AUSTIN (KXAN) — As National Hispanic Heritage Month prepares to kick off September 15, you may have noticed the word “Latinx” popping up now and again in the news and across social media.
But what does “Latinx” mean — and why and when would you use it?
The current most common ways Hispanic populations refer to themselves are “Hispanic,” “Latino/Latina” and “Chicano,” but the term “Latinx” attempts to be more inclusive to non-binary members of the population.
“Non-binary” means those who don’t identify as male or female: these are people who have a gender that blends elements of either or people have a gender that is neither male or female.
Additionally, the National Center for Transgender Equality says, some people don’t identify with any gender and some people’s gender identity changes over time.
That’s where Latinx comes in, attempting to provide a gender-neutral way of referring to others and the community as a whole.
Robyn Moreno, editorial director for Latina Magazine, told NBC News that while her initial response to the term was confusion, she supported the term after getting an explanation.
“If people don’t identify on the gender binary, why not include them?” asked Moreno. “This is another term which moves the identity conversation forward. It promotes fairness and inclusivity, which I think is a good thing. It is not about taking away identity; it is about giving more identity to more people.”
But the term is still in its infancy, as an August Pew Research poll found that only one-in-four U.S. Hispanics have heard the term “Latinx” and only about 3% use it to describe themselves.
How do you pronounce it?
“It can be pronounced several ways: Using the same pattern as Latino(lah TEE nex, rhyming with ‘kleenex’) or in English (LAT in EX). A few people even say ‘lah TEENKS,'” he explains.
Who is “Latinx”?
Bowles explains that “Latinx” is an “ethnic and cultural category focused on geography.”
In short, “Latinx” means people who originate from Spanish-speaking countries — regardless of whether or not they speak Spanish.
It is possible, he says, to be Latinx but not Hispanic, as are Brazilians (who mostly speak Portuguese. Spaniards are Hispanic but not Latinx. But there are several exceptions.
X-ceptance by Hispanic communities
Online, the reception of Latinx is often met with confusion and/or derision by naysayers. Some even say the term is a form of “neocolonialism,” or a way for non-Hispanic progressives to control what Latin people call themselves.
“This is a blatant form of linguistic imperialism — the forcing of U.S. ideals upon a language in a way that does not grammatically or orally correspond with it,” say authors of a notable Swarthmore College essay titled, “The argument against the use of the term ‘Latinx.”
Authors of “The argument against the use of the term ‘Latinx,” Gilbert Guerra and Gilbert Orbea — who are not opposed to non-binary language, they say — continue:
“It seems that U.S. English speakers came upon Spanish, deemed it too backwards compared to their own progressive leanings, and rather than working within the language to address any of their concerns, “fixed” it from a foreign perspective that has already had too much influence on Latino and Latin American culture.”
Gilbert and Orbea also pointed to linguistics, saying Spanish already has its own gender-neutral term to describe people: “Latino.”
“Gender in Spanish and gender in English are two different things. Even inanimate objects are given gendered -o/s and -a/s endings, although it is inherently understood that these objects are not tied to the genders assigned to them,” the authors write.
María R. Scharrón-del Río, associate professor at Brooklyn College, told NBC News that while “Latinx” is an appreciated small act of politeness and recognition, it also reveals privilege in the community.
People who are often excluded, Scharrón-del Río, may not understand why it’s important to be.
According to Pew Research, 38% of U.S. Hispanics are aware of term, while only 13% of those with a high school diploma or less are. Additionally, U.S.-born and and predominantly English speakers were more likely to have heard and use the term.
But José Moreno, Associate Professor in the Chicano & Latino Studies Department at California State University Long Beach, says that changing identities is inherently Latin.
Moreno claims the older generation of Mexican-Americans in the 1960s and 70s resisted the term “Chicano.”
Mark Hugo Lopez, echoes these thoughts, saying, Hispanic research director at the Pew Research Center, says Latinx is “a very unique take on identity…Latinx fits within our broader history in the U.S. of using various terms to describe our identity.”
A 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey by the Trans Equality Center found that of 27,715 respondents, 35% identified as non-binary. Fourteen percent of Hispanics in the survey reported immediate family members ending relationships because of their identity and 13% reported they’d experienced violence by a family member as a result of coming out.
While “Latinx” continues to appear in publications, news outlets and in common speech, the Associated Press currently indicates that “Latino” and “Latino” should be used and that “Latinx” should be used in quotations, by-request only and accompanied by an explanation.
The word is currently included in both the Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English dictionaries.
What do you call yourself?