The Meaning of Latinx

I try to be very intentional about using inclusive language. You may have noticed that I’ve replaced my Pacific Northwest “you guys” with the southern “y’all.” And if you know me, you know that when I learn something new, I’m always eager to share. So let’s talk about a term you may have been seeing: Latinx.

Latinx (pronounced la-TEEN-ex) is a gender-inclusive term referring to people of Latin American descent. It gained strength first on social media but has recently become more mainstream. The history of how the term developed is quite interesting. As you may know, Spanish is a gendered language (check out my blog post on this very topic: http://www.kimmiefinkconsulting.com/blog/2016/5/13/the-gendering-of-everything-language). What you basically need to know is that in Spanish, masculine nouns usually end in “o” and feminine nouns in “a.” The masculine is the default for gender-neutral. That didn’t sit well with a lot of people who felt that this reinforced patriarchal norms, so members of the Latin American community started using the term Latin@ to include both male and female genders.

Why not just use Hispanic, you ask? Let me take a minute to explain the difference between the terms, since they are confusing for many people and often mistakenly used interchangeably. Hispanic refers to language, whereas Latin@ refers to geography. If you speak Spanish, you are Hispanic. If you are from Latin America (anywhere south of the US, including the Caribbean), you are Latin@. So a Spaniard is Hispanic but not Latin@, and a Brazilian is Latin@ but not Hispanic. Clear as mud? For a primer, check out this great comic: http://www.vox.com/2015/8/19/9173457/hispanic-latino-comic.

Ok, so we will just use Latin@, right? Not so fast. In time, the term Latin@ started to show its limitations. You see, Latin@ doesn’t include the identities our non-binary friends. For people who identify as something other than male or female (whether that be agender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, genderfluid, or something else), the term Latin@  doesn’t reflect their lived experiences. Hence Latinx. Perhaps the best thing about the word Latinx is how it highlights intersectionality. In fact, I first heard the term in reference to the victims of the Pulse shooting, a perfect example of the vulnerabilities of people who identify with multiple groups that have a history of oppression (in this case Latinx and LGBTQ).  

So if we’re going to be inclusive, help dismantle the outdated gender binary, and acknowledge people for who they are (all their identities, not just one), Latinx is a term that should be in our vocabulary. The complaint I hear most often is that we’re being too politically correct. I would argue that use of inclusive language has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with respect. And it’s pretty hard to argue with that.