Have you noticed how frequently students, and the general public for that matter, are asked to provide their ethnic or racial identity? All you have to do is fill out an online survey after making a purchase at the bookstore, and you will quickly be barraged with queries about your ethnicity. My usual practice is to check the “decline to state” box, but when I have no other option, Hispanic or Latino is acceptable. “Latinx” is not acceptable. In fact, it is condescending.
By now you are likely familiar with the term “Latinx”—perhaps you have even figured out how to pronounce it. (Or, like me, you purposely and strategically mispronounce it.) For the record, it is pronounced as two distinct words, “Latin + Ex,” but I encourage you to pronounce it as “Luh + Teenks,” with humorous conversations to follow. “Latinx” is an unnatural and contrived neologism that is intended to be gender neutral. The fact is, it is far from neutral; rather, it’s a blatant manifestation of identity politics and a manipulation of language. According to proponents of the term, the purpose of using “Latinx” is to be gender neutral, disrupt what people believe about inclusivity, and shape understandings of intersectionality.
But the trinitarian class (those obsessed with gender, race, and class) in higher education who contrived this word didn’t realize that the people whose identifying terms were being stolen from them wouldn’t have any of it. In a recent Pew survey, 3,030 Hispanics/Latinos were asked “about their awareness of the term Latinx and their views of the term.” The survey found that one-in-four U.S. Hispanics have heard of “Latinx,” but only 3 percent use the term. One pollster quoted in Politico remarked, “Why are we using a word that is preferred by only 2 percent, but offends as many as 40 percent of those voters we want to win?”
Any word that is used to identify oneself is self-evidently important. By using terms and phrases that identify us with our culture or ethnic heritage, we highlight how we understand ourselves in light of our connection to the past. The terms we use to self-identify frame and explain our individuality, yet these identity words are also used to place ourselves in the context of a broader community. In other words, a term like “Latino” is used to represent an ethnic heritage, and ethnic heritage places an individual into a group that has similar traits, such as a common language and shared culture.
“Latino” and “Hispanic” are widely accepted terms that, although not without controversy, have stood the test of time. Most people today make no connection to the terms’ original connotations when they hear them used in conversation. “Latino” is simply understood to refer to a person with Latin American roots, and a Hispanic is known to be a person tied to Spain and the Spanish colonies and/or the Spanish language. So why not give “Latinx” a try? Give it a few decades and it too will pass the test of time, some say. I think not!
Columnist Ruben Navarrette calls the word silly and self-indulgent—and that’s putting it mildly. Elites consumed with the trinity of gender, class, and race find political utility in the use of “Latinx,” but it comes at the expense of stripping Latinos/Hispanics of the right to self-designate. It is exclusionary and disempowering. Beyond that, but no less important, “Latinx” distorts the language of Spanish grammar itself. Every Spanish noun has a specific article that denotes the gender of the word: male or female. I suppose some may not like that feature, but it is part of the fixed and historical uniqueness of the language. “Latinx” attacks the pride we should have in our language. It erases the distinctions that make Spanish-speakers unique and that connect them to their larger cultural and linguistic history.
Anecdotally, I find that many people who are called Hispanic or Latino but are of Mexican heritage simply identify themselves as Mexican. They don’t use the term “Mexican” to connect to their nationality, for they are Americans; rather, they use “Mexican” to refer to their ethnic or overall identity, which is a particular subset of Hispanic or Latino culture. That seems sufficient in their mind.
I have never identified as Latino and could not imagine calling myself Latino. Like the Hispanics who call themselves Mexican, I call myself American—and by American, I mean that I am simultaneously distinguished and united, historically and culturally, to every last person living as an American and in America. That seems sufficient in my mind. Hispanic seems to work better for me when I can’t navigate past a webpage without checking an ethnicity box and “decline to state” is not an option.
If another person asks if I am Latino, I won’t get hung up on the phrase. Instead, I will likely answer with “Sure,” or “If you say so,” or “What gives you that impression?” But if someone asks me if I am “Latinx,” I will state that I am absolutely not “Latinx,” and I will launch into a long tirade about artificial, political neologisms being assigned to me by critical social justice proponents and language and culture manipulators.