What does 'Latinx' mean and should it be used?

Julia Munslow
·Editor

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

To be or not to be Latinx? The term, which has slowly increased in popularity, has been championed as a gender-neutral, inclusive identifier, but U.S. Hispanics are split over whether to embrace the word as a part of their identity.

A recent Pew Research Center study found that only 3 percent of the U.S. Hispanics use “Latinx” (pronounced La-teen-ex), even though one in four people have heard of the term. It’s most commonly used by young people, especially young women. The term has also been used by some news outlets, movies and television, as well as by former presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro.

For most of the 20th century, people used “Hispanic,” which was later rejected in favor of “Latino.” The term “Latinx” entered the world in early aughts and was created by queer activists seeking a gender-neutral way to refer to people of Latin American descent. The word started to become more widely known when universities introduced it on campuses in the mid-2010s. Although Merriam-Webster adopted the term in 2018, it was rejected by Real Academia Espanola, which preserves the Spanish language.

Why there’s debate

Proponents of the term “Latinx” say it is more inclusive of people who identify outside the gender binary. The term is also futuristic and mostly embraced by the new generation, they argue. Using “Latinx” also allows people to signal that they are progressive, they say. Plus, embracing the term “Latinx” isn’t necessarily a rejection of other terms, they add. All of the other terms can co-exist with “Latinx” — it’s simply another option for those who do prefer it.

But critics say that the term is elitist and unnecessary. Spanish has always been gendered, and there is no need to change the language, they say. Only a small number of people regularly use and push for the term to be used, they argue. The term “Latinx” is difficult for a Spanish speaker without an understanding of English to grasp, some say. It also erases the work of past activists, such as women who fought for “Latina” to become mainstream, and the work of indigenous activists. Plus, the focus should be on efforts that promote equality — not a debate over whether a term should be used, they argue.

Perspectives

Proponents

‘Latinx’ is a gender-neutral term that accepts everyone

"It teaches us to accept everyone in the community — even more so, we aren’t valuing the masculine over the feminine. … [Those who oppose it] claim that we’re trying to change the Spanish language, which is ridiculous because the Spanish language is constantly changing." — Liza Estrada to NBC News

The ‘x’ includes those who identify outside the gender binary

“We need to see more and that’s part of what the ‘x’ does — it makes visible the fact that people aren’t included within the ‘a’ or the ‘o.’ And it’s really a linguistic intervention,” Scharrón-del Río said. “Just knowing that there is an ‘x’ makes you think about what that means and makes you question what you often take for granted.” — María R. Scharrón-del Río to Washington Post

‘Latinx’ represents the new generation

“I embrace Latinx because of its futurist implications. Like superheroes of color and the possibilities inherent in girls and everyone else who code, Latinx represents an openness that is increasingly under threat in a political climate that is most intent on drawing borders, keeping outsiders out, and using violence to keep it that way.” — Ed Morales, the Guardian

It allows people to signal that they are progressive

“Latinx definitely carries a political connotation, just as the word ‘feminist’ likewise signals a kind of political awareness. Using Latinx is a signal that you’re a progressive ally,” — Cristina Beltrán to NBC News

People should be able to identify as whatever they want

[Latinx] is inclusive for everyone, and people have a right to identify themselves however they wish. ... Latinx and Latino and Latina can all co-exist, and at the very least, there will finally be more options for those who feel they have been excluded or marginalized in the past.” — Be Latina

Critics

We don’t need to anglicize the Spanish language with an ‘x’

“Rather than making Latinos feel included, progressives are implying the way our families speak is fundamentally inadequate for the United States and progressive American culture. This is offensive to the 85% of Hispanics who, like my parents, speak Spanish to their children and whose most treasured heirlooms are often family traditions and memories in Spanish. Mine include the mellifluous sound of the baritone voice of my ‘abuelo,’ mom’s favorite boleros and dad’s military stories.” — Giancarlo Sopo, USA Today

There’s a lack of cultural awareness of the term

“The term is used mostly by an educated minority, largely in the U.S. And although there is little to no research yet on its specific origins, ‘Latinx’ is definitely not used by working-class immigrant adults, who probably have no idea that some of us brown folks are debating this at all.” — Daniel Hernandez, Los Angeles Times

Only a small number of elites are actually pushing for ‘Latinx’

“The preference for Latinx by certain woke progressive gatekeepers reflects a commitment to the artificial and top-down over the evolved and organic usage of the people themselves.” — Daniel Raisbeck, Reason

It erases the work of feminist activists who fought for ‘Latina’

“In its attempt to be gender-inclusive, one can argue that it’s gender-erasing of women who have fought for a long time to not just have Latino, but to have Latino/Latina, to make sure women are represented.” — Lourdes Torres to the New York Times

The debate over ‘Latinx’ removes the focus from actual efforts to promote equality

“Let language develop naturally. Retiring outdated, offensive slang is necessary, but championing such a shift in grammar seems more like a woke gesture than an actual effort to promote equality.” — Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images