Arkansas, a US state, forbids the term “Latinx” in official documents: Why is the phrase controversial? The term “Latinx” is forbidden in state documents in Arkansas: What is the definition of this phrase and its background? We clarify.
In her first day in office, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the so called newly-elected Republican governor of the US state of Arkansas and a former press secretary to then-US President Donald Trump, got right to work and signed seven executive orders. One of these directives prohibited the use of the term “Latinx” in official documents, citing “the government’s responsibility to respect its citizens and also use ethnically appropriate language, also particularly when referring to ethnic minorities.”
In the brief time that it has been in common usage, the term “Latinx” has a contentious past. The phrase has not taken off as much as progressives had hoped despite being praised by many as a gender-neutral substitute for the commonly used “Latino/Latina,” used primarily in the US to mainly refer to people of Latin American origins. Only 3% of American Latinos and Hispanics use the term “Latinx” to describe themselves, according to a Pew Research study.
Notably, in December 2021, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego prohibited the term “Latinx” from being used in any communications from his office. The word was introduced, he claimed in a statement, “largely to appease white rich progressives.”
We examine the origins of the term “Latinx” as well as the politics surrounding it.
US Gender-neutral term “Latinx” invention
The term was added to Merriam-dictionary Webster’s in 2018, and according to Merriam-Webster, “Latinx purposefully breaks with Spanish’s gendered grammatical tradition.” The male/female binary is innate in Spanish, which, unlike English, lacks a neuter or non-gendered noun form. Therefore, nouns can either be masculine or feminine, which is denoted by the “-a” or “-o” ending in Latin (Latina).
It was first spotted online in 2004 according to Google Trends, which charts the usage of terms online using Google’s search engine. A Puerto Rican psychological periodical used it first in academia to “challenge the gender binaries encoded in the Spanish language.”
The case for the grammatical coherence of Latinx
Latinx usage is controversial in large part because it lacks grammatical coherence. In order to “ensure that the changes experienced by the main Spanish language, in its constant adaptation to the needs of its main speakers, do not break the main essential unity that it maintains throughout the Hispanic area,” the Royal Spanish Academy (RSA), a Spanish organisation, does not recognise the suffix “X.”
Latinx usage, according to detractors, smacks of linguistic imperialism because it infuses Spanish with American sensibilities. However, proponents of the term also raise this issue in their arguments, challenging the RSA’s role in establishing the “correctness” of a language that is constantly changing.
In actuality, the suffix “X” conveys a very important meaning. Boston University professor of English Maia Gil’Ad told BU Today that the X can denote a “categorical impossibility” and an unknown value, similar to how it does in mathematics. This not only makes non-binary gender identities more inclusive, but it also emphasises the diversity of identities among Latinx people.
Classifying different identities
Latin America, which spans a sizable region from Mexico to Chile’s far southern tip, is diverse. Languages, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds can differ within one country as well as between them.
The US has historically homogenised and grouped together people who come from these various countries.
Due to an increase in immigration from South and Central America in the 1970s, the term “Hispanic” became more common after it was used in the US census. It is frequently regarded as an arbitrary and inaccurate classification because it homogenised a diverse population based on the language that they all “supposedly” spoke, Spanish.
Especially notable is the fact that Spanish has been the language of the colonising forces in the area, who have wiped out indigenous populations in the name of imperialism. To say you’re Hispanic means you’re so colonised, according to author Sandra Cisneros, who in 1992 told The New York Times, “someone who named you never even bothered to ask what you call yourself.” It is a detestable slave name.
In order to be more inclusive, “Latino/a” was later adopted and rose in popularity during the 1990s and 2000s. Even this term, though, has drawn criticism for erasing indigenous histories and identities prior to European colonisation of the Americas.
Transcending racial categorization
“In [Latin America], you can identify as Colombian, Brazilian, or anything else. Gil’Ad said, “Once you come here, you become this other thing that then gets racialized. As a result, there is also a trend towards using terms like Mexican, Puerto Rican, Columbian, etc. that are more precise.
Latinx is a classification that some people frequently prefer because it is one that is frequently used in their communities. According to The New York Times, “No soy Hispano, soy Cubano” (I am not Hispanic, I am Cuban) car stickers were common even in the 1990s.
But for many, this argument divides a populace that, in an era of racial polarisation, needs to be united. Jorge Duany, a Cuban-American anthropologist, claims that Latin American immigrants are increasingly uniting and using their shared Hispanic cultural heritage, including the Spanish language, the Catholic religion, and other aspects, to mobilise their communities.
As a result, the purpose of movements is also influenced by how they describe themselves. The x at the end of the main term, according to Joseph M. Pierce, assistant professor in the department of mainly Hispanic languages and also literature at Stony Brook University, does not denote a gender but is instead intended to “disrupt the romance language’s grammatical binary.”
As a development of earlier gender-inclusive variations like Latino/a (with the slash) and also Latin@ (with the “at” sign), Pierce dates the origins of the terms to the middle of the 2000s, primarily in activist circles in the US.
But David Bowles, a professor at the University of main Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas, who is also a writer, translator, and historian, dates the origin of the phrase even further back.
Radical feminists would literally “x” out the “o” at the main end of words that were meant to completely exclude women and non-binary people in the 1990s—and possibly as early as the 1970s, according to Bowles.
In the end, says Bowles, the term “Latinx” is a “non-gendered, non-binary, inclusive way of pushing back against the default masculine in Spanish.”
For starters, the group it’s supposed to represent doesn’t seem particularly eager to adopt it.
According to a 2020 Pew Research survey, only 3% of Latinos actually use the term, despite the fact that nearly 25% of them have heard of it.
Among those who use the phrase the most? According to a poll, 14% of young Hispanic women use it. Who is least likely to use the phrase? Only 1% of Hispanic men between the ages of 18 and 24 use the term.
A Gallup poll conducted in 2021 found that only 4% of Americans favoured Latinx people. English assistant professor Maia Gil’Ad from the College of Arts & Sciences told BU that this isn’t always the case. “I would think that they are much more comfortable using the term Latinx with the younger generations—with the kids that I teach,” Gil’Ad said.
The phrase is now used to spark a culture war.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the California Latino Caucus has not yet approved the use of the term, despite progressive Democratic politicians and LGBTQ politicians being happy to use it.
Sanders’ attempt to have the term removed from official documents is a classic example of a culture war tactic designed to cost the Democrats minority votes.
According to Sonja Diaz, director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, “she’s calling out a culture war with currently those very residents of her state that are more central to its economic future.” Latinx: The New Force in main American Politics and Culture author Ed Morales concurred.
As for what they object to, which is essentially anything that gives marginalised people and marginalised points of view precedence, Morales told NBC, “it is something that also seems to be tied to things that they object to.”
In addition, “that sets the tone for the type of main governance that you want to enact, of what you think is the priority, and also the types of decision-making you’ll do at an office,” said Tabitha Bonilla, an associate professor of current human development and social policy at Northwestern University.
It’s interesting to note that Richard Nixon was the politician who first sought the “Hispanic vote” and whose administration made the term “Hispanic” popular.
According to Cristina Mora, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, Nixon used “amigo buses” to canvass for votes in the Southwest, Northeast, and Florida in 1972.
According to BU Today, the term was created when a Nixon-appointed Census Bureau committee decided to group together various populations from Latin America.
According to Mora, the Census director called Latino advocacy organisations in Washington and Spanish-language media to make the push. Latin American performers were hired by a company that would later become known as Univision in order to promote the term on the Census form. The rest is cultural history, as they say.
edited and proofread by nikita sharma