in conversation.

Just as the college has a new LGBTQ+ fellow, the IC has new interns, including five first-year students. As shown in a pamphlet distributed at the open house on Monday, they bring a diverse set of backgrounds and skills to the job. All the interns have office hours, available online at the IC website.

“I hope that I can not only use those experiences to help other people but that by hearing others’ experiences, they can help me figure out my own,” said Gene Witkowski ’21, one of the interns, referring to his experiences questioning his sexuality and his ethnic identity as a Haitian-American.

“I would love to say that I’ve been able to make somebody’s experience more inclusive, or make Swat feel more like a home to them, or at least make the IC feel more like a home to them,” said Witkowksi.

Dean Rivera echoed Witkowski’s goals, saying that the IC has done well in fostering a caring and supportive community.

“When I arrived at Swarthmore in July 2016, it was clear to me that the IC was in many ways a home base for some students,” said Rivera. “I thought then, and still believe today, that it is incredibly important for students to have a space like the IC because I know how valuable it is to have something to connect to when you are a student — to have a space where you can feel comfortable being yourself.”

The IC has come a long way since 1992, when it was founded “as a result of student activism aimed at securing increased administrative support of, and commitment to, Students of Color and Queer students at Swarthmore College,” according to its website. Back then, it only consisted of three student groups, according to Swarthmore’s website: the Hispanic Organization for Latino Awareness, the Swarthmore Asian Organization, and Action Les-B-Gay, which have since evolved into other organizations on campus.

Now, with a much broader array of organizations and a dedicated staff, the IC looks forward to an eventful year.

Machuca-Galvez must stay: students hope to ensure return of professor

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Karen Avila ’20 enrolled in Professor Milton Machuca-Galvez’ “Drugs, Gangs, and US Imperialism” class during her first semester of college. After a few months of knowing Avila, Machuca-Galvez nominated himself to be her mentor for the Rubin Scholars Program.

“I had a lot of people tell me about it but I never really had someone push themselves to get myself to apply to that, and make sure that I could take the classes,” Avila said.

As a Visiting Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies, Machuca-Galvez is the Head Coordinator of the Latino Studies Department.

“A lot of people say, you know, he is the Latino Studies Department. He makes sure that you know he covers his classes, he makes time for his office hours for people to visit him, I have so many friends who are really close to him and go to his office hours, he coordinates the budgeting for the department, so whenever like ENLACE [the Latinx student group on campus], needs money for an event, we know the Latino studies department … will help us.”

Unfortunately, as of right now, Machuca-Galvez’ contract is not being renewed for the upcoming year.

“He’s just like … he is the department and losing him it’s like losing the whole department. I don’t know, it’s frustrating,” Avila said.

Along with his central role in the department in general, Avila emphasized the important mentorship relationships Machuca-Galvez has crafted with students.

“My RA, she’s really close to him, and she’s had Thanksgiving at his house. You know, like just having that connection, it’s just so nice. And me not being able to know him, as close as people who I know now, upperclassmen — like juniors know him is really sad because I would want him to be my mentor. I recently had to switch my mentor and ask [someone else] to be my mentor, because, like, [Machuca-Galvez] doesn’t show up on the mentors list for Rubin Scholars. And that’s horrible,” Avila said.

These relationships expand far beyond office hours and holiday home visits.

“He definitely pushes you. He asks you ‘how are you,’ ‘how are you doing.’ That’s like his check-up on you. ‘What do you need,’ ‘what do you have to do,’ and ‘what are you going to do to get that.’ And he just like walks you through, talks it out with you, and you process it in your head, but then he makes you comfortable enough to say it out loud and ‘plan yourself’ out loud. I think that’s a really important role, [that he is] listening, providing kind of like a parental figure to a lot of us,” Avila said.

In addition to emotional and organizational support, Machuca-Galvez finds ways to provide students with inroads to research.

“With his own money, he would buy like pupusas, and he’d buy us drinks, in exchange for us helping him transcribe … his documents for his research projects, so also giving us like a little way in into his research, and involving us,” Avila said “Not just us being involved in his classroom, but way more than that.”

In response to reality of potentially losing Machuca-Galvez, Avila, in collaboration with ENLACE, has written a petition rallying for his contract to be renewed. While Machuca-Galvez is not a part of this process, many of his students are.

