What It Means to Be ‘Latinx,’ and What That Means for America

Julian Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and Obama cabinet member, reviews Ed Morales’s new book on the diversity and hybridity of Latino identity.

Comments: 56

  1. The problem with the x thing is not the inclusive intent; it is a linguistic problem. "Latinx" does not sound like a Spanish word AT ALL. I can't help but feel as a Hispanic person myself (who is also agender and therefore all about destroying the myth of the gender binary) that this is a manifestation of colonization: White people telling people of color that they not only have to change their language (which I agree they do, but it is not an outsider's place to demand such) but also that they must change it in this specific way, with the x, rather than coming up with a way that actually sounds Spanish-- like e, for example. Consider "niñe," for instance, as a substitute for "niño" or "niña." Or for that matter, "Latine" to replace "Latino" or "Latina." Surely there is a way to modernize languages without completely destroying the way they flow from the mouth.

  2. What about just being a member of the human race? One tires so of the endless homages that must be paid to all these diverse groups when even a cursory exam of one's DNA indicates many sources...so tedious to be dragged into another cheerleader practice for how great one single group is when that, or any other group, cannot be so readily defined.

  3. @Tournachonadar It is interesting that elites for hundred of years have policed the exclusion of so many groups.That enabled them to pillage and plunder and to institutionalize their privileges. Having rigged the game they now are suddenly interested in embracing the 'human race'. Sounds like a plot to increase market size, while masking the continuation of their controlling tendencies.

  4. Meaningful change in both America's political class and general perceptions of minorities will come much faster from getting Latinos (Latinx's?) to vote, and leaving rueful intersectional missives to the academic realm. Also to focus on: the epidemic in diabetes in the Hispanic community; increased reading and writing proficiency in two languages; and leaving behind notions that Trump somehow singles out Hispanics for opprobrium. He hates us all, minorities and liberal whites. As for the evangelicals who support him, he's probably mystified as to how his reversal on abortion won them over, and how it's the only thing he has to throw their way to get their silence on his odious talk and actions.

  5. It's mind-numbing that a professor at Columbia should not know there's already a gender-neutral alternative to latino or latina: hispanic. It's also more geographically inclusive; embracing both European and Caribbean hispanophones as well. To my ears, Latinx sounds forced, finding a problem where there isn't one. Are terms people already use and actually rooted in history and culture – like the term hispanic – simply too commonplace for professors to get on a tenure track position with?

  6. @Robert Hispanic would not apply, however, to Lusophone countries. Though Latin would.

  7. @Robert I have heard many ways of describing Columbus and his ilk but inclusive was not one of them. America at its best forces us to rethink the old, to wrap our minds around new ways of thinking and new ways of speaking. Embrace it.

  8. The problem with the x thing is not the inclusive intent; it is a linguistic problem. "Latinx" does not sound like a Spanish word AT ALL. I can't help but feel as a Hispanic person myself (who is also agender and therefore all about destroying the myth of the gender binary) that this is a manifestation of colonization: White people telling people of color that they not only have to change their language (which I agree they do, but it is not an outsider's place to demand such) but also that they must change it in this specific way, with the x, rather than coming up with a way that actually sounds Spanish-- like e, for example. Consider "niñe," for instance, as a substitute for "niño" or "niña." Or for that matter, "Latine" to replace "Latino" or "Latina." Surely there is a way to modernize languages without completely destroying the way they flow from the mouth.

  9. @Humanesque I am eager to know how you define the sound of a Spanish sounding word. Given the plurality of ways in which Spanish is spoken you are at risky for enforcing some old world rule on an insurgent and vibrant approach to language.

  10. The term "Latinx" strikes me as completely unnecessary. If you need a gender-neutral substitute for Latino/Latina, you'e in luck, because it already exists: Latin.

  11. @Jon Or Hispanic. Keeping in mind of course countries like Brazil are Latin but not Hispanic.

