To replace the gendered term “Latino,” the trend in progressive circles, especially in the media, is to use “Latinx,” a term that is unpopular, to say the least, in the American Hispanic community.
In 2018, the word “Latinx” was officially introduced in the Merriam Webster dictionary, defined as “a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina” and pronounced “latinex.” Since common nouns in English have no gender, the question of inclusive writing does not arise, but the term “Latino,” which comes from Spanish, is an exception. Some media now speak of “Latinx communities” and some universities have courses in “Latinx studies.”
During the Democratic Party primaries in 2019, Sen. Elizabeth Warren used the term several times, namely declaring in a video: “When I become president, Latinx families will have a champion in the White House.” A perilous choice of vocabulary given that, according to polls, at most 2% or 3% of Latinos use the word. Yet about half of the Democratic representatives in the House of Representatives have used the term on social media.
This term was coined around 2004 in LGBT Latino circles on the internet, as it allowed a person to identify as non-binary or queer. But the term is also considered a way to fight against sexism by subverting a male-dominated grammatical structure. Similar to the midpoint used in French, the “x” is seen as a way to erase the predominance of the masculine form in the language. Actually, in English, some nonbinary people use the term “Mx.” as an alternative to the gendered title of Mr. or Mrs.
But outside of some academic and media circles, this term is virtually unknown. According to a survey conducted in 2020, 76% of Hispanic Americans had never heard of it. In an interview with Politico, political consultant Kristian Ramos spoke of a generational split between young activists who adopted “Latinx” and a “general population that has no idea what that word means and finds it sort of […] ridiculous.”
Worse still, a survey in December 2021 revealed that 40% of Hispanics are bothered or offended by the term, and that 30% of them would be less likely to support a candidate who would use that word. Following the publication of that survey, the Miami Herald, the leading daily newspaper in a city where Hispanics represent 27% of the population, published an editorial calling on the left and the media to drop the term.
A Winning Bet?
Ruben Gallego, a Democratic representative from Arizona, stated on Twitter that members of his team were not allowed to use “Latinx” in their official communications. “When Latino politicos use the term, it is largely to appease white rich progressives who think that is the term we use,” he wrote. “It will not lose you an election but if your staff and consultants use Latinx in your mass communication it likely means they don’t understand the Latino community.”
Following the presidential election of 2020, which saw an increase in the Latino vote for Donald Trump (a 31% hike compared to 2016), better understanding this community has indeed become essential for Democrats. Numerous consultants noted that using popular jargon words on Twitter, such as “Latinx,” was not a winning strategy.
In November 2021, a study conducted in partnership with the socialist magazine Jacobin concluded that candidates who used “highly specialized, identity-focused language fared significantly worse than candidates who embraced either populist or mainstream language.” On the other hand, some activist associations such as Poder Latinx (“Latino power”) actually count on this inclusive language to mobilize a new generation that is more interested in discourses about identity.
Imposed from Outside
Beyond the electoral issue, the use of “x” to make the word neutral is not universally accepted. In some Spanish-speaking countries, such as Argentina, inclusive writing is done by replacing the “a” and “o” with a neutral “e,” thus “Latine” instead of “Latinx.”
In the United States, some Latinos thus consider adding the “x” to be imposed from outside. “Latinx is an anglicization of our language, an artificial label that defies the basic rules of Spanish pronunciation,” wrote one Latino high school student in The New York Times. Despite these controversies, the term has already gained some followers. A neutral alternative to Filipino, “Filipinx” has recently appeared. But like its cousin “Latinx,” it is having a hard time catching on in everyday language.