“We just finished drafting the letter, we’re in the works of that. A lot of people have just like been keeping it within us, just because he doesn’t want any part of it … So the main point [of the petition is that] as the Head of the Department of Latino Studies, he is the department, he offers a lot of support for his students, he is a shoulder to cry on, he is here to listen — he’s just there for his students,” Avila said.

Browning America: Into the alterity of mestizxs

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In the colonial lexicon of Latin America during the 19th century, mestizos were perceived as subordinate iterations of the white, European self. This class in the caste system consisted of people of mixed Spanish and indigena lineage, occupying the intermediate space of colonial society: not white enough, not brown enough.  

Mestizaje describes this process of interracial mixing and its cultural entanglements. By 1825, mixed bloods constituted 28.3% of Spanish America, according to Pew Research Center, and continued to threaten Spanish sovereignty.

Out of the precepts of colonial Latin America, however, mestizaje became less of a cry for assimilationism and more of a call for unification. It was instrumental to the new, Latin American states as a nation-building ideology to reject subaltern constructions of the colonial caste system and invigorate new diverse, social realities.

All history lessons aside, the concept of mestizaje has shifted once more in the contemporary era, evolving to be more than just a function of the state. It has become a social movement that has generated complex aesthetic dynamics and the recombination of structural realities.

This holds true even in the United States; according to another study by the Pew Research Center in 2008, 1 in 7 new marriages in the US were between two spouses of different races or ethnicities. Not only is this kind of relationship becoming more common, but also more normalized. In another study, Pew found that as of 2009, 83% of millennials approved of interracial dating.

And while the growing prevalence and acceptance of mestizaje shows prospects for changing social norms, mestizxs, or multiracial peoples, face new psychological conundrums. Here, we depart into the alterity of the contemporary mestizxs.

“I am not 100% anything.”

This is what Jordan Reyes ‘19 said to support his multiracial identity. With a mother from El Salvador and a father from California, Reyes was raised with an array of cultural influences. I asked him how he was able to reconcile his diverse racial and cultural origins.

“It’s hard to do so because I didn’t have a lot of El Salvadorian influence growing up. More than anything I had a lot of Cuban and Islander influences growing up,” he explained. “We lived in Miami for a couple years which is a highly Cuban area.”

For Reyes, he parallels his disconnect with his Salvadorian identity with his detachment from the cultural “aesthetics.”

“I can point out more aspects of my Mexican cultural identity; things like food, music, dance, history, art. I just don’t really know what makes up my El Salvadorian identity,” he said.

In confronting his multiracialness, Reyes finds that his challenges primarily manifest in linguistic barriers.

“Spanish was my first language, but after my mom came to this country, she was harassed a lot for not speaking English properly — she thought it was really important for her children to know English and to speak it without an accent. I was thrown into English classes from the get go,” he said. “After that, I kind of stopped speaking Spanish altogether.”

Growing up, he was targeted as being “not Mexican enough” for abandoning his Spanish proficiency. He saw the legitimacy of his identity begin to dissipate.

“You are not legitimately Mexican, you are not legitimately El Salvadorian, you don’t have a legitimate Latinx identity,” he said, echoing the sentiments of his childhood friends. “Yeah, I am El Salvadorian; yeah, I am Mexican. I take pride in both of them. I remember feeling like I always stuck out from my Mexican friends at home because I knew a lot about salsa and merengue and other cultural aesthetics.”

Similarly, he grapples with the idea of a “legitimate” cultural or racial identity in itself. Is there a set criterion that delineates inherent “Mexicanness” and “El Salvadorianness?” In what ways does this criterion manifest itself?

“Thinking about legitimacy in terms of who you are and what you are: does knowing more make you more?” he questions.

“Speak Spanish? Check. Have brown skin? Check.”

From Reyes’ experiences with his own interracial complexity, we see that interracial mixing describes more than just the hybridization of cultural practices and fusion of disparate communities. It describes the psychic status of the multiracial person, grappling with contending narratives.

“We are not exactly what used to be, and we are not exactly what is here now. There is growing consciousness of an ‘other’ and recognizing that I am that ‘other,’” he said.

While terms like mestizxs and mestizaje are entrapped in colonial vocabulary, in the contemporary era, the alterity of the mestizo class persists, even in the United States. Its story is fraught with visceral fears of displacement because of their failure to conform to either extremity of their racial and cultural identities.

“What am I? I don’t know.”

