What is “Latinx”?


Canva graphic designed by Meileen Arroyo

What is Latinx? “Latinx” is the gender-neutral alternative for Latino or Latina. The term “Latinx” was first seen in the U.S about a decade ago when the gender-neutrality movement was in the early stages of global influence and change.

By Meileen Arroyo, Staff Writer

     Latino, Latina, Hispanic, Chicano, Chicana, Latine. There have been countless terms used to describe the nation’s population whose heritage stems from Latin-American countries that have gone in and out of mainstream media. “Latinx” is the gender-neutral alternative to the terms Latino or Latina. There is a debate between the Hispanic community that presents the term “Latinx” as a either sign of progression and growth of the traditional ideologies regarding gender in Latin culture or an inadequate representation of Latin culture because it fails to acknowledge the traditional gendered format that many people grew up with and perpetuates the message that “Latin culture isn’t sufficient enough.” 

     During my time at the Journalism Education Association (JEA) National Journalism Convention, I attended the “Language matters” session. This workshop centered around the different terms that are used in the media to identify people and the implications of using certain terminology. The term “Latinx” came up during the presentation and I began to wonder what my Tigard community thought about the usage of this term. I wanted to take this debate outside of my social group and into the community to gain more knowledge about the term and the opposing perspective I don’t consider all that often. My personal stance on the term “Latinx” is that it’s a necessary step towards progression and inclusion in Latin culture. Latinx adds a new dimension and space for members of the Hispanic community who don’t identify with the gender binary identities. As a student leader, MEChA member, LGBTQ+ ally, and member of the Hispanic community, I have a responsibility to acknowledge and respect people’s identities. However, my opinion is solely my own and there are many reasons as to why someone may or may not support the term Latinx. What do people think about this debate? Is Latinx truly a maker of inclusion or is it harmful? I talked to multiple people at THS about their thoughts regarding the term Latinx and their stance on the debate. Here is what I found. 

     The foundation of the term Latinx is to create a more inclusive society by opening up space for the Hispanic/Latinx members of the LGBTQ+ community. Abraham Diaz, MEChA advisor, does his own research to educate himself on this topic and to stay on top of both sides of the argument. As a supporter of the term, Diaz believes that Latinx is a way of being proactive and respectful of people’s identities. However, another reason as to why many people support the term is to reach toward a more equitable language and culture. Spanish defaults to masculine when the subject’s gender isn’t specified and is a more male-dominated language. The addition of the X was implemented to slowly move away from the grammatical binary that is prominent in the language through the use of the -o and -a. 

     Diaz said, “As I started doing more research I found out why the X was used. If other countries and cultures are also progressing I think that Latin culture should also be progressing by using the term Latinx or [other] gender-neutral terminology. It’s important because it’s respecting one another. It’s showing that we care and are aware. It’s important to understand [the term] and learn the roots.”

     The X is a new addition to the language that many people have to adapt to which can be hard for older generations to accept. Latinx is widely used in the United States more than Latin-American countries and the largest group of people that integrate Latinx into their daily vocabulary are individuals from Generation Z. Senior Jocelyné Tovar-Lopez is a supporter of the term Latinx. 

     “I feel like it’s not taking away from the language or the culture; I feel like it’s adding to it. We should always include everyone and if we have to add that new term or open the space up to other people, we should do that,” Tovar-Lopez said. “There’s nothing wrong with the word “Latinx.” No sé por qué a las personas no les gusta esa palabra. It’s just opening the door to other people.”

     Sheyla Dorantes Sanchez, student teacher at Tigard High School, alternates between the terms Latinx and Latine. 

     “I also use “Latine.” I’ve heard some people are more comfortable with Latine than Latinx because it’s not so much the gender-neutral aspect, it’s the X that makes people mad. I use Latine or Latinx because it’s something that I use for myself.” 

     The terms Latinx and Latine were created to open up space for those members who are oftentimes overlooked and not included into the conversation. To some people it may seem like the opposite. However, it’s up to people to decide if they want to seek out the knowledge about the history and meaning of the term Latinx or stick to tradition and custom. 

