Thirteen years ago, feminists and LGBT activists online came up with the word “Latinx” as a work-around for the Spanish language’s supposedly oppressive gender strictures. It replaced “Latin@,” which surfaced in the 1990s. Both words are alternatives to just using Latino/Latina, which is what most people do.
“Latinx” has proliferated, especially in the past two-and-a-half years and especially on campuses and in far-left media. But recently, it’s begun falling out of favor. That’s partly because of pronunciation problems—but it’s also gotten caught up in the cultural imperialism debate.
It’s an emotional topic for Spanish-speakers. In 2016, National Public Radio ran a segment about Spanish and gendered language. The listener reaction, both for and against the -x replacement, was enormous, placing the story as one of the five most commented posts produced by LatinoUSA, NPR’s weekly show tailored to Hispanic Americans.
Those most committed to gender-neutral Spanish use an –x to replace all gendered parts of words, including not just “Latino/Latina” but also articles, nouns and adjectives pertaining to people.
One of the Facebook posts responding to the NPR page illustrated how unwieldy this gets when you do that: “Yo uso la ‘x’ constantemente en mi página de Facebook, para mi es sumamente importante que lxs compañerxs se sientan indentificadxs y valuadxs individualmente. Es sumamente importante para mí hacer un contacto directo cada unx de ellxs, pues al estar en este país y con los ataques constants anti-inmigrante, el reafirmar su valor como individuos es de extra importancia. La evolución liguística continua.”
(That means: “I constantly use the ‘x’ on my Facebook page. For me it’s extremely important that my friends can feel identified and valued individually. It’s extremely important for me to make direct contact with them, because being in this country with all of the anti-immigrant attacks, the reaffirmation of individuals’ value of extra importance. The linguistic evolution continues.”)
Ironically, it’s a post in Latina magazine that has most recently called attention to the debate. Raquel Reichard, the magazine’s politics and culture editor, notes a new trend toward replacing the –o and –a endings with –e instead of an -x. So “Latinx” would become “Latine.”
But that change doesn’t address a bigger concern of critics: that “Latinx” and its lesser-used alternative, “Latin@,” and other modified word endings are cultural appropriation, Reichard notes.
In 2015, two Hispanic students at Swarthmore, Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea, denounced the use of “Latinx” as “a blatant form of linguistic imperialism because it’s used almost exclusively by Spanish speakers in the United States, not in Latin America.
“It effectively serves as an American way to erase the Spanish language,” Guerra and Orbea wrote in an op-ed. “Like it or not, Spanish is a gendered language.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.