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Why we use the “X” in Latinx

Updated: May 27, 2020

You may have seen the word “latinx” instead of “latinos” while reading the newspaper, browsing social media, or even heard it on a YouTube video. What does “latinx” mean? Spanish is a gendered language, meaning each noun is assigned to be either masculine or feminine as identified by the articles “la” or “el” and corresponding suffixes - el/la mean “the.” For example, the word for apple, “la manzana” is considered feminine because of the “la” before the manzana. On the other end, the word for tiger, “el tigre” is masculine because of the “el.”

Using the ‘x’ in “Latinx” makes the word gender-neutral

Can you guess what article “latino” uses versus “latina”? If you guessed “la latina” and “el latino,” you’re right! La Latina, the Latin woman, is feminine, whereas “el latino” means the Latin man. If a group of Latin women are hanging out, they are “las latinas,” whereas a group of men is “los latinos.”

Where this gets tricky is if a group of women are hanging out with one guy friend, they are considered, “los latinos.” Interesting, right? If a group of mostly men are hanging out with one woman, then their group as a whole is also referred to as “los latinos.” The idea of privileging masculine pronouns to describe people, even if the group is mixed gender, has been argued by many to be an example of patriarchy in the Spanish language.

Latinx is a different story. According to Remezlca magazina, “latinx” first appeared in 2004. Using “x” in “latinx” as opposed to “latino” is supposed to be gender-neutral because then you are not trying to define a group of people by gender, or privileging a masculine article in a situation. In theory, “latinx” is more inclusive.

For many, gender neutral words are a way to honor all people and embrace feminism and queer liberation. This is especially important when advocating for gender diversity within LGTBQ+ communities since there are many people who identify outside of man and woman. For example, many identify as “genderqueer” or “gender non-binary” in addition to transgender. And among Latinxs, there is a long history of feminists and queer activists that have shaped history such as Gloria Anzaldua, Sylvia Rivera, Sonya Sotomayor, Berta Caceres, Frida Kahlo, Steven Canals, etc.

While many other Romance languages have been historically gendered, there have also been some languages around the world that are gender neutral. Can you think of any that aren’t? Some common gender neutral languages spoken in northwest suburban immigrant communities include: Talalog (from the Philippines), Bengali (from India and Bangladesh), Korean, Turkish, Chinese, and Yoruba (from Nigeria, Benin and Togo).

So, honoring gender diversity and using gender neutral language is not a new concept in human history afterall. How is the latino/latinx community responding to the new word?

Tanisha Love Ramirez and Zeba Blay over at HuffPost’s Latino Voices say that, “Latinx is quickly gaining popularity among the general public. It’s part of a “linguistic revolution” that aims to move beyond gender binaries and is inclusive of the intersecting identities of Latin American descendants. In addition to men and women from all racial backgrounds, Latinx also makes room for people who are trans, queer, agender, non-binary, gender non-conforming or gender fluid.”

So, next time you see your family members, ask them if they have ever heard of “latinx” and if they would ever consider using it. What are some benefits and challenges of using this word in your home and community?

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