El Homenaje celebrates Latinx culture, heritage in Kitao

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El Homenaje (The Tribute) lived up to its name as a celebration of Latinx culture and heritage. Held on Friday, Oct. 28th in the Kitao Art Gallery, the event featured performances and artwork by Latinx students and alumni. A collaboration between the Kitao Art Gallery and the Latinx Heritage Month Committee, the two-hour event welcomed students to enjoy poetry, songs, artwork, and food, along with plenty of laughter, banter, and sticky fingers from the delicious pan dulce (sweet bread).

“I pitched the idea of a [Latinx Heritage Month] event within Kitao when we got back from Fall Break, and the committee was excited and so was Kitao Board,” said Amal Sagal ’19, who helped to organize and co-host El Homenaje.

“One big part of the art gallery was emphasizing the personal meaning of Latinx to Latinx members on campus,” said Karen Avila ’20, who also helped to organize and co-host the event.

She continued, “We took a camera, and we snapped photos of some Latinx Swatties holding a whiteboard that read ‘Latinidad means to me …’”

These photographs were then displayed on a wall in the gallery. Students’ responses to the statement varied from long sentences on embracing their heritage to a whiteboard containing a single word: “FAMILY.” On the opposite wall were paintings with hats hung between them as decorations to space them out. A collection of photographs taken by Max Hernández ’17 of his family and documenting his travels occupied one corner of the room. Some sculptures and figurines were also displayed on a table.

“[T]he ENLACE room had a lot of decorations and artwork from past alums that were hung up. Additionally, we created a post on the ENLACE [Facebook] group that encouraged people to hand in artwork, and reached out to individuals outside of ENLACE that we knew had artistic talents,” Avila said, explaining of the process of curating the artwork.

Large flags from Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Honduras, and Colombia were hung throughout the rest of the gallery, filling any remaining spaces with pride and color. The vibrancy of the displays helped to create a relaxed, cheerful atmosphere in the room, and the pan dulce and chocolate caliente Abuelita (a brand of Mexican hot chocolate) served added a sense of comfort, warmth, and intimacy. Students wandered around the space, admiring the artwork and chatting with friends till the hosts stepped up to the microphone to announce the start of the performances.

Cat Vélez ’17 was up first, performing three heart-wrenching poems inspired by personal experience. The audience was silent with awe, save for the occasional snapping of fingers. This performance was followed by a five-minute break, allowing the audience to either sit and reflect upon Vélez’s powerful words or to get a second helping of hot chocolate and bread.

Avila then took the stage, singing two songs in Spanish with no backing music or instruments. Her clear, sweet voice was met by enthusiastic cheers and applause from the audience, most of whom knew her personally.

“It was obviously nerve-wracking, especially since I don’t perform in front of people often—or at all,” Avila said of the experience.

Avila added that she did feel a sense of commitment to performing because she wanted to share the beauty of Latinx music with her friends and other Swatties.

Afterward, most of the audience stayed back in the gallery to enjoy the art and continue talking with friends. There was a strong sense of solidarity in the small community that attended the event.

“The space gave Latinx members a sense of home, community, and love, which they then opened up to non-Latinx members. We felt comfortable and eager to share our beautiful culture and heritage with our friends and peers,” said Avila.

Although El Homenaje was originally intended to be held during the Kitao Arts Festival, which fell on the first day of Latinx Heritage Month, the delay in planning allowed for more careful and thorough organization. This enabled the committee to create an event whose significance shone through in its emphasis of Latin America’s rich histories and cultures.

“I think that the flexibility within the environment and scene that El Homenaje created was beautiful. We had moments of silence and others of conversation,” said Avila.

“The committee really took the reins and created a beautiful expression of Latinx art and culture … The event felt familial and celebratory with lots of laughter and love. The open mic portion allowed for the voices of multiple experiences to be heard,” Sagal said.

When asked if she would do it again, Avila said, “I would love to organize another event like this! It did not feel like a task, but rather something I wanted to do for myself and for other Latinx members.”

Phoenix moves to “Latinx”

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

“Hey, do we correct for ‘Latinx’?” was a question that baffled the copy editors at the Phoenix some weeks ago. The Associated Press handbook, always consulted and ready at hand, had none of its usual wisdom to offer on this particular occasion. In light of the lack of standardization, it seemed that the decision lay in the hands of the copy editors. We at the Phoenix have thus decided to accept and adopt the use of “Latinx” in our publication. On a practical level, this means that the traditional “Latino” and “Latina” will henceforth be used when grammatical agreement is appropriate, and “Latinx” will be used as a gender-neutral term on all other occasions.

