OPINION | Latinx vs Latine

Doxey Kamara, Intersections Editor

Gender inclusive language poses a potential conflict within gendered languages. (Cecilia Hammond)

Language never stops evolving. Dictionaries like Merriam-Webster’s are constantly adding new words to their volumes and updating the meanings of existing ones. In 2018, one such word was “Latinx” — a more modern alternative to the traditional “Latino” or “Latina,” meant to include gender noncomforming people of Latin American descent. However, as “Latinx” becomes more widely used, it faces growing criticism.

Despite its increasingly frequent use, a Gallup poll claims only 5% of Hispanic Americans prefer the term “Latinx.” In contrast, 37% preferred the usage of “Latino,” and 57% preferred “Hispanic.” These numbers beg the question, why can Hispanic not be used when referring to this specific ethnic subgroup?

Essentially, the two terms are not exactly synonyms. “Hispanic” typically refers to someone from a Spanish-speaking region, while “Latino” typically refers to people of Latin American descent. A Portuguese-speaking Brazilian man would not be Hispanic, but he would be Latino. A woman from Spain would be Hispanic, but not Latina. Despite the two terms describing large and often overlapping groups, the term “Latino” includes people that “Hispanic” does not — similar to how “African American” refers to fewer people than “Black person” does. 

While “Black” is not a gendered word, “Latino” and “Latina” are. Given the words’ Spanish origins, they are subjected to the rules of Spanish as a gendered language. There is no neutral option, and any group of objects or people is commonly referred to as masculine. As nonbinary, queer and transgender people become more accepted in today’s world, some have tried modifying the Spanish language to accommodate them.

The criticism “Latinx” faces is not for it being more inclusive, even harsh critics of the term acknowledge that it stems from good intent. Instead, some believe it is the anglicisation of a term that does not belong to English speakers — an effort to impose their ideals onto a language with entirely different rules. 

While it was created with good intentions, “Latinx” is not made for Spanish speakers. Some people just see “Latinx” as a “White thing.” The kind of term that gets used in academics, but not at taquerias. If that is the chief issue, then input from Spanish speakers, particularly under the Latino umbrella, would be the key to making a term that both satisfies Spanish speakers and includes marginalized groups. Fortunately, such a term exists: “Latine.”

“Latine” offers a more organic alternative to “Latinx.” On the surface, Latine and Latinx may strike readers as synonyms. Both terms are designed to be more inclusive than their gendered parents, specifically in reference to nonbinary people, and both terms are relatively new. So what justifies the use of the younger, less popular “Latine?” 

Latine fills the void in a way Latinx never could, mostly because it was designed to work with the Spanish language. It is not an insertion; it is an evolution. A natural progression from gendered terms to neutral ones. As such, Latine can be pronounced and conjugated in Spanish, while “Latinx” cannot. 

While saying “Soy de Mexico” or “I’m from Mexico” may work when introducing oneself, “Latino” is a term designed to address a large and diverse group of people. Any term seeking to replace it must do the same. Consequently, one cannot rely on national origin as a gender-neutral identifier any more than one could use “Iowan” to refer to a group of Americans.

While some ultimately find “Latine” a more respectful alternative to “Latinx,” it would be remiss to say that everyone must feel the same. The term is best used when speaking to groups or nonbinary individuals. Even in the case of nonbinary persons, the term that one chooses to adopt is ultimately an individual choice. While some identify as Latino, that does not mean every other person of Latin American must do so too.