What is Latinx? Tracing Its History and Defining Its Meaning

Oct 13, 2019 by

The term “Latinx” is becoming more and more common. But let’s get started on the right foot, first: It’s often pronounced La-TEEN-ex. Okay, glad we’re on the same page now.

The word is so new that when HuffPost uses it, they get questions and comments like:

“You misspelled Latino.”

“Latinx isn’t a word.”

And our personal favorite…

“I keep seeing Latinx… what does it mean?”

We wanted to help clear the air: No, it’s not misspelled. Yes, it is a word. And that’s a good question; let’s dive in.

Why people are using the term Latinx (instead of Latina or Latino)

Here’s a quick history:

Experts say the term was first used by the LGBTQ community in the early 2000s, as a gender-neutral alternative to Latina or Latino (all three, by the way, are distinct from Hispanic). From there, the term “Latinx” started gaining popularity on social media. As the term started getting more traction, Google searches for it did, too.

Some say the term gives them a sense of empowerment in a language that relies heavily on gender identifiers. Jack Qu’emi—a writer who identifies as a queer, Afro-Latinx, nonbinary femme—told Public Radio International, “The x [in Latinx], is a way of rejecting the gendering of words to begin with, especially since Spanish is such a gendered language.”

Cristina Mora, associate professor of sociology at UC Berkeley, told Time magazine that when she first encountered the term, young people were using it because they said they were “tired of reaffirming the patriarchy inherent in language.”

The term is comparable to using “they” as a singular pronoun, instead of explicitly assigning genders like he or she. What if the person to whom you’re referring doesn’t identify as he or she?

The truth is, the term Latinx is a pathway to inclusion, whether you identify as male, female, transgender, nonbinary, or gender fluid.

It’s the difference between saying ninth-grader vs. freshman, or firefighter vs. fireman. Not all freshmen or firemen are male. Using a gender-neutral term creates a more inclusive environment for everyone.

Hear from real Latinx high school students

Ana L. | Círculos

What does it mean for me to be Latinx? It means to have the honor to represent my culture and refuse being overlooked, especially as a Latinx female. My brown skin gives the world a little more color. Most importantly, education is my salvation. I’m very proud to be a Latinx high school student, given that many students like me have a higher chance of being discriminated against and lower chances of getting into a good college. I’m honoring my ancestors who fought for my right to learn and for equality. I hope to see change in the future, and that change starts with me.

Maria M. | Latitude 37.8 High School

To me, being Latinx means never giving up on my goals. I don’t want to lose my roots or traditions, because I have Mexico in my heart. “No perder mis raíces mis costumbre porque llevamos a nuestro país Mexico en la piel.” Being Latinx means a lot to me because I know where I come from. I also know the suffering that took place to give me—and other students like me—a better life.

Karla M. | Da Vinci RISE High School

My name is Karla. I am from Los Angeles, and I’m Latinx. My Mom came from Puebla, a city that’s a two-hour drive southeast from Mexico city. I have two older siblings, Martin and Alejandra. Martin is from Puerto Rico and Alejandra was born in the United States—both identify as Latinx. I also have a few other family members who are from Guatemala. Although my family intertwines different Latinx cultures, in the end, we are one big family. We have fiestas to catch up with one another. While the women cook the steaming pozole, tasty tamales, tacos, and enchiladas (with horchata and agua frescos to wash it all down), the men of the family come together to tell stories and talk about life. At the end of every fiesta, our bellies are full and we are reminded that even though we’re from different places, we all share a common bond of family and our Latinx culture. I love my Latinx family.

Read more about how schools can create a more inclusive campus culture on these recent XQ blog posts:

When a school opens its arms to immigrants

Want to create a more inclusive school? Give students a voice

Beyond MLK Day and Black History Month: Making social justice a part of school all year round

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author(s) and does not reflect the views of XQ.

Source: What is Latinx? Tracing Its History and Defining Its Meaning | XQ Institute

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