Gutierrez: The argument for ‘Latinx’

A. Pallas Gutierrez, Op-Ed Contributor

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Officially, Latino 201-0 is listed as “Introduction to Latina and Latino Studies,” but the course syllabus says “Introduction to Latinx Studies and the department recently hosted a symposium called “Latinx Politics Today: Intersecting Activism, Advocacy, and Scholarship.” The debate over the gender-neutral term Latinx has received increasing coverage in the past four years, leading to debate over usage of the term.

The idea behind using the term Latinx is to remove the inherent gendering of Latino/a from the description. The immediate argument against doing so is that Latino is already a gender-neutral word. While it is true that in Spanish, the masculine form is considered the default, that does not mean it is in any way gender-neutral. Spanish as it exists has two genders, masculine and feminine. Assuming that masculine is somehow gender-neutral only serves to allow verbal dismissal of women and non-binary people, since the presence of one man makes a group masculine. In replacing gendered endings with an x, gender is removed from the situation.

All nouns are gendered in Spanish, so removing gender entirely from the language is an unattainable and unrealistic goal. However, it is also unnecessary. Inanimate objects have no feelings about their gender — but people do. Removing gendered endings from words describing or referring to people can make them feel more comfortable and accepted.

A seemingly easy replacement for Latinx is Hispanic, but the words are not synonymous in meaning. Hispanic means of Spanish speaking origin, but Latinx refers to people from Latin America; Brazilians are Latinx, but not Hispanic; and Spaniards are Hispanic, but not Latinx. While the two often overlap (for example, my Cuban grandfather is both Hispanic and Latino), they are not identical in meaning. Additionally, Hispanic emphasizes the Spanish aspect of Latinx heritage, but many people want to celebrate their African or indigenous roots instead of the history of Spanish colonization.

Usage of Latinx can honor indigenous heritage in another way; in pre-Columbian America, non-binary people were represented in and respected by native communities. Two-Spirit people, who displayed masculine and feminine characteristics, were considered holy by many tribes. Spanish forces then imposed traditional gender roles on the Americas as they conquered, so adding a non-binary aspect to a Spanish word can be a reclaiming of tradition through language that was imposed by an external force.

An important point made by several writers is that Latinx, while easy for American and other English speaking Latinx people to use, may not be a viable alternative for Latinx people who only speak Spanish. The “x” sound does not exist in the same form in Spanish as it does in English. A proposed, and slowly spreading alternative is Latine. Instead of replacing a/o endings with xs (lxs niñxs), a pronounceable alternative is to replace those endings with es (les niñes). While not as popular as Latinx, Latine does address both the concerns of non-binary Latines and their advocates and people trying to preserve Spanish without imposing English standards onto the language.

Some argue that Latinx and Latine are artificially created words and are altering our language inorganically. However, humans purposefully alter language constantly. Dozens of words that used to be acceptable in polite conversation are now recognized to be slurs for their harmful impact upon people. To say that people should not change their linguistic habits because it is unnatural is to value individual and societal habits over safety, comfort, and societal progress.

Like any other identity-related issue, the debate over Latino/a/x/e is incredibly personal. Different people are going to be comfortable using different words to refer to themselves. Listen to what people call themselves and respect that.

A. Pallas Gutierrez is a Communications freshman. They can be contacted at pallasgutierrez2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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