I’ve been involved in the Chicano movement now for more than two decades. I’ve authored articles, taught workshops and Chicano Studies, and led Chicano organizations. I’ve seen a lot of changes. Some of them have moved the cause forward, and some of them have not. One of the changes I believe works against us is the growing prevalence and use of terms like “Latinx.” Proponents say these invented words are more inclusive. While I completely agree with the spirit and purpose of inclusivity, I believe terms like “Latinx” actually have the opposite effect for a host of reasons.
For starters they’re not real words. It makes us look ridiculous trying to pass them off as such.
No matter how hard the terms are pushed as substitutes, they have no organic connection to the community they purport to represent. Literally no Chicanos/Mexicans outside of academic/activist circles, where the term originated, are calling themselves or others “Latinx”.
Whether it’s Latino, Latina, Latinx, or Latin@ the root of the term is the word “Latin.” Guess what? Latin was the language spoken by the Romans who invaded Spain. This led to the Spanish language developing as a bastardized version of it when Hispania was isolated from Rome after its fall in the 5th century CE. Latinos, the real Latinos, are literally the ones who built Rome and spoke Latin. Chicanos aka Mexican Americans—who do have European blood—are primarily indigenous. So how does a European identity take front and center? Use of terms like “Latino” attempts to neutralize that making Mexicans immigrants on land they have lived on 20,000 years. “Latinx” follows in same vein no matter how enlightened its proponents pretend to be.
The Internal Colonialism
Latin, historically, has been a term used by the Mexican-Americans community, and others ashamed of their “Indian” roots, as an attempt to assimilate and be accepted by Anglo dominated society after the US invaded Mexico. Saying you were “Latin” was, and still is, a way of saying “I’m European also, so don’t hold my Native blood against me”. Putting an O, A, or X at the end of the word does nothing to change its purpose.
Similarly the term Hispanic was seen as a path to cultural assimilation and therefore participation in American society. The problem with leaning towards European roots is that the vast majority of Mexicans and Central/South Americans are still indigenous both culturally (i.e. diet, language, ritual, etc) as well as genetically.
We would be lying to ourselves if we did not acknowledge the strong Spanish influence on our collective language, heritage, culture, and identity. Spanish is a language that is 1,500 years old, spoken by over 570 million people (the second most in the world, the majority of whom are women), and the official language of 21 countries. To imply the rules of the language, which uses masculine and feminine pronouns, is about maintaining a grand conspiracy to oppress women is ridiculous. And if that’s true why isn’t there a mass movement advocating for the end of paternal last names? Why invent fake words to combat “the patriarchy” while literally carrying on names inherited via patriarchy? The irony is that we only speak Spanish because our colonization was sanctioned by the Queen of Spain, a woman, who financed Colon and his new world expedition.
Since those who fancy themselves “woke” are forcing the term of Latinx in the media (beginning with academic circles) why not go back to the true roots? Latin and Hispanic are both Eurocentric. If people really want true change, then adopt an indigenous name that is Nahuatl, Purepecha, Quichol, etc. I did. I’ve also given my four children Nahuatl first names. Walk the talk. Proponents of “Latinx” are making no such attempt. Instead they further Eurocentrism under the guise of “respect for gender inclusion” while making no attempt to address race and colorism.
At the end of the day gender issues, while extremely relevant, do not trump the tangible problems plaguing our people. Our communities are still dealing with internal and external violence and a broken immigration system; economic challenges and exploitation; environmental racism; high rates of incarceration and poverty and the lowest educational attainment rates of any ethnic group in the nation. Regardless of what you call yourself, these issues are what the movement must remain focused on, not en vogue labels that will change again in another decade.