Many online publications have already adopted the use of the term, although seemingly not in a standardized fashion. We at the Phoenix hope that publishing this editorial will make clear that the change is intentional and deliberate, and that we specifically sanction the use of the form.

Our readers may be aware that we have previously published pieces arguing for or against the appropriateness and inclusiveness of the term. In our issue from Nov. 19, 2015, Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea’s “The argument against the use of the term ‘Latinx’” inaugurated the discussion. A response by Jesus Hernández and Brandon Torres was published in the subsequent issue, on Dec. 3, 2015. Adopting the term means we are taking sides in this debate. We at the Phoenix believe that “Latinx” is a term that does important work towards disarticulating the inherent gender binary present in the Spanish language. We are aware that masculine grammatical forms are considered inclusive of feminine forms. Still, we believe this is not enough. We understand the concerns with “linguistic imperialism” that Guerra and Orbea have brought up, but, as they point out themselves, the term is used mostly within the United States. Instead of interpreting this as a case of “how English speakers can’t seem to stop imposing their social norms on other cultures,” as Guerra and Orbea argue, we would like to acknowledge, as Hernández and Torres already have, that Latinx people are indeed an important part of this country and are thus implicated in shaping its discursive culture. English speakers are not part of a separate culture from that of Latinxs—in fact, as Hernández and Torres point out, the term originated with Latinx students, who in many cases are native speakers of English.

While the debate on the term is still ongoing in Latinx communities, we at the Phoenix have decided to adopt it to honour its inclusive intent. We may not be the Real Academia Española de la Lengua—that ivory bastion of standardization—but sometimes we, too, make our own rules.

A response to “The argument against the use of the term ‘Latinx’”

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The November 19 Phoenix article by Gilbert Orbea and Gilbert Guerra about the use of the term “Latinx” has caused a divide in the Swarthmore community and brought up the issue of inclusivity, or lack thereof. For supporters of the identifier “Latinx,” the new term allows for non-gender binary people of the Latinx diaspora to identify with their Latinidad without being forced to identify with one gender (i.e. “Latina” for females, “Latino” for males). Others argued that the term “Latinx” was very much an English-imposed change of language that excluded Spanish speakers, an argument brought up even during the Latinx Community Panel on September 24.

But the issue surrounding use of the term “Latinx” is even more complex than this and brings up other concerns of the “degenderization” of a language that is gendered, of linguistic imperialism, and of an erasure of the Spanish language. Though the article did well to bring these issues up for campus discussion, we the authors believe that many of these concerns are founded on misconceptions of the term “Latinx” and its use. It is for this reason that we write this article: to validate the voice of the Latinx community at Swarthmore.

We support the use of “Latinx” for the exact same reason for which it is opposed. That is, it takes the gender out of the word “Latino/a”. By doing so, it allows non-gender binary people to identify and express their Latinidad without imposing any gender upon them. However, the article builds off the misconception that there is a movement to extend the use of the “x” beyond “Latinx.” That is not what the Latinx movement is about. Women are still Latinas, men are still Latinos, and sentences like “lxs niñxs fueron a lx escuelx a ver sus amigxs” would never be used. Had the authors approached more non-binary Latinx and taken the time to understand the term and the movement before writing the article, they might not have made hyperbolic arguments.

One of Orbea and Guerra’s main arguments is that there is already a gender neutral term, and thus Latinx is not necessary. They have a point in that, in a group of men and women, as long as there is one male in the group, the group as a whole is given a masculine suffix. However, putting the patriarchy aside, you cannot deny that while “Latino” can encompass both men and women, it can only encompass men and women. The term is still limited to the gender binary and completely ignores the existence of more than two genders. It doesn’t allow a space for people who identify as neither solely man nor solely woman.

Another point the article makes is that Spanish is inherently gendered, and there is nothing we can do to change that. The authors overlook the fact that, before the Spanish colonizers invaded those lands, imposing their language on the indigenous peoples that lived there, they identified not just two, but multiple genders. The gender binary, therefore, is a social construct. It was made by society, and it can be changed by society to include non-gender binary people. Indeed, the language is constantly changing, constantly evolving to reflect the changes in society. In fact, there is an organization in Madrid called the Real Academia Española that periodically revises issues of grammar, spelling, pronunciation, etc. Not too long ago, an entire character was removed from the alphabet, yet the world kept spinning.  Languages are not static, they need to evolve to survive. It’s basic linguistics that languages change over time and different groups borrow words from each other. We are not erasing Spanish, we are changing it.

