Aimed at Everyone, “LatinX” is Pleasing Just a Few.

Stores displayed signs and some even had special sales events during Hispanic Heritage Month. However, the exact term each store chose to use varied, and in some cases they decided to make everybody happy and went with both.

CC: Desirée Vignola-Hung

Stores displayed signs and some even had special sales events during Hispanic Heritage Month. However, the exact term each store chose to use varied, and in some cases they decided to make everybody happy and went with both.

Desirée Vignola-Hung, Contributor

(Hispanic/LatinX/Latina/Latino/Latinos) Heritage Month was celebrated once more this year from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15. Still, the American-English name intended to be inclusive for this vast population that resides in the United States remains contested and controversial. 

Many Latin American descendants who were born in the U.S. feel like they need an identity that represents who they are, but in this age of gender revolution, the names chosen by some feel like an imposition to others. Jasmine Velazquez, 21, a journalism student at Northeastern University, said “I have heard a lot of controversy about ‘LatinX’ and I believe a lot of it stems from either not knowing the origin of the term or people not willing to make the space for a non-gendered term in a gendered language.”

The Global Observer set out to learn what experts in language, culture, and civic studies think about how the Hispanic population should be referred to and what feels inclusive or not. 

If the English language already has derivatives for people born in America, “Americans” like “Europeans” for people born in Europe, and those words are gender neutral, then why do we have to make up “LatinX” as a derivative for people from Latin America, when we could easily use “Latin American” as a neutral word? 

Prof. Daniel Cuenca from the Department of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Northeastern University.explained that the term “LatinX” does not mean to include all the people in the actual South and Central American parts of the continent, but more accurately the migrants and descendants of those migrants that reside in the U.S.

“In many parts of Latin America we do not use the word ‘Latino’ at all,” Cuenca said.  “We are Argentinians, Uruguayians, Brazilians, Chileans, etc., and within our countries we can have descendents from different parts, Latins or not Latins, from Europe,” he added. 

The original term “Latino” dates back to colonial times. Cuenca described, “It was actually an effort from France to include its colonies, for example Haiti, within this vision of The Americas.” He added, “The term ‘Latino’ then resurfaced recently in the United States as a way to identify the Latin American community in the United States, but that clearly excludes Spain and the other Latin countries in Europe. Cuenca is also the director of the Spanish language program at Northeastern, illustrating his interest and passion for Spanish words and their meanings and histories.

“Latino” therefore becomes a word that has more to do more with the vision the U.S. has of Latin America than with a domestic sense of identity within the Latin American or the Hispanic community in the U.S.

And then comes the gender revolution. “Latino” or “Latina” and their respective plurals proved insufficient for a population now including multiple gender identities requiring a proper term.

The Global Observer conducted an anonymous survey that concluded that the argument is far from over.  Some people do not see the term “LatinX” as controversial at all and accuse the ones that do of being misinformed or transphobic. Others seemed to hold more nuanced views towards “LatinX” and preferred other appellatives such as “Latine” or just the nationality from where they are from or their family came, like Venezuelan or Mexican. 

So where did “LatinX” come from, and where is it going?

According to Ana Rusch, former director of the LatinX Student Cultural Center at Northeastern University, the “X” after the word “Latin-” came to be a symbol of the feminist movement, a symbol representing the women that marched and crossed their arms in protest against a patriarchal society and male oppression.

But Cuenca believes that “the ‘X’ comes to represent an open place, not actually like a closed thing, which is the idea we have to get rid of. On the contrary, we should think of the ‘X’ as the four options, like something open that goes in four directions and that opens instead of closing.”

Cuenca explained that languages tend to evolve and any word adopted at a certain point might have morphed into something new in a few years, or simply disappear completely to give space to a word that more faithfully accommodates the concept that it represents. 

While Cuenca is ambivalent in his opinion about the term  “LatinX,” he cannot imagine another way to capture the essence of the present discussion. At the moment, “LatinX” seems to be the only word that meets all the requirements.

On the contrary, Rusch believes that a new term, “Latine,” is starting to take over.

Velazquez, a U.S. born Mexican descendant, says that the name “LatinX” is “a way to include more people within the community,” explaining, “This is also not to say that I no longer use ‘Latino’ because I still use that term.  I use ‘LatinX’ and ‘Latine’ interchangeably.”

Controversy or not, time will tell which one of the terms will stick, or if a new one will be found in the future.

“What is important to highlight,” concluded Cuenca  “is that this is a dynamic process that we are assisting to, more than seeing it as a finalized process; it is interesting to see how it is evolving, and where it is going to end.”