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

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.

7 comments

  1. 0
    Edgar says:

    So you’re saying that US has more Spanish speakers than anywhere else in the world? Show me statistics because I don’t think so.
    South America + Central America is way bigger than the US.

    Anyways, I’m Mexican American. Raised in Mexico for 25 years and learned Spanish as my mother tongue.

    I’m a major in linguistics and communications and I do feel overwhelmed by the word Latinx because not only the etymology of the word is being ignored but also Spanish is a gendered language even for inanimate objects no matter what people say.

    La/El (gendered)
    El, ella (gendered)

    People is arguing that Lxs
    Ninxs van a lx escuelx is not the same as Latinx. Dear reader, yes, it’s the same. Why?

    Because Los niños (male gender) and las niñas (female gender) are as equal as Latino and Latina. So, if you oughta change it to Latinx then gendered words like such would have to change to ninxs and the other two word would be excluded.

    Im also reading that the word is to include gender neutrality so If I start saying I’m Latinx then I’m taking my gender away just as the same way I’m taking non-gendered people away when i say Latino.

    Now, I’m very close to California and I lived in LA for about 5 years and all my Spanish speaking classmates had broken Spanish and had little sense of where words come from.
    I’ve never heard of Latinx in mexico. Never read it. Never mentioned by anyone.

    What Americans are doing is wrong and I feel there are better ways to come up with an idea to be more inclusive with genders in ENGLISH instead of trying to fight each other for a Spanish word they don’t truly understand.

    I’m also reading that the word Latinx made up to the academy. What academy? For RAE it doesn’t exist.

    As far for pronunciation, yes, I can pronounce Latinx as Latinkcs but for those arguin that Spanish has words with X, yes, we do, but those words were constructed according to our language and the proper function and pronunciation of X.
    We also have Y and LL and they have different functions too!

    I’m just gonna explain you really quick the rules for X in Spanish.

    In order to use X, this letter has to be after a syllabus. Examples:
    Ex, axis, excepto, excelente, auxiliar( eks phonetics) and MEXICO (J sounds)…I Can keep going.
    Therefore L A T I N X breaks that rules and that’s why it’s such a awkward word that doesn’t work.

    Everyone can speak Spanish but I also see how everyone is forgetting about orthographic norms.

    Both sides have a point, but both sides are wrong too. Commenterrs and writer…we can be better than this!

    I love my Mexican community as much as I love my Queer community (I’m non-conforming Gay mexican American) and I’d love to unite with better ideas to be more inclusive without threatening language or genders.

  2. 0
    Velak says:

    While im not a supporter of the term, I also wont correct or attempt to obstruct its usage; nevertheless, being that you are writing this in order to counteract the previous article, there are a couple of things I would like to point out that I feel do this piece of writing a disservice and helps the opposition.

    First, this article acknowledges what the other article says: That “Latino” is a gender neutral term, then it follows with “it only encompasses men and women” – The thing is, both articles got it wrong; its not that in a group of men and woman “Latino” is used; Spanish doesn’t work like that, its more like: In a group of people, as long as there is someone other than all females “Latino” is used. Like you acknowledged, its a neutral term, neutral encompasses everything and everyone (from humans who fall into the two traditional molds, to those identify themselves as ravaging helicopters and everyone and everything in between), thats what neutral means.

    Moreover, the first article mentions that people in Latin America are left excluded by using ‘x’ and accuses the usage as language imperialism; this article counters that by saying that many people in the ‘Latinx’ comunity specially in the U.S are left out otherwise. At least the first article had the common decency to not refer to ‘us’ people from the U.S. as ‘Americans’ and exclude the rest into ‘Latin America’. This might seem ridiculous, but just so we are clear, this writing doesn’t just address the great people from the North who seem to own the copyrights for the term, but to all Americans, and I mean those who live south of ‘America’ in a bunch of countries in the continent of… America (whom I believe are also called Americans, you know, like Europeans for people from the continent of Europe, or Asians like people from the country of Asia) which is where the neutral term Latino which is neutral for Latinos of all genders (as stated above) comes from. Talk about excluding people huh!

    Nonetheless, like I stated right at the start, I am not one to correct or attempt to change anyones usage of the Spanish language, different strokes and all, this is just my opinion about the nuances of this specific article.

  3. 0
    Ramon Trane says:

    The world Latinx is elitist, it’s new in this country, even if somebody has used it in the past. The majority of Latinos don’t use it, and it’s not existent in Latin America. It seems that it’s only used by academics (yes, those people living in bubbles), or by a specific group.
    Language comes from below, in every single culture (not necessarily a nation or country). If this word becomes popular, welcome. But please, don’t try to impose it, that’s Orwellian.
    By the way, I haven’t found that word in any Latin American country which speaks Castilian or Spanish (the latter, an insult for those regions in Spain who have other languages.
    This discussion reminds me of the 90s and all the politically correct dictatorial language. C’mon, chill.