The article says the term Latinx was created by liberal Americans in colleges and universities, and that the term has no roots in any Spanish-speaking country. However, in reality, the term was created by Latinx students, not “foreigners” as Orbea and Guerra argue. The authors of the article argue that if we allow the use of the term Latinx to continue, English linguistic imperialism will continue to invade the Spanish language. Ironically enough, the authors are committing an act of linguistic imperialism themselves by decreeing that the term Latinx is not sufficiently authentic. They say it is too American and not Spanish enough, thereby denying the existence of an entire community of Latinxs. However, while the Real Academia Española is in Madrid, there are clearly more Spanish speaking people in America and Latin America. In fact, the city of Los Angeles in California has the second highest number of Spanish speaking people in the world, and the US as a whole has the fifth largest Spanish speaking population worldwide. So how can you say our opinions as Latinxs are not valid? We are not just American, we are also Latinx, and as Spanish-speakers, we have a say in our language, too. We will not stand being told that our existence is not valid enough.

The authors and others are convinced that the term Latinx is unpronounceable, and thus will never be normalized. A quick Google search of “Spanish words with x’s in them” yields a list of hundreds, if not thousands of words. The pronunciation of the letter x is not a new concept to Latin countries. It is not a foreign, American concept by any stretch of the imagination. So, if they can pronounce other words with x’s, why can’t they pronounce this one? Sure, it will be new, and people might stumble a bit the first time encountering it, but the authors exaggerate the difficulty of the word and underestimate people’s ability to adapt. In fact, the use of Latinx with an “x” has been going on in Latin America for years now. And no one in Latin America is complaining about the pronunciation. The word Latinx is not what is exclusive here .

Regardless, pronunciation should not be what this discussion should be about. This discussion should be about finding a solution, because Latinx is not the perfect term. Latinx is not the end-all be-all. Unfortunately, the authors didn’t see it that way, and chose not to engage the matter any further. The authors were speaking from a place of cisgender privilege. They tore down a term that people identified with, said it wasn’t good enough, completely disregarded the emotions of the people they were discussing and the implications of their actions, and still offered nothing in return. We, however, want to take this conversation further. We don’t have the solutions, but we are willing to try and find some. In fact, on their article’s comments section, someone who goes by the name “A” mentioned that if people insist the pronunciation of the letter x is too difficult, you can pronounce it like the Spanish letter “u”, which, linguistically, is between the letter “o” and the letter “a”. Another alternative to Latinx could be “Latine.” Another person offered several different pronunciations of the “x,” which include “ao,” “tsk,” and “ks,” in addition to the “u” mentioned earlier. All good options with potential, none of which the authors bothered exploring.

Overall, we were not convinced the purpose of the Latinx movement was communicated properly. In our efforts to correct this miscommunication, we hope the message of this movement is more widely understood, so that our campus can begin to engage in a more informed dialogue. Our goal is not to erase the language, but to build a culture more inclusive of non-gender binary people; not to focus on pronunciation or grammar, but to respect an identity. Language is meant not to exist simply for the sake of existing, but to give people a means to express themselves, to communicate things. Latinx is an example of people using language to express the intersection of their gender identity and their Latinidad. They do not want to erase the culture; they want to be a part of it.

The argument against the use of the term “Latinx”

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

As we continually search for ways to improve gender inclusivity in Spanish, we have come up with a myriad of broad language such as Latino/a and Latin@. The most recent of these solutions is the term “Latinx.” In our opinion, the use of the identifier “Latinx” as the new standard should be discouraged because it is a buzzword that fails to address any of the problems within Spanish on a meaningful scale. This position is controversial to some members of the Latino community here at Swarthmore and beyond, but the other positions within the community also deserve to be heard. We are Latinos, proud of our heritage, that were raised speaking Spanish. We are not arguing against gender-inclusive language. We have no prejudice towards non-binary people. We see, however, a misguided desire to forcibly change the language we and millions of people around the world speak, to the detriment of all. Under the “degenderization” of Spanish advocated by proponents of words such as “Latinx” words such as latinos, hermanos, and niños would be converted into latinxs, hermanxs, and niñxs respectively. This is a blatant form of linguistic imperialism — the forcing of U.S. ideals upon a language in a way that does not grammatically or orally correspond with it.

