Latino vs. Latinx: Ungendering the Spanish Language

By Suzannah Young

College is undoubtedly one of the most turbulent times in a person’s life. As students struggle to find their sense of self and purpose whilst transitioning into adulthood, many must also grapple with labeling their identity.

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For Hispanic and Latin students right now, this issue is especially prominent as a new term, LatinX, has recently gained attention, raising the question – should LatinX be used in replacement of Latino?

Dr. Laura Alonso-Gallo, chair of Barry’s department of English and Foreign Languages, explains that “we're trying to find a new word that is inclusive of exceptions, or what is not mainstream.”

“In the academic world of philosophy, in literature and humanities we look for new ways to name things… we try to be more inclusive,” said Alonso-Gallo.

Alonso-Gallo says that although she does not know the exact origin of the term Latinx, she also believes that popular culture played a large part in its formulation. 

The term Latinx came about sometime in the late 1990s when academic institutions began using it to be more gender sensitive, according to Mark Hugo Lopez, the director of global migration and demography research at the Pew Research Center.

“Sometimes, in popular culture, ‘X’ signifies a mark of an individual who does not want to reveal, or does not want to be identified with certain gender categories” Alonso-Gallo said.

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“For example, there was a time when illiterate people would sign with an ‘X.’ It was a way for them to say ‘I am a person, I exist, and I have a voice.’”

In history, individuals using the letter X to disassociate themselves from a particular group is not an uncommon phenomenon.

Most famously, Malcolm X changed his name after joining a black nationalist and Islamic group called the Nation of Islam. Members of this group used the X to replace last names that they believed had originated from white slaveholders. 

“As a scholar, I tend to look at the world from a different lens, but we must remember, only a small portion of the population are academics,” Alonso-Gallo said. “People have to use a term that they feel comfortable with, not necessarily the term that sounds cooler. They may not have a connection with a term like ‘Latinx’ which may sound a little bit too foreign or artificial for their use.”

Alonso-Gallo is right because in a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center it was observed that while 20 percent of the population is familiar with the term Latinx, less than five percent of people actually identify under the name.

This makes sense, especially considering the study also shows that while college-educated people are more likely to use the term, most of those familiar with it are between the ages of 18-29. 

“I think young people are more sensitive to the realities of gender identity issues at this time. They seem to better understand the predicament of marginalized people,” Alonso-Gallo said.