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.