By: Michelle Young, Editor-in-Chief and Daniel Salcedo Rubio, Features Editor
Latinx emerged as a way to describe Latin Americans who didn’t identify with the gender binary. This can include people who identify as non-binary, agender, intersex, and/or Two-Spirited. The term has a rich history: “The addition of the ‘x’ was a conscious decision. It was an homage to Indigenous Nahauatl languages, and functioned as a linguistic visibilization of the communities most directly impacted by colonial violence.” After the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, it gained popularity among feminists, progressives, and the LGBTQIA2S+ community. However, the majority of Latin Americans in the US haven’t heard of it, or don’t use it. Within the Latin American community, there is a discussion of the term, many critiquing its use for imposing English on Spanish speakers. Is the term inclusive or does it exclude the very community it tries to represent?
Michelle: I understand why Latin Americans don’t like this term. However, it did catch on in Canada and the US. I started to use it because I wanted to be inclusive, and I’ve read about how non-binary Latin Americans struggle to navigate such a gendered language: everything in Spanish has a gender. From the moon (la luna) to juice (el jugo), the language is divided by gender binaries — there is nothing that has no gender. Because others have spoken about feeling seen with “Latinx,” I don’t think I should invalidate that just because it doesn’t work in Spanish. I use it when I speak English, and Latin American identity is more than the Spanish language.
I think “Latine” is a viable alternative to use in Spanish, because language evolves. But Latin Americans are very diverse and they should pay attention to the queer folks speaking out from within their own community (regardless of their Spanish fluency level), and listen to how they want to be identified.
Daniel: I’m a bit on the fence with the “Latinx” term. I understand the sentiment behind not liking it. There’s an uncanny valley feeling to it, something that feels like it’s 85% about the Latin community and 15% foreigner. That being said, I use it all the time because I know there are non-binary Latin Americans that feel better represented by a genderless term.
My problem with “Latinx” doesn’t come from it not making sense in Spanish. Languages evolve to meet the needs of the people who speak them. If there’s someone out there that feels represented and heard by this term, it’s valid despite it being grammatically incorrect. Yet, there’s something I don’t like about North Americans taking a Spanish word and changing it so it’s more palatable to English speakers. Doing this strips away a bit of our identity. I agree that our community is far more than just the Spanish language, but I do think that to understand a culture you should at least try to get to know a bit of their language.
Michelle: It’s true that “Latinx” doesn’t feel Spanish. I don’t know if it was ever really meant to feel Spanish. I understand that the “x” was intentional to capture the complexity of colonial history in Latin America. While reading more about the term more for this piece, I learned “Latinx” actually has a history with queer Afro-Latinxs and Latinxs of Indigenous descent — people within our own community.
I know Latin Americans have a history of terms being thrown onto them, so I understand the frustration of feeling like its always people outside our community trying to define us: first it was “Hispanics,” then “Latinos,” and now, seemingly, “Latinx.” Within all these categories are different skin tones, languages, and cultures. There is always terminology that tries to group us together.
I personally always describe myself as “Latina,” because I identify with the gendered term. “Latinx” obviously means something important to people though, and I feel like the conversation against the term has been spear-headed by those who don’t recognize the term’s anti-colonial roots. It’s been argued by Afro-Indigenous poet, Alan Pelaez Lopez that the “X” also signifies the anti-Blackness and femicides in Latin American communities: “For me, the ‘X’ in Latinx marks the spot in which my African ancestors arrived after they were kidnapped, chained, transported and enslaved throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”
In this way, I feel like the term is so much bigger than who it elicits discomfort from. I love Spanish: the way it sounds, all the added vocabulary, and the different ways we can express ourselves with it. But I also want to be intentional with the way I examine my relationship with this language.
Daniel: When we began this article I was only aware of the queer history behind “Latinx.” I wasn’t aware of the anti-colonialist roots nor the stories of anti-Blackness and femicides it tried to address.
I’ll always be in favor of movements and actions that center marginalized voices, but I’ll admit I often forget about the power language has as an active form of protest. We’ve seen similar situations with terms like “queer” which originated as an offensive imposition towards the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Now, some of us use it as a way to describe and empower ourselves. Though the origin and use of “Latinx” is completely different from this, its story of empowerment through words has some similarities.
When we started this article I had the assumption “Latinx” was a term mostly used by foreigners with close to no connection with the community. Now, I understand more of the complexity behind it. To quote J.A.O., “Latinx is a betrayal. It’s an attack. It’s a butchering of Spanish. And that’s why I use it.”
Michelle: “Queer” is an interesting term. You’re right that its meaning has evolved, and there are still people in the LGBTQIA2S+ community who don’t like it, don’t use it, and don’t claim it. I think a similar concept can be applied to “Latinx.” Language can be fluid. Latin Americans should describe themselves how they want, and how they identify. I reject the idea of telling people not to use “Latinx” simply because they don’t like or understand it. That erases so many people in our community. I also think we need to be more conscious of including our non-binary community members, because Latino/a isn’t really working for them, either.
As a whole, I think the Latin American community needs to pay more attention to queer Latin Americans. It isn’t particularly unknown that sexism, queerphobia, and transphobia are still problems in Latin American communities at home and in the diaspora. I think the pushback behind “Latinx” is complicated in that it’s rooted in many issues within our community. For now, I’ll still keep using “Latinx,” and ask that when we do speak about Latin Americans, we keep those who don’t fit into the gender binary in mind, because they need to be included too.