Is Latinx the new norm?

Navigating the landscape of inclusive speech in 2019

Story and images by JUSTIN TROMBETTI

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Culture is in a constant state of evolution, ebbing and flowing between ideas and advancements that slowly ingrain themselves into what we call the status quo. Language is very much a part of this reality.

Language develops naturally for functional purposes, but perhaps more importantly is how and why it bends to the emotional side of humanity. The term Latinx, first searched on Google in 2004 and seeing a huge trend spike in 2015, is one of the latest examples of this.

Its percolation to the surface of our cultural dialogue has been driven by the ever-loudening voices of ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+ individuals, allies, and their opposition alike. If every generation sees its own push for civil rights and inclusivity, this development could well be a leading indicator of the next one, if not a lagging indicator of the last.

A recent poll revealed that over 20 percent of Latinx millennials identify as LGBTQIA+, and as the Latinx population as a whole continues to grow, the relevance of the conversation would seem to be self-evident.

But what do the most direct stakeholders think of the term, or how to approach inclusivity as a whole? How do allies approach the debate delicately, and how does the advent of broader opinions on political correctness influence it all?

Unpacking these paradigm shifts is a challenging undertaking in its own right, but it becomes especially difficult when there is overwhelming consistency in the discomfort of sharing these types of opinions on record.

Some sources interviewed for this story cited our fragile socio-political climate, public opinion of the media, and a rise in intolerance and hate crimes as sources for this discomfort.

A gender-fluid individual who uses the pronoun they and asked not to be identified on record for many of the reasons noted above, said about inclusivity, “Latin is just a generally more appropriate term.

“It’s a completely a gender [sic] term that does not create a notable difference when used in conjunction with words like Latina and Latino.”

They shared a strong sentiment against the use of the term Latinx, however. While many believe its adoption is a step toward more inclusive language, the source describes it as isolating.

“[It’s] as though the x itself identifies you as other,” they said.

Their dissension with other popular opinions of the term elucidates an important reality of these types of discussions. While part of a cohort of non gender-conforming Latinx individuals, that doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same about certain language.

Others see Latinx as the next step in reaching real, palpable inclusivity. Some went as far as to say they found the development to be unnecessary, or even an outright bastardization of their native tongue.

In trying to make sense of sensitive and complex issues, it’s often best to understand the history behind them. Ed Muñoz, an associate professor of ethnic studies and sociology at the University of Utah, helped to do just that.

To Muñoz, this is the latest iteration of a cyclical occurrence. He’s paid close attention over many decades to the dissection and emergence of terms like Chicano, Latin (and the o/a appendage that was eventually added), Hispanic, and the use of nationality-based language.

The ultimate goal of finding a “pan-ethnic term” for a group sharing a variety of underlying struggles may seem a straightforward idea, but it is often anything but in reality. Muñoz explained that within the Latinx community, issues of class, skin color, gender struggle, and more have fueled these debates.

He recalled that many Latinx feminists who were instrumental in the struggle for gender equality found the degendering of the language exclusive, the development of slang like “Highspanic,” and time periods where certain phrases implied privilege.

The adoption of anti-PC beliefs, though, still have yet to be unpacked. The perceived over-sensitivity of the modern generations, which has grown more and more prevalent in American culture especially, exists within the conversation still. Muñoz believes this to be a systemic issue, a combination of “the internalization of racism and ethnic self-hatred” that has been perpetuated for decades, even centuries.

As he was not unironically sitting in a coffee shop called Mestizo (a term which refers to a man of mixed race), he pondered a question posed to him that the other sources for this story had earlier tried working through: How does a non-ethnic person with no practical horse in this race go about being a decent ally?

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Mestizo Coffeehouse, where Ed Muñoz spoke to Voices of Utah, is nestled within a small apartment complex in a diversity-rich area of downtown Salt Lake City.

“I’m still learning to be a good ally,” he responded with a subtle hint of calm acceptance. He explained that while some may lack ethnic context, he lacks some context too as a cisgendered male. At face value, it seems more convoluting than it does helpful, but as the conversation continued, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there’s no right answer here.

Rebecca Chavez-Houck made a statement during a Voices of Utah press pool that seemed to further cement this idea. The former journalist and Utah state representative stated that she thought one of the biggest issues facing the Latinx community was the monolithic narrative so many hold about them.

That is, there’s no such thing as a blanket belief, opinion, or characteristic that applies to Hispanics. Further, Chavez-Houck said she believes that all too often the Latinx community is perceived to be defined by deficits and struggle, rather than the many strengths and positive qualities unique to them.

She asserts, “We’re a much more complex community than that.”

So what does it all mean for the future of Latinx and inclusive language? It’s often easy to assume that some kind of objectively correct answer exists out there, whatever it might be. With that mentality, though, we might be asking the wrong question entirely.

No single approach or word choice would have been “most right” to a majority of the individuals who were interviewed. The common denominator among them was not a preference or philosophy, but rather an investment in the dialogue and the impact that it has on them.

Latinx could be here to stay, or it could be in today and out tomorrow, but the conversation will persist regardless. The best thing any of us can do may well be to just listen to it.