  4. 0
    Mariel Acosta says:

    Great response! I have just finished writing my masters ‘tesina’ on this exact topic. I narrowed it by analyzing the uses of -e, X, @ and other symbols to substitute the binary grammatical gender morphemes (-a and -o). Below is a paragraph with some of my responses to the same article that I wrote in an exchange on Chicano cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz’s facebook:

    Desde el principio el articulo presenta que está mal informado de varias formas: 1) “The most recent of these solutions is the term “Latinx.” No, la X se ha venido usando desde los ’70. 2) “This is a blatant form of linguistic imperialism” ¿Qué? Esta idea se repite en todo el artículo, atribuyendo el uso de -x o cualquier forma que busque neutralizar el género como una idea importada gringa, nope. Como dije, al menos desde los ‘70, se ha venido usando la X, y también la @ y el * tanto en España como América Latina, no empezó ‘el otro día’ ni en EEUU. 3) “The term “Latinx” is used almost exclusively within the United States […] The term is virtually nonexistent in any Spanish-speaking country” claro, en España y América Latina uno no se identifica como Latino/Latina con la frecuencia con que lo hace en EEUU. En Rep Dom soy dominicana, somos dominicanxs, dominican@s, lo que quiero decir es que “latina o latino” como calificativo se utiliza más en EEUU. De hecho, estoy haciendo mi tesis de maestría sobre el tema, por lo que estoy investigando textos en los que se utilizan alternativas como la X y otras. En muuuuchas fuentes escritas, desde ‘zines hasta artículos académicos, en dif. países desde Mex hasta Arg se usa la @, X y demás… Otra cosa, los autores adoptan una perspectiva purista, de que el idioma es así y no puede cambiarse y ya, al punto que sugieren usar el masculino -o como genérico porque ”son las reglas del español…”, lo que también refleja la motivación androcéntrica (centrada en el hombre) y patriarcal. Esas reglas no siempre fueron así y la lengua, cualquiera que sea, siempre evoluciona, debe evolucionar.

    It’s also important to note the intersection with race/ethnicity behind the use of X. The -x has also been used as a form to ‘decolonize’ language, by reclaiming Mesoamerican indigenous languages like Nahuatl, which has no grammatical gender. Also the -x has been used to reclaim Mayan langs. (which also have no grammatical gender) and also has the consonant X (sounds ‘sh’). Some of those who use -x suggest it be pronounced as: Chicanx (Chi-can-ex) or Xicanx (Shi-can-ish). Para contextualizar más sobre la cuestión de identidades de género pre-colonización, sugiero leer: Heterosexualism and the Colonial/ Modern Gender System y Toward Decolonial Feminism de Maria Lugones.

  5. 0
    Latino says:

    Hmm… doesn’t quite convince me. I still prefer to abide the rules established by the Real Academia Española (RAE) in its “Panhispanic Dictionary of Doubts”, one of the three pillars of the Spanish language together with the “Dictionary of the Spanish Language (commonly know as DRAE)” and the “Essential Dictionary”, all of them publications updated annually by the RAE. It says that “the grammatical male is not only used to refer to male individuals, but also to designate the class, i.e. all of the individuals of that species, without distinction of sex” (Cf. [1] and [2]). I understand that this can be a little ambiguous too (because then, saying ”I am Latino” doesn’t tell me anything about your sex), but I agree with the RAE in that “those ambiguities don’t impede Spanish to be a language of universal scope (400 million speakers worldwide), rich literature, and evident communicative functionality. Nobody in its right mind would think in trying to fix it now: Human languages are simply that way, and they give us an exceptionally good service” (Cf. RAE Bulletin-January/July 2009, pages 96-101 [3]).

    [1] http://lema.rae.es/dpd/srv/search?id=Tr5x8MFOuD6DVTlDBg
    [2] http://www.rae.es/consultas/los-ciudadanos-y-las-ciudadanas-los-ninos-y-las-ninas
    [3] http://www.fundeu.es/noticia/todas-las-vascas-son-vascos-y-muchos-vascos-tambien-vascas-genero-y-sexo-en-el-castellano-6469/

    1. 0
      Shannon says:

      Can you please pronounce Latinx in Spanish in a way that other Spanish speakers will understand what you’re saying? No. You really can’t. And it will have to extend past just “Latinx” as there are other terms to call a male/female. Hermano/a, nino/a, etc.

      1. 0
        Shannon says:

        And to further that, insisting that they then change the pronouncation for the letter ‘x’ with ‘u’ isn’t how their alphabet works. You’d have to then change the entire language to make room for that. “Latineks” would go confusing the world who mostly speaks Spanish. And to run this entire idea off a cliff, are you now also going to extend this to Asian languages as well? French, Italian, russian, german? This is ridiculous. English is the only known lanague that uses non-gendered terms.

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