Other criticisms of “Latinx” have appeared alongside the growing use of the word. In 2015, two students at Swarthmore College wrote an article for their campus newspaper arguing against the term, describing it as a form of “reverse appropriation.”
According to Gilbert Orbea, a Cuban American who co-wrote the op-ed with his roommate and fellow political science student Gilbert Guerra, “the basic idea is that there is something called cultural appropriation, where one person or group appropriates some aspect or tradition from another culture. A lot of people will, rightfully, call out a white person wearing a sombrero or dressing in Native American garments as insensitive and careless because they’re defacing that culture’s practices and beliefs. In regards to Spanish, however, these same people then take aspects of one culture and inject it into Spanish.”
“So instead of taking something from Spanish,” Orbea continued, “they are putting a distinctively American—and really, it’s mostly found at elite college institutions—viewpoint into a language without appreciation or reverence for it. That’s reverse appropriation, where we blatantly force our worldview into another culture.”
For the student authors, the issue is solely one of language. They say they’re committed to the fight for equality and encourage gender-inclusive identifiers, but they believe “Latinx” is a flawed solution.
“My prediction is that we will soon have ‘Latino’ for males, ‘Latina’ for females, ‘Latinx’ for nonbinary people, and ‘Latine’ as the gender-inclusive umbrella term,” says Guerra, who is mexicano. “The ‘e’ is a vowel that is already used in genderless words, such as ‘estudiante,’ and brings much fewer problems than the ‘x’ does.”
Clearly, new identifiers will arise. “Labels to refer to people of Latin American descent shift throughout history,” says Jillian Báez, assistant professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island-CUNY.
In the early 20th century, “Mexican” was used as a catchall descriptor for Latinos in the Southwest. During the same time in New York, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Salvadoran migrants used the term “Hispanos” to identify themselves, linking their cultural identity to their language. By 1970, the U.S. Census Bureau introduced “Hispanic.” These days, Báez, who is Puerto Rican, says U.S.-based people of Latin American descent prefer “Latino” over “Hispanic,” as the latter ties to Spain and disregards linkages to indigenous and African histories.
As for “Latinx,” Arlene Dávila, an anthropology professor at New York University, doesn’t believe the term will completely replace the common “Latino/a,” though she does think it will grow in use. “My hunch is that ‘Latinx’ will become a popular option, especially among the youth,” she says, “but I see it becoming another term, not necessarily replacing ‘Latino/a.’ ”
More of Dávila’s students are swapping “Latino/a” for “Latinx” and other gender-inclusive language, and the shift isn’t exclusive to her classes.
In 2016, New York University held a “Latinx Graduation,” Central Washington University had a “Latinx Alumni Association Reception,” and Oberlin College celebrated “Latinx Heritage Month.” Even Swarthmore’s campus paper, where Guerra and Orbea published their op-ed against “Latinx,” has started to use the term.
“Latinx” is also becoming more common in journalism, with usage spotted in The New York Times, NBC News, Elle, and NPR, among other outlets. While the Associated Press has not recognized “Latinx,” both the Oxford University Press and Merriam-Webster, Inc. have noticed the increasing use of the word and have added it to their “watch lists.”
Whether “Latinx” sticks or “Latine” arises, “the evolution of these labels,” Báez says, “suggests we are trying to become more inclusive of everyone in the community”—and that’s worth applauding regardless of our word preference.