     Dorantes Sanchez said, “I hope that the people who are against Latinx or Latine are able to understand that it’s not supposed to be an attack on the language or an attack on tradition. It’s just supposed to be about opening up different possibilities. If there’s someone that likes Latine but not Latinx just accept that for them. If there’s someone that does prefer Latinx then that’s what they enjoy. Listen to different communities because they know best about how they would like to be referred to.”

     This debate isn’t centered around expanding the language to be gender-neutral. Instead it centers around the usage of the X, which is perceived to not match with the rest of the language. The addition of the X creates a message that the Spanish language isn’t “good enough” and needs to be changed in order to fit into the Eurocentric society we live in. This narrative creates a negative connotation toward the term which ultimately causes people to reject the progression of language in Latin culture. To many people “Latinx” is a reminder of the constant oppression the Hispanic community has faced throughout history. Many people who don’t agree with the term “Latinx” believe that the addition of the letter X is unnecessary because the plural forms, Hispanos and Latinos, already are gender-inclusive and don’t focus on gender. Senior Manuel Ibarra Calderon, shares his thoughts on the term “Latinx.”

     “I think it’s a great thing moving forward and I can see why it’s seen as a push ahead but I don’t necessarily agree with the term. When talking about the Latino community, “Latino” is already a gender-neutral term. Why change something that doesn’t need to be fixed? You can’t fix something that isn’t broken,” Ibarra Calderno said. [Latinx] hurts my culture because it diminishes us. To me “Latinx” means that the term that I’ved used, that I’ve grown up with, isn’t correct, but in reality that’s my language.”

     Senior and vice president of MEChA, Esvin Sanchez, gives his personal take on this side of the debate.

     “Using Latinx takes an important aspect of culture away, which is language. In Spanish we assign gender to everything including non-living things. Using the term “Latinx” is a way to westernize Hispanic culture. The same thing goes for the pronunciation of our names. We tend to pronounce names differently depending if we are speaking in English or Spanish. Instead of changing the pronunciation, we should embrace that having an accent is beautiful and something to be proud of.”

     Spanish teacher, Christopher Engstrom, understands the gender aspect of the Spanish language and the importance of it to members of the Hispanic/Latinx community. Engstrom also realizes that there could be other factors that influence a person’s stance on this debate such as religion, country of origin, and age.

    “Latino culture has a strong Catholic tradition, that’s not to say that everyone from Spanish speaking origin is Catholic but Catholic religion dominates in Spanish speaking countries. The Catholic church is very clear saying that there are only two genders so I think that can cause some controversy or confusion from people who come from tradition. I think that in Latin culture the roles are very defined, male and female,” Engstrom said. I don’t see it being too controversial in the United States. I think there would be people who are offended if you use that term with them, maybe more traditional people, depending on your gender and age.”

    Language is an important part of different cultures. It’s how people communicate, express themselves or their culture, build relationships, find commonality, and reflect their perception of the world. When new terms are added into the language that a person has grown up speaking and knowing their entire life it can be hard to learn to accept them, especially when the new terms don’t align with the traditional structure of the language. This is why some people find the term to be offensive to Latin culture. As an English teacher, Dorantes Sanchez views this situation differently. 

    “I sympathize with the people who say that it takes away from the language. When you’re a Hispanic or Latino person in a space where you’re a minority, a lot of people choose to latch really strongly on language. I understand that people don’t want that thing [language] that they feel so close to, to change but also when I think about it through a teacher [lens] and looking at language in general, language is constantly changing, words are coming in and out of fashion, and the way we use language changes all the time,” Dorantes Sanchez said. “I think it’s just a change that has to happen with time as we move forward and start to respect different gender identities. I think it’s something that is a necessary change the same way that some other changes have happened from the language we have used in the past.”

     In gathering all the information to write this story I realized that the majority of individuals I talked to supported the usage of the term “Latinx.” This leaves me to wonder if this debate is actually something that is prominent in society, especially between members of the Hispanic and Latinx community. From writing this story I’ve strengthened my stance on this debate. Although, I understand the side of the debate that claims that “Latinx” is a western way of viewing and referring to Latin culture and that it takes away from the language; I still believe that “Latinx” is a good step toward acknowledging our gender non-conforming and LGBTQ+ members.