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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.

Chomsky at Swat? Noam way!

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Noam Chomsky, renowned professor of linguistics and opponent of neo-liberalism, and his daughter Aviva Chomsky, professor of Latin American studies and political activist, visited Swarthmore on Tuesday to lecture about their respective fields. The lectures were co-sponsored by various departments, but the Chomskys were invited by Professor Donna Jo Napoli of the Linguistics department, who has been a longtime family friend. Noam and Aviva Chomsky picked the theme and subject of their lectures, so both of them settled on politics, Noam Chomsky speaking on capitalism in Really existing capitalist democracy: Can it be survived?, and Aviva Chomsky speaking on divestment and the relationship between workers and the environment in Whose Planet? Whose Economic Development? Jobs vs. Environment in the U.S. and Latin America.

Noam Chomsky has been a longstanding faculty member of MIT and reached prominence through his work in linguistics. Professor Napoli introduced him, saying, “He revolutionized linguistics through the way in which he carried out language analysis.  He arrived at conclusions purely by logic in the face of data — conclusions that have been confirmed by more recent methods of brain imaging. His approach to political science has been similar: he looks at the data and reasons his way to conclusions, no matter how unpopular those conclusions may be.” The Vietnam War spurred him to enter the political scene, and he has since then become very involved in political theory as a vocal opponent of neo-liberalism.

His lecture focused largely on criticisms of the real world application of the ideals of capitalism and democracy. To Chomsky, it seemed the biggest discrepancy in a capitalist democracy is the relationship between popular attitude and actual policy, stating that the lowest 70% do not have any effect on the policies that are implemented. He referred to the sequester, a political action that was influenced entirely by the rich, and to a living wage, which is preferred by 80% of the population  but has yet to be implemented because it isn’t in the best interest of the rich. There have even been constant tax cuts for the upper class in the face of majority support for implementing higher taxes for corporations and the rich. “It’s a plutocracy,” Chomsky said, “or to borrow a quote from Jim Hightower, a radical kleptocracy.”

He stated that conservative philosophy vocally favored the rich, and critiqued current democratic ideology in the United States as being too conservative. “It’s been said that there is only one party, the business party with two factions, democrats and republicans, but while there is only the business party, there is actually only one faction, moderate republicans. There has been a marked shift to the right in American politics,” said Chomsky.

Chomsky went on to talk about the role of government. “The government should look for national security, but instead seeks to increase the reach of its powers – look at Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning for example.” He echoed the sentiment that whistleblowers should be applauded and critiqued the American free press for not being free at all, pointing to a marked lack of coverage compared to other foreign newspapers. Chomsky stated that the goal in a democratic government should be to have informed voters making rational decisions, yet the current goal of public relations is to make uninformed voters make irrational choices. He heavily criticized the United States’ war on terror, stating that it’s only been used to justify the mass surveillance carried out by the NSA. The use of drones itself is a terrorist campaign conducted by the government that largely creates more enemies of the United States. The public is intentionally kept in the dark about what is happening to them, and entry into the political system is restricted. Chomsky ended on a positive note; stating that what is required is a complete educational reform. A shift from mandatory testing and routine memorization to encouraging individual learning and interest is necessary as the current institution discourages independent thinkers.

The reaction to Chomsky’s lecture was extremely enthusiastic. A line started forming at LPAC Pearson theatre at 6:00, an hour before his lecture, and the theatre reached capacity shortly after the ushers opened house.

Professor Aviva Chomsky of Salem State University is a Latin American historian and influential political activist. Her work has mostly focused on mine workers in Colombia and other Latin American countries, as well as Appalachia. Her lecture focused largely on balancing the lives of workers and environmental concerns and the efficacy of the divestment movement, a movement that has been active on campus. Aviva Chomsky stated that she was a supporter of the divestment movement, and finds it an important tool for raising awareness, but she did have some criticisms. In drawing parallels with the anti-apartheid divestment campaign, she claimed that the biggest difference is that there was an internal call from the National African Conference which she has yet to see from Appalachian mine workers. She compared the divestment movement to a move to shut down the power plant in Salem, Massachusetts. Though various residents wanted to close it, none of them were willing to give up electricity — which would mean that shutting it down would merely mean opening another plant elsewhere.

“When you travel to eastern Kentucky it’s clear what’s wrong with mountaintop removal mining, and all of us are involved and affected in one way or another but we’re usually not aware of it. Part of our privilege in this country is that we get to be unaware of the effects of our economic energy policies, so we can just enjoy our electricity and return on investments without having to see what’s behind them,” she said.

Indeed, both Chomsky’s emphasized that Americans largely have the privilege to remain isolated from the consequences of their wasteful and unsustainable lifestyles. And both of them spoke out against this isolation, leaving their respective fields — Latin American studies and Linguistics — to take on political issues. That speaks to the role of the intellect in our time: not merely to analyze, but, when possible, to speak out.

And that’s a lesson all Swatties can take home.

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