Jan 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Latino groups want to do away with “Latinx”

Illustration of two mouths surrounded by 90s style pattern

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Elected officials, a major newspaper and the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the U.S. have all spoken out strongly in recent weeks against the continued use of "Latinx," the gender-neutral term promoted by progressives to describe people of Spanish-speaking origin.

Why it matters: The pushback highlights some generational, class and regional divisions among Latinos as their numbers and influence grow in the U.S. It also reflects a movement by some Latinos to define themselves rather than be labeled by predominantly white progressives and Latino academics who advocate for using the term.

  • Academic and social media circles began using Latinx over the last decade, saying it was more gender-neutral and inclusive for Hispanic LGBTQ members.
  • But Nevada political consultant Alex O. Diaz told Axios the term hasn't caught on in working-class Mexican American communities where people are more concerned about jobs and schools than they are about identity.
  • "Some people also feel this is a term that is being imposed on them and it's not organic."

Details: Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' campaign arm, announced last month his congressional staff is not allowed to use "Latinx" in official communications.

  • "When Latino politicos use the term it is largely to appease white rich progressives who think that is the term we use. It is a vicious circle of confirmation bias," he tweeted.
  • Days after Gallego's tweet, Domingo García, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, instructed staff and board members to drop the word "Latinx" from the group's official communications, NBC Latino's Suzanne Gamboa reported.
  • "The reality is, there is very little to no support for its use, and it's sort of seen as something used inside the Beltway or in Ivy League tower settings," García told NBC News.

The Miami Herald, in an editorial, also denounced the term and urged left-leaning activists to "just drop it" while pointing to polls that the word wasn't even popular among Latinos.

  • “'Latinx' has failed to gain buy-in from the people it’s supposed to empower. It’s time to retire it from official use," the editorial board wrote.

How we got here: Critics stressed that using "Latino" privileges the masculine over the feminine. Latinx came after other attempts like Latina/o or Latin@ failed to catch on.

The other side: Some Spanish-speaking people who are nonbinary or transgender say the use of Latinx is forcing families to rethink gender and confront transphobia.

Yes, but: Polls suggest only a tiny portion of Latinos surveyed actually use the new term.

  • 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves, Pew Research Center found in 2020.

The intrigue: After former President Trump did better than expected among Latinos in the 2020 election, some Latino consultants blamed the Democrats' lack of engagement with Latino voters and the use of "Latinx" by white liberals as reasons, New Mexico political consultant Sisto Abeyta told Axios.

  • The term Latinx may be popular among highly educated Latinos in urban areas, but Hispanics in rural areas don't understand its purpose and are puzzled by it, he says.
  • "If you want to deliver an important message and you throw out Latinx ... there's a disconnect, and you haven't done your homework," Diaz told Axios.

Flashback: Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans in the late 1960s and early 1970s embraced non-English terms like Chicano or Boricua to describe themselves and to resist English-only instruction in U.S. schools.

  • The Johnson and Nixon administrations imposed the term "Hispanic" to create one group for the growing number of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cuban Americans, though they had little in common with each other.
  • Hispanic became the popular term during the me-first, business-focused 1980s.
  • Bill Clinton used "Latino" during his 1992 presidential campaign since it was used by left-leaning Latino Gen Xers in California.

The big question: Will younger Hispanic activists and Latino academics keep putting pressure on Democrats to use Latinx at the expense of alienating Mexican Americans in rural and suburban areas who are leaning more independent?

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