The term “Latinx” is used almost exclusively within the United States. According to Google trend data, “Latinx” came into popular use in October of 2014 and has since been widely popularized by American blogs and American institutions of higher education. The term is virtually nonexistent in any Spanish-speaking country. This is problematic for many reasons. It serves as a prime example of how English speakers can’t seem to stop imposing their social norms on other cultures. It seems that U.S. English speakers came upon Spanish, deemed it too backwards compared to their own progressive leanings, and rather than working within the language to address any of their concerns, “fixed” it from a foreign perspective that has already had too much influence on Latino and Latin American culture. The vast majority of people in Latin America from personal experience, would likely be confused and even offended by this attempt to dictate for them how their language is to be structured and how they ought to manage their social constructs. It is interesting to observe how many “Latinx” activists become outraged when a non-Latino person wears traditional Latino costumes such as sombreros without understanding the significance of what they are wearing when they themselves participate in a form of reverse appropriation. To be clear – this is not to say these Latinos are detached from the culture, but rather taking American ideals and social beliefs and inserting into a language that has widespread use in places outside of the U.S. Rather than taking from a culture or people a part of them without respect or reverence for it, this reverse appropriation aims to put into a culture a part of one’s own beliefs. This is not the forced and unwarranted taking of culture but rather the forced and unnecessary giving of incompatible segments of U.S. culture.

Perhaps the most ironic failure of the term is that it actually excludes more groups than it includes. By replacing o’s and a’s with x’s, the word “Latinx” is rendered laughably incomprehensible to any Spanish speaker without some fluency in English. Try reading this “gender neutral” sentence in Spanish: “Lxs niñxs fueron a lx escuelx a ver sus amigxs.” You literally cannot, and it seems harmless and absurd until you realize the broader implication of using x as a gender neutral alternative. It excludes all of Latin America, who simply cannot pronounce it in the U.S. way. It does not provide a gender-neutral alternative for Spanish-speaking non-binary individuals and thus excludes them. It excludes any older Spanish speakers who have been speaking Spanish for more than 40 years and would struggle to adapt to such a radical change. It effectively serves as an American way to erase the Spanish language. Like it or not, Spanish is a gendered language. If you take the gender out of every word, you are no longer speaking Spanish. If you advocate for the erasure of gender in Spanish, you then are advocating for the erasure of Spanish.

What then, is the solution if not “Latinx”? It may surprise you to learn that a gender-neutral term to describe the Latin-American community already exists in Spanish. Ready for it? Here it is: Latino. Gender in Spanish and gender in English are two different things. Even inanimate objects are given gendered -o/s and -a/s endings, although it is inherently understood that these objects are not tied to the genders assigned to them. In Spanish, when referencing  groups, we only use the feminine ending when referring to an exclusively female group. On the other hand, when we refer to groups using the masculine ending, the group could either be exclusively males or a mix of people. For example, when someone says “los cubanos” an English speaker may instinctively interpret this as “the male Cubans,” but a Spanish speaker simply hears “the Cubans.”  In fact, the only way to refer to a group that is not exclusively female in Spanish is by using the masculine ending. Therefore, according to the grammatical rules of Spanish, the term “Latinos” is already all-inclusive in terms of gender. For those that want the singular form of “Latino” without the association with gender, alternate forms exist — one can state their ancestry (“soy de Cuba/Mexico/Venezuela/etc”) or “soy de Latinoamerica”. Ultimately, the problem here is that “Latinx” does not fit within Spanish, and never will. X as a letter at the ends of words in Spanish is unpronounceable, not conjugatable, and frankly confusing. These alternate options both respect those on the non-binary spectrum and respect the dignity of the Spanish language.

We understand that some people may still support the term “Latinx”. Ultimately, we will never attempt to force anyone to personally define themselves in any way. If after reading this article anyone still feels that calling themselves “Latinx” instead of any other term brings them more happiness, we will respect that choice. However, we are strongly opposed to and cannot support this particular terminology becoming the new norm or creeping any further into a language it does not belong in. Some may be put off by gender in Spanish. But we are offended by the attempted degradation of our language at the hands of a foreign influence. “Latinx” undoubtedly stems from good intentions but is ultimately also clearly representative of a poorly thought out and self-defeating execution as well as a lack of respect for the sovereignty of Spanish.

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