Why LatinX And Not Latino?

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Some people like to be called Hispanic if they speak Spanish, Latinos if they’re from Latin-America, and now there’s LatinX. Latinx (pronounced “La-Teen-ex”) is a gender-inclusive way of referring to people of Latin American descent. Used by activists and some academics, the term is gaining traction among the general public. But where did LatinX originate, and is everyone agreeing to use it?

Spanish is a very gendered language, which means that every noun has a gender. In general, nouns that end in “a” are feminine and nouns that end in “o” are masculine. While some nouns keep their gender when they become plural, others change based on gender composition when referring to a given group of people.

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This approach, however, always defers to the masculine gender as dominant. An example would be, if you had a room full of girlfriends, it’d be full of amigas, with the “a” serving as an indicator of everyone’s gender as female. So let’s say when a male walks in, the gender changes once again! Instead of the “a” this time, it turns into a “o”. This acknowledges the presence of at least one man. No matter how many women are in the room.

Some members of the Latin American communities claim this gendered language reinforces patriarchal and heterosexist norms, so the term, “Latin@“ was later introduced as a way to push back against it. The only problem with this was that it didn’t include gender-queer and gender-nonconforming people. Latin@ began to hit its limit, as those who didn’t comply to the male-female gender binary gain more visibility.

Out of the ashes like a phoenix, came the birth of LatinX. It began emerging as early as 2004, but really started gaining popularity in 2014. LatinX helped modernize the idea of a pan-Latin American experience- or Latinidad- one that reflects what it means to be of Latin American descent in the present. The term also better reflects Latin America’s diversity, which is more in line with intersectionality (the study of the ways that different forms of oppressions).

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The movement shows progress and a sense of development with those concerned with issues of gender queerness. Professors María R. Scharrón-del Río and Alan A. Aja defend the term, arguing that it should replace “Latino” when referring to people of Latin American descent.

Although LatinX is the a perfect term for identification, it shouldn’t be treated as the answer in the ongoing quest to develop a cohesive postcolonial identity. Hopefully LatinX will help people think about the complex culture to which we belong.

Up Next: Does a lack of Spanish make one any less Latino? 

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