This article appears in our October print issue. You can pick up a copy on newsstands around campus, or at our newsroom in room 520 in the University Center.
Spanish is a gendered language. “The” is either masculine as “el,” or feminine as “la,” depending on the gender of the subject it precedes. When referring to a group of men and women, they are referred to as “ellos,” a masculine pronoun. The feminine pronoun “ellas” is used when referring to groups consisting only of women.
There isn’t a gender neutral way to refer to food at the market or furniture at home, but the conversation surrounding people has started to open up.
Used as a gender neutral way to describe non-binary people who are of Latin American descent, Latinx has grown popular in the Latin American LGBTQ+ community, amongst liberal youth and has even been used by advertisers. Despite growing support, debates linger as to whether or not the term can even function within traditionally gendered Spanish.
Yara Simon, the managing editor at Remezcla, reported in 2018 that Latinx appeared on the internet in 2004. Since its debut, Latinx has been labeled as controversial for its lack of functionality. Pronounced as “la-teen-ex,” the word is an English invention with no translation for it in Spanish– the language of the people it’s meant to identify. Simon reported that the need for a gender-neutral term has been disputed, “Some believe that Latino already effectively groups a large number of men and women with Latin American origins and that substituting the ‘o’ for the ‘x’ unnecessarily complicates the language.”
Gender-neutral Spanish is a frequent topic of discussion amongst Latin American students within the New School community. This in part to the large population of Latin American students, and the fact that the New School and its students advocate for a gender inclusive space.
Genesis Escoto, a third-year psychology major at Eugene Lang and first generation Salvadoran-American said, “I definitely think that the term Latinx is mainly used by younger generations and I think that when people of older generations say ‘Latino’ or ‘Latina’ they don’t mean to be exclusive or hurtful, that’s just the way they speak.” The flow of the word as part of the language is important to words being accepted and used, if not, the language alienates the people who are supposed to be represented.
“In Spanish if you say ‘Latinx,’ it’s not going to stick. People will ask what you mean, especially older people,” said Nicole Collazo, a third-year Journalism + Design student at Lang. Collazo is also a member of La Xente, the Latinx club at The New School.
Being from Puerto Rico, Collazo defines Latinx as “a term of the diaspora.” Collazo said that back home people don’t use gender neutral terms, but in her circle of friends in New York, they use the term Latine to signify gender neutrality. Collazo said that five years ago, people would write Latin@ as an alternative.
Rather than x or @, the change of the ending to an e has grown in popularity. Escoto described a friend of hers whose preference changed from Latinx to Latine. “He feels like the x is very negative,” said Escoto. This was done not only to make it easier for his Spanish-speaking family, but also because Escoto’s friend feels that an x is “inclusive but exclusive.”
Collazo said that this is commonly thought of as a first or second generation Latino American way of speaking. “Older people say that it hasn’t been accepted by RAE, the Spanish dictionary, so we can’t use it.” Royal Spanish Academy, or RAE, is Spain’s official royal institution whose main mission is to “ensure that the changes experienced by the Spanish language in its constant adaptation to the needs of its speakers do not break the essential unity that it maintains throughout the Hispanic sphere,” according to the RAE website.
Tatiana Llaguno Nieves, a PhD student at the New School for Social Research, teaches the impact of Western culture on gender issues around the world. She is a professor of “Gender Beyond the West,” in the Global Studies program at Eugene Lang.
“Social change is not something that can be imposed,” said Llaguno Nieves via email, “If ‘Latinx’ is a word that doesn’t resonate in all contexts, then some attention must be paid to why not.”
With awareness of the controversy surrounding gender neutral terms, Llaguno Nieves said, “There are many examples around the world of how bringing certain (for us progressive) conceptual frameworks to contexts that do not share them is ultimately counterproductive.”
Despite its aim of creating a more inclusive Spanish language, the use of x has been considered as exclusive by some speakers. “Recently, there has been a lot of talk about it being non-inclusive right now because the x ending is not inclusive to Indigenous Latine languages.” said Frank Martinez, a fourth-year dance major and first generation Mexican-American. In creating a word that claims to be innovative and new, it also disregards a form of language that exists in Indigenous communities and contributes to the exclusivity. “I know that in some parts of Peru, their Spanish includes x at the end for some words, so Latinx is not including and representative as a form of identity to these people and regions,” said Martinez.
“Social change, if it wants to be successful, must be always envisioned from within the practices of a specific context,” said Llaguno Nieves.
Llaguno Nieves cited Joseph Massad’s book “Desiring Arabs.” Massad, an academic focused on modern Arab politics, published the book in 2007. “Desiring Arabs” covers in part how campaigns for LGBTQ rights in Egypt were received negatively by Egyptians. According to Llaguno Nieves, the campaigns were received negatively because they “presented sexuality in terms of identity and not in terms of practices.”
“One has to be careful at those moments, understand the complexities of each context, and avoid a mere transference from the West to the rest.” said Llaguno Nieves
Whether the Latin American community agrees on “Latinx” or not, the discussion it raises leads those with cisgender privilege to question their understanding of gender and language. Regarding the changing of language to fit society’s needs, Llaguno Nieves cited Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher, who said that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world.”