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Latinx Terminology

April 13, 2022

Unidos advertises itself as the Latinx Student Union: a term some find inclusive while others reject it. The Merriam-Webster dictionary first included Latinx in September 2018 after the word had been spreading through social media for multiple years. Like many languages, Spanish assigns a gender to most words. In Spanish, “o” is masculine and “a” is feminine. The goal of Latinx was to offer a gender-neutral term for Latin Americans. When using only Latino and Latina to describe Latin Americans, the former does not strictly refer to males. Specifically for a group of people, the term Latinos is all-inclusive in terms of gender according to the grammatical rules of Spanish. Nevertheless, the “x” replaced the “o” or “a” of Latino or Latina to form Latinx. People of all genders use Latinx, but LGBTQ+ Latin Americans with a gender outside the male/female binary have especially embraced the word. 

Despite its good intentions, some Latin Americans are hesitant to embrace the word Latinx.

According to a 2020 Pew Research Study on the word Latinx, 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term, and 3% use it to describe themselves. Cristobal Salinas, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, conducted a study with 34 Latin American students and found that they often use the term only in a university setting. When interacting with family members, these students seldom use Latinx. 

One reason the word has struggled to gain traction outside the sphere of academia — and outside the United States — is its construct to Spanish speakers. In an op-ed for Swarthmore College’s “The Phoenix,” Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea argued against the use of the term Latinx. Guerra and Orbea criticized the use of the letter “x” at the end of a word in Spanish, calling it “incomprehensible to any Spanish speaker without some fluency in English” and “unpronounceable, not conjugatable and frankly confusing.” 

In addition to clashing with the Spanish language, some argue that the term has imperialistic overtones since it originated in the U.S. and has scarce usage in Latin America.

“That’s the irony of ‘Latinx’ — it’s supposed to be inclusive but erases a crucial part of Latin American identity and language and replaces it with an English word,’’ The Miami Herald said in a 2021 editorial

Others believe that, since languages are dynamic, introducing new terms like Latinx is not problematic. 

“I understand the wanting to hold on to the traditional sense of Spanish,” Aparicio Ruiz said, “but languages continue to evolve… [Spanish] is going to change, and it has changed. People have different dialects of Spanish in different regions.” 

Concerning the unpronounceable terminal “x,” some people have suggested the term “Latine.” 

“Now, there’s been a change to change the ‘x’ to an ‘e,’ which is also essentially just to be gender inclusive and to not assign a specific gender to our community,” Aparicio Ruiz said. 

Aparicio Ruiz feels that the Latinx Student Union uses the best terminology for naming Unidos. 

“‘Latinx’ felt like the most appropriate. I think it’s the most inclusive; I think it welcomes everybody. It does not exclude, and I think that’s what we wanted,” Aparicio Ruiz said.

For those looking to use the most appropriate term to describe someone of Latin American descent, the best option is to ask them how they identify. People often identify as Latin American, Latino/a/x, Hispanic, as their own country’s nationality, a combination of these, or their terms.

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