  12. @Jon And what about all the cultural baggage that comes with calling oneself Latin? It is so old world. I conjures up for me Julius Cesar and his legions looting and subduing indigenous peoples wherever he found them. Part of the American experiment is to re-signify the old so that it speaks to our experiences as new; not continuous with the oppression of the past.

  13. @Jon it’s as if I wrote this myself! And for a second I almost thought I did, considering we have the same name :)

  14. The problem with the x thing is not the inclusive intent; it is a linguistic problem. "Latinx" does not sound like a Spanish word AT ALL. I can't help but feel as a Hispanic person myself (who is also agender and therefore all about destroying the myth of the gender binary) that this is a manifestation of colonization: White people telling people of color that they not only have to change their language (which I agree they do, but it is not an outsider's place to demand such) but also that they must change it in this specific way, with the x, rather than coming up with a way that actually sounds Spanish-- like e, for example. Consider "niñe," for instance, as a substitute for "niño" or "niña." Or for that matter, "Latine" to replace "Latino" or "Latina." Surely there is a way to modernize languages without completely destroying the way they flow from the mouth. I’m not the only Hispanic who feels this way, either, and I wish this article had spared a paragraph for this controversy rather than talking about “Latinx” like it is a done deal and our entire community has adopted it.

  15. Thank you for this note. I will be looking for this book soon. I think you nailed it when you said what the current president has done for the Latinx community. He found his scapegoat on a community that continues to struggle with their place in this American experiment. I grew up in Central America and when I came here as a teen I found it odd that the citizens of this country thought they were the only Americans. I insisted that I was American too for I had been born in the continent. Yet, no one heard me. Americans had co-opted the whole continent to themselves. Gradually I acquiesced. It didn't mean that much back then. Now I'm a naturalized citizen--yet I remain only a Latino. A Latino that more and more feels alienated not just by one individual but a wide swath of the population. Recently my I checked my DNA and I am 40% Mayan and 30% Scottish. My complexion is fair and I speak English without an accent; yet as soon as an Anglo finds out I'm of Latino descent, I'm complimented on how well I speak English and their follow-up comment: "I would have never guessed." I just don't fit the "profile". I remain hopeful that someday, the color of our skin or the color of our eyes, will not matter. We are all human beings, period.

  16. I know the drill of which Morales writes. Seems most people--certainly North Americans--have a need to categorize and pigeonhole. My context: Mexican-American, learned Spanish late, raised in Anglo neighborhoods, Princeton Masters degree. In short, none of the stereotypical characteristics that would make the 'need' to categorize me as a "stereotypical Mexican American easy. One of my earliest memories--I must have been about seven years old--was of a new neighbor coming to me on our front porch in San Bernardino, CA and exclaiming "..gee, you speak English good!" I learned that "You don't LOOK [or sound, etc.] Mexican" was supposed to be a compliment. As Julian Castro reminds us, Latins can be blond and blue-eyed, or as dusky as you can imagine. My own mother would describe a blond newscaster on Univsion as "not looking Mexican"--evidence that many Latins by into their own stereotypes and that it can cut close to home. At 72 years of age, I've learned to not ask certain questions--frankly, because they are, at the end of the day, irrelevant. For me, the most invasive question is now "what nationality are you?"

  17. @LGato Yes, I also don't look/sound/speak the stereotype. I like to ask a two-part question when presented with the trope: 1. Which continent do "White" people come from? 2. Where's Spain? It's hard for US folks to face unconscious bias -- much of which is unintentional. But it's rotten. The racial hatred runs deep. And it's not going away any time soon. Historically the US has defined race as binary -- you're either "White" or not. It's too far a stretch for the vast majority of US folks to fathom that Latin American nationalities and cultures have two, three or more racial definitions. It's just a total blind spot.

