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“What do you guys think about the Latinx term? Have you heard about it before?”

I posed this question, originally in Spanish, to my mom (59), sister (28), and niece (14), a few weeks ago when they were here visiting me from Paraguay. Shaking their heads in confusion, they inquired what it meant. My mom even had trouble pronouncing the word as she doesn’t speak English and this seemed be yet another Anglicism. I elaborated and they rolled their eyes.

I came across the term “Latinx” last year when I saw the term in a Penn State email newsletter. A quick search of the term taught me that the term was coined by social activists and scholars in an attempt to “un-gender” the term “Latino”, as this is a non-inclusive term for “genderqueers, gender fluids, or non-binary gendered people [4].” I also learned that universities had begun adopting this term in their communications with students and even in the renaming of departments (e.g. Yale University Library now displays the name Latinx Studies) [5]. Student groups across colleges had also re-visited their constitutions and adopted this, as was the case with Columbia University’s Latinx Heritage Month in 2015 [1], or Penn State this year. Even searching for the term Latinx in scholar search engines yield a plethora of results, denoting that many scholars have seemingly adopted the term too.

There are many opposed to the adoption of this term. The main concerns being that the pursuit to “un-gender” the Spanish language will also lead to the “un-culture” of it (i.e. the destruction of gender, a fundamental part of the Spanish language), especially considering the wide array of words that depend on gender and how non-English speakers will be unable to properly pronounce the proposed terms [2]. Personally, I’m concerned about how the adoption of this term will skew the American population’s notion of social issues impacting the wider Latino population, specifically in college campuses.

Firstly, this term is virtually non-existent outside of the US. Searches with “Latinx” in news websites in Paraguay yield no results. Furthermore, Google Trends (a platform that allows users to explore the interest rate of search queries) shows that, outside the US, searches with the term “Latinx” amount to less than 1% [3].

Instead, in Paraguay we have a score of issues that could use the public attention and the scientific community’s time. Last year, university students conducted one of the biggest peaceful protests in the country asking for less corruption in university and government officials. This year, high schoolers were surrounded by police when they were opposed to having class until there’s an educational reform. We constantly have farmers marching for better agricultural laws. We have teenagers who begun voluntary groups to fix streets and collect garbage. We have people constantly fighting against inequality in all aspects: social, economic, cultural, etc. These are the issues impacting us and other Latin American countries.

Inclusion is important. It worries me to think that there’s people struggling and suffering with the current societal conventions. But the discussions around Latinx are not so much about inclusion as they are about the semantics of language. Thus creating controversy and drawing the public attention to the term Latinx and its usage, regardless of all the positive intentions that people have, initiates a conversation around something that is not (and should not be) at the top of our social agenda’s issues. How can we focus our conversation on the meaning of a word when, for instance, women are still struggling with domestic violence and extreme inequality in professional settings or when there isn’t even a law that protects citizens from any sort of discrimination?

College campuses are hubs full of students who want to do good and are constantly seeking for ways to get involved locally and internationally. Their perception of the world will dictate their involvement. Thus I hope that we can spark conversations around these other overlooked issues and garner help towards addressing them. Perhaps in a not so distant future, our biggest problem will be just a linguistic debate.

References

  • [1] Armus, Teo. “Student Groups Shift Toward Use of Latinx to Include All Gender Identities.” Columbia Daily Spectator. Spectator Publishing Company, 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
  • [2] Guerra, Gilbert, and Gilbert Orbea. “The Argument against the Use of the Term “Latinx”” The Phoenix. The Phoenix, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
  • [3] “’Latinx’ Search Term.” Google Trends. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016. <https://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=latinx>.
  • [4] Scharron-del Rio, Maria, and Alan Aja. “The Case FOR ‘Latinx’: Why Intersectionality Is Not a Choice.” Latino Rebels. Latino Rebels, 05 Dec. 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
  • [5] Yale University Library. Yale University, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016. <http://web.library.yale.edu/>.
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