Exploring the term “Latinx”

Group photo of the Latinx student group UNIDOS Rhode Island College

LatinX is a gender-neutral neologism, sometimes used to refer to people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity in the United States.

This term is also an alternative for the use of “@” as a suffix in Spanish (Latin@) to unify the words Latino and Latina, which are assigned to male and female genders respectively.

Professor of communications Valerie Endress teaches the use of LatinX in a course on gender. “Latino stands for everyone, and it happens to be male gender. It’s what we call in the English language the ‘generic he,’” she explains. “Studies suggest that when you use the term generically, people almost always picture a male, not a female, and that reinforces male dominance in society.” 

With the word LatinX, she believes people have a better chance of thinking about any gender. “In male dominated cultures, using non-sexist language or gender neutral pronouns helps women,” she adds. 

Daniel Clarkin, co-president of UNIDOS (picture above, front row, right), a Hispanic group at Rhode Island College, notes that there is some pushback over the word LatinX, particularly among native Spanish speakers. “Some people don’t like the term just because they feel that it’s coming more from an American perspective into the Latin American world and it’s more an Americanization of the Spanish language,” he says. “In Spanish, the pronunciation of ‘X’ does not include the combination of the /k/ and /s/ sound.”

Lilly Ngolvorarath (pictured above, front row, left), a student of world language education with a concentration in Spanish and minor in Latin American studies at RIC, notes that LatinX is more of an academic term and that “maybe Americans are more pioneers of being gender inclusive” because the term is used more widely in the United States. 

As someone who is still learning Spanish and approaches it from a linguistic perspective, she finds herself gravitating towards a different gender-neutral alternative. “LatinE is a new term that replaces LatinX, because LatinX in Spanish pronunciation is different; it’s not fluid,” she says. “Linguistically, people understand that change is happening (away from gendered pronouns), but ‘X’ just doesn’t fit into the Spanish language, so there’s a push for that ‘E’ at the end instead.”

Endress sees the generic key of the word Latino as erasing women; that’s why when the generic neutral came into vogue, she told her classes to use the term LatinX. “Because it doesn’t erase women and then we can consider the fact that women are part of body-politic of that particular group,” she explains.

Clarkin explains that the term LatinX is increasingly used in a world where people are more aware of and sensitive to gender identity, but he also recognizes the fear of changing an established part of a language in which gendered nouns of all kinds are the norm. 

“I like the term Latinx because it’s all about inclusion and bringing more people to the table who feel that they haven’t had something to say or felt marginalized in the past,” he says. “It’s just one term and we’re not holding everyone accountable to say LatinX; it should be everybody’s choice.” 

Despite differences over the nuance of the language, Spanish speakers increasingly recognize that education, inclusion and acceptance of others can start by embracing gender-neutral words like LatinX or LatinE.

“The world is changing at its own pace and what’s more important is that we are inclusive, the term exists and there is part of the language that accepts everyone,” concludes Ngolvorarath.