  18. I will have to read the book, but from Castro's review all of this seems dated or even contradictory. For example, José Vasconcelos came up with the concept of the cosmic race in 1925, and the Mexican caste painting are from the eighteenth century, so the notion of hybridity is nothing new. The adoption of Latin/[email protected]/Latinx is also quite problematic. The former Spanish colonies in the Americas embraced a Latin identity at the end of the 19th century in order to distinguish themselves from los americanos by emphasizing their cultural ties to the Roman Empire. This meant that culture was specifically European, and so any native and African elements in these countries was by definition uncivilized. So much for hybridity. Moreover, if Cuba is the last chance to stave off worldwide economic disaster--and we're talking about a country where people rely on their relatives from Miami to get (I am not making this up) rice and beans, toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, clothes, shoes, car parts, etc.--then basically we're done for. Finally, Hispanics have spent centuries rather than generations dealing with their place in the U.S. St. Augustine was founded in 1565, while Bernardo de Gálvez conquered western Florida to support the independence of the thirteen colonies in 1781. He is one of only eight people who have received honorary American citizenship, although I imagine that Trump will take that away any day now. Perhaps we can bestow that honor on somebody from Norway instead.

  19. Great stuff to think about. When you are introducing a "new" word to readers, it would help us to know how to pronounce it. Is is Latin-x? Is it La-TEEN-x, to sound more Spanish? Or does it rhyme with "thinks". Help me out here.

  20. Mr. Castro, There is already a term that encompasses the notion that America is a continually changing country whose "identity will never be fixed and final" as historian Schlesinger noted, that term is 'American'. For generations the term was understood to imply that the nation was a melting pot of peoples who immigrated here from a myriad of different backgrounds. Creating new classes of peoples, whom as you point out are not monolithic, actually does them a disservice. It further fractures America into pools of people cynically played against each other by the promulgators of Identity Politics.

  21. @EE "American" is an encompassing term? American includes the whole continent- From Canada to Chile, and the Caribbean. By your logic peoples from all of those countries should be welcomed in the USA as "Americans"! So why have borders? Why pin immigrants against US born? I tell you why- because the term "American" implies nationalism. It is divisive and it reflects the imperialism of this country on Latinx peoples. So, as a Latinx immigrant, US- educated and a voter, I prefer the Latinx term.

  22. @EE It is an irrefutable, every day point of fact that Americans have always enjoyed the freedom of affiliation. We have St. Patty's Day parades with the fervent celebration of Irish-American pride. Polish-Americans enjoy a wonderful annual festival here in Chicago along with a parade and fantastic food. Italian-Americans have festivals and commemorative events around Columbus Day, as just another example. It doesn't divide America to recall our various origins as long as we respect the social contract -- We are all now Americans. It's not "creating new classes of peoples..." It's enjoying the quilt of cultures and nationalities of our myriad backgrounds.

  23. The so called melting pot approach has left us with a large amorphous white population, too many of whom implicitly define themselves by what they are not. Affirmations based on exclusions are not a healthy way to build identity. Ethnic validation at its best speaks to ethically informed differences embedded in shared commonalities. That approach makes for a stronger nation as we acknowledge the multiplicity of positive ways in which we embrace being American.

  24. Latin comes from Lazio the region in central Italy which surrounds Rome (yes, vocabulary matters). When Rome's wealth increased their population, these Italic people moved into Iberia and Southern France as farmers, because the civilized Eastern Mediterranean was already full. There they mixed with mostly Celts and a few Greeks and Basques. Much later they were conquered by Germans, then Berbers and Arabs. They transferred their war like culture to the Americas after 700 years of religious war against one another. In the new world they made empires fall and new ones rise mixing with an untold number of people of indigeonous and african origin as well as later european immigrants, Yet 1 in 3 Latinos voted for Republicans and 45% of Latinos in Florida voted for DeSantis for governor, because Gillum is black. Racism is very common among contemporary Latinos, as much as whites. And that will continue to be their political downfall in contemporary America.

  25. @Arthur RE: 45% of Latinos in Florida voted for DeSantis for governor, because Gillum is black. In reality Rick Scott (senate) and DeSantis (governor) received almost exactly the same support from Hispanics in Florida, so these voting patterns have nothing to do with race. Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Puerto Ricans in Florida simply support Republicans far more than Latins in the rest of the country. The most obvious example are Cubans, who apparently voted about 60% in favor of Republicans according to two FIU professors. Nevertheless, this number has been declining for years because while older Cubans are heavily Republican, the younger generations are not. As a point of reference, IIRC 95% of Cuban Americans supported Reagan in 1980, so things are changing slowly but surely.

