On a recent Friday, the popular D’Carlos hair salon was packed. About ten men of all ages gathered to have their hair cut and chat in east Manchester. When I approached them to ask about “Latinx” and its meaning, the debate started quickly. Some said they hadn’t heard the term, or what it meant. Others have tried to explain it.
The barber, Carlos Abreu, disagreed with its use. He said that “the world is going in wrong directions. God created women and men together and not men and men”, in an inaccurate confusion of gender and sexual orientation. Abreu believed that the Spanish language should continue to reflect what he thinks.
But Jose Luis Rosario and other younger clients were open to using the term. Rosario said he already endorses bathrooms for all genders, another way advocates have pushed for a more inclusive society. He said incorporating a simple, new word into his vocabulary made no difference.
Latinx emerged because Spanish is a gendered language. Almost every word has a masculine or feminine ending. But people of Latin American descent are switching languages to create a more inclusive mode of communication.
The x in Latinx replaces the a or o at the end of Latina or Latino; the term includes queer, trans and non-binary people. It’s a way of saying everyone is welcome, all genders and ethnicities, and also embracing indigenous and Afro-Caribbean people, who have a different relationship to the Spanish language and culture.
In 2016, after a mass shooting at an LBGTQ+ nightclub in Orlando, the word became popular on social media. In 2018, the term entered the Merriam-Webster dictionary. But just because the word has become prominent doesn’t mean it’s commonly used. According to a Pew Research Center study, only 20% of Latinos in the United States have heard of Latinx, and only 3% use it.
People who use it tend to be those who are proud to be Latinx. One of them is Alissandra Rodriguez-Murray, who lives in Manchester and has Nicaraguan roots. They are a barista and program director for the New Hampshire Youth Movement. They came out non-binary in 2017. The word Latinx makes a big difference in how they experience their culture. Rodriguez-Murray said the word made them feel public power.
“It’s a way to include myself in the community without placing a gender expectation on me,” they said.
For Alissandra, the word Latinx is a form of resistance. While part of their family acknowledges its use, the other half cite their Catholic faith as a reason not to.
Although identification as Latinx is vital for Rodriguez-Murray, her slow acceptance into the mainstream can make them feel singled out. They say understanding of the term is still low in New Hampshire and they have faced harassment related to their identity.
“It’s still a journey to be accepted as a Latino, let alone a queer Latino,” they said.
But some critics say only white Latinos like Rodriguez-Murray use the term. It has a lot of resistance from some members of the community who say its use is destroying the Spanish language, which Carlos Cardona took into account when considering whether to use the term.
“For me, it’s really hard to accept that white culture tells us how to identify ourselves,” said Cardona, a member of the LGBTQ+ community and president of the Laconia Democrats.
Cardona thinks the letter x in Latinx represents imperial oppression on the Spanish language, although he supports the meaning behind the word. Cardona says x isn’t commonly used in Spanish, and he prefers an alternative: the letter e, like in Latin. Latine is another gender-neutral option that originated in Chile and Argentina.
“I’m all about us as a growing and evolving community; there is room for growth,” Cardona said.
Holly Cashman, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, explores gender and its intersection with language and says people tend to oppose the term for more political than linguistic reasons.
She suggests that a group leading the change are young Latinas in the United States, who are more fluent in Spanglish. Critics think they speak poor Spanish.
“The x is a powerful symbol, and people say language is flexible, language changes, and that’s how we want to use it,” Cashman said.
But for some Latinx, there is a way forward as these language debates continue. Rodriguez-Murray thinks the best way to maneuver the debate is to ask people how they want to be identified. Everyone should respect the life experience of others, they said.
What thousands of Latinx or Latinas around the world are trying to say is that language matters. Both terms say “I’m proud of my culture and I’m ready to grow with it.”
These articles are shared by The Granite State News Collaborative partners as part of our Race and Equity Project. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.