Latinx and right-wing critiques
Updated: May 26, 2020
In a recent round of tweet media, conservative Latino writer Giancarlo Sopo cites a new poll that found that only 2% of those surveyed preferred Latinx as a marker of ethnicity, countering that “it is unclear what led progressive activists to believe “Latinx” is necessary”.
Here are a few problems with that argument and the poll.
First of all, Latinx is not simply an ethnic marker. Asking people to use Latinx as one obscures the inextricable connection between ethnicity and gender and privileges the former over the latter. If the question were: what term best applies to your gender, my bet is that the results would have been different.
The argument that Latinx is elitist is tired and rote. It is certainly more prominent among people with an eye for intersectional activism. Does that make it elitist, though? I’d counter that no, it does not, but rather calls on Latino activism to take seriously the heterosexism that has characterized it throughout history.
The poll used a 508-person sample “demographically representative of Census figures,” and yet, the census has never been able to accurately quantify the diverse, heterogeneous population of Latin American descent in the US. This is because it is using US racial and ethnic terms to describe a population that does not easily map onto those terms because of the unique history of colonization, racial mixing, and racial politics in Latin America.
The fact that the most commonly used umbrella term for this population has shifted from “of Spanish surname” to “Hispanic” to “Latino” is not only indicative of the inadequacy of such an umbrella term, but also the mutability of people’s understanding of themselves based on available language.
Now, why then, does the argument that Latinx is an imposition not fall under the same scrutiny as Hispanic or Latino, both of which are English terms used in the US? Why does this variation of ethno-gendered identification cause so much (homosexual) panic? Precisely because it foregrounds gender as mutable.
Latinx is not a substitute for Latino/a but instead an addition to the terminology we have to include a group that was not before included (such as queer and non-binary people). The uproar among conservatives did not come when the term was used almost exclusively by queer and non-binary people, but when it started to be applied to “all” people of Latin American descent. These people do not want to be called a term, “Latinx” that does not apply to them. The irony is that that is exactly why Latinx people want to use the term that they feel most represents them, rather than one that doesn’t.
A side note regarding the argument that Latinx is foreign to Spanish and was concocted by Anglos. This is specious and not born out by numerous testimonies. What is more, people in Latin America also use the x in Latinx or, more commonly, an “e” as in Latines, elles, les amigues, to neutralize gender. What does the author have to say about that?
Now to the more insidious argument that because some trans people prefer Latino or Latina, Latinx is inappropriate. It is absolutely true that some (even many) trans people choose to identify according to a gender binary. This does not, however, mean that the x in Latinx should be applied to them, without their consent, as the author implies is happening. Nor does it mean that conservative politics are somehow now aligned with trans people. Quite the contrary, as the skittishness around gender transition, change, and nonconformity attests.
At the end of the day, the argument against Latinx is an argument in favor of the retrenchment of gendered, sexual, and racial norms that are based on exploiting women in the domestic economy, limiting the ability of queer and non-binary people to express themselves as themselves.