  26. @Arthur:"Yet 1 in 3 Latinos voted for Republicans and 45% of Latinos in Florida voted for DeSantis for governor, because Gillum is black. Racism is very common among contemporary Latinos,..." Based on your historical description no surprises there.

  27. From the article: "'Latinx,' which it defines as 'of, relating to or marked by Latin American heritage — used as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina.'" You're kidding, right? If we need a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina, why on Earth wouldn't we just drop the final vowel and say "Latin," like we do for every other Romance language that uses vowels to distinguish gender? "Latinx" is the most artificial, ridiculous, unpronouncable thing to come out of the forced political correctness of American academia yet. And, that's saying something! And, it's just stupid. Can we please return to a place of sanity and just use Latin as an adjective, rather than trying to force some unnatural, linguistically unsupported noun formation onto the language?

  28. Ughhhh, more meaningless drivel........ The confusion about ones sex is one that I'll never spend much time considering. It's a simple as where the sine rises and sets. Waste of time.

  29. Sorry, but I will never utter the word "Latinx". It sounds awkward and odd and a Latino friend - he describes himself as Latino - laughed and said the same thing when I asked him his thoughts about this word. Same thing goes for the ridiculous word "cisgender" and other silly phrases cooked up by the so-called woke crowd. Enough is enough.

  30. You get to be white and oppressed when required. Pretty good, pretty pretty good.

  31. I would also add that Latinos can be Asian -- 10% of the populations of Peru and Panama have Asian descent!

  32. The US liberal elites often profess a more global worldview. Yet, when it comes to race, they immediately think in US-centric terms only. For instance, 'African-American' instead of 'Black' makes no sense anywhere else in the world. In fact, it's confusing here. What race should the Nigerian college student refer to his or herself? For 'Latinx', it would be much more powerful if it originated in Latin American countries, rather than the US. Inventing new words often just confuses, not improves things.

  33. @Jeff " For 'Latinx', it would be much more powerful if it originated in Latin American countries, rather than the US. " Couldn't agree more. Not to mention that Romance languages are gendered by default, which makes them more specific as far as male/female as well as the gender of objects. If Latin American countries don't have a beef with their own language, why does the US feel the need to attach political correctness to everything? The language evolves naturally, no need to force it. I hope Latinx is short lived, as far as I'm concerned. Let's not forget Italians, French, Portuguese speakers and Romanians are also latinos. What if they don't care to be called Latinx?

  34. "ambiguous phenotypical appearance" - lol. Congratulations on going public with "another way". Still, "ambiguous" is just a little too; um, ambivalent? When inventing the next euphemism, I'd vote for one with some positive aspects to it. "Protean phenotype" might be good, for example. :-)

  35. I don't get what good comes from the U.S. tendency to hyper categorize its population. I'm from a latin american country, with immigrants from all over the world, and we called them peruvians, just as the ones whose families have been there since the Incas. This ways everyone feels part of the country. I think there's a misconception also about latinos or latinas. We come from so many different countries and we are of every ethnicity. We can look asian, white, african or native. We can come from a low income class or not. And all those things makes us have different political opinions. There's a lot of difference between someone from Cuba or Argentina, or Chile and El Salvador. There are progressive countries and more conservative ones. The one thing we have in common is that, in general, we care for each other, and we root for each other, and we feel like a part of community, nevermind our skin color or country of origin.

  36. @J.E:"I don't get what good comes from the U.S. tendency to hyper categorize its population." A majority or near-majority of US citizens probably feel the same way.

  37. The root of "Latino" is "Latin" - ie, designating the original inhabitants of Latium, the site of ancient Rome. The connection of Latins to African,Hispanic European, Zapotec, Mixtec and Caribbean-origin folks is precisely zero.

  38. Castro writes, "Morales shatters Americans’ view of the community as monolithic. Although nearly two-thirds of Latinos claim Mexican heritage, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and a growing community of Latinos from Central and South America each have unique cultural and political experiences in the United States." If that statement is meant to be comprehensive, it ignores one essential group: the Americans of Hispanic ("Latinx") heritage in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and elsewhere who found themselves suddenly within the U.S. by a stroke of the pen when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the U.S.-Mexican War in 1848. Too often ignored in discussions of Latinx-Americans, their proud heritage complicates and enriches any account of the larger whole. As my New Mexican brother-in-law says of his family, "we never crossed the border: the border crossed us."

  39. @Jurretta, agreed . . . and even within the group you mention, there is at least one important distinction: the groups in what became New Mexico who identified more closely with Spain than with Mexico, as distinct from those who identified with Mexico, and/or with specific indigenous nations (Raramurí, Apache, etc.). Latinx is indeed a complicated, heterogeneous naming of an identity.

  40. @Jurretta: It seems like your brother-in-law can hope the US re-negotiates the treaty, hope Mexico abrogates it, repatriate back the Mexico or dream up another label. Or, since Mexico was born of New Spain, migrate to the Iberian Peninsula.

  41. Mr. Morales-Thank you for this essay and I shall be looking for your book. I love your comments on which box to check. As I am of Mexican, European, and Native American descent, I too never know which box to check. I look forward to the day when we can all dispense with these categories.

  42. I am Latina and am tired of the anglo-sounding Latinx term being imposed on us. If you want a gender neutral ending, why not Latine? That gender neutral ending already exists in Spanish: grande, libre, firme, perenne, etc. You can't even make a normal plural for Latinx not to mention it doesn't sound Latin. I refuse to use it.

  43. And on the subject of who labels whom what, I have to laugh when visiting Mexico and hearing the locals there refer to me and my fellow U.S. visitors as "norteamericanos." (If the humor isn't obvious, check which continent Mexico is part of.)

  44. I look forward to reading Morales' book. I"ve liked what he's had to say in his opinion pieces. I dislike the term "Latinx!" It has an ugly sound and is totally incompatible with the Spanish language (though I guess that for some is its main selling point!) It also has the sound to me of some sort of commercial product designed to eiliminate the Trumpian "infestation" of Latinos--as if we were something people wanted to be rid of, like "Gasex,""Mucinex", "Rid-ex". You get the idea. I am an older mixed race Mexican-American of white appearance who grew up in the Northeastern US when there was little Latin presence here. I've spent a lifetime trying to figure out where I fit in and belong. I feel "different" on both sides of the fence (or, rather, the border) and doubt if I'll ever sort it out. Music and cooking have helped a bit, but generally I'm just perceived as another white person, which is not how I identify at all!

  45. I am of two minds when it comes to the term LatinX. On the one had, I fully support the use of the term as an alternative for gender fluid or non-binary individuals who do not feel either Latino or Latina. These people should not be forced to use Latino/a just like they should not be forced to use gender pronouns that don't reflect their identity. On the other, I fully and strongly reject it as an umbrella term for all Latinos. English and Spanish are very different languages. I take offense to the move to "fix" Spanish gramatical gender. It shows a profound lack of understanding of the language. A language in which "feminism" is "el femenismo"; "my male friends" is "mis amistades masculinas"; "human beings" is "seres humanos" while "the human race" is "la raza humana"; is a language that can not be oversimplified to "o means masculine and a means feminine". LatinX is only a fix for those who do not understand this and seek to impose an English language solution to a non-existing Spanish problem. I do understand that many Hispanic Americans have diminishing levels of familiarity with Spanish. So much so that many have come to believe that the term Hispanic itself is made up. I imagine that's why they chose not to use it when it is such an obvious option for a gender neutral term. That makes me sad because it's obvious that means they are not aware that they are part of a global community called "La Hispanidad". For these reasons, this "hispana" will never be LatinX.

  46. @Nerico Me too. This “latina” will never be a “Latinx”.

  47. Mr. Castro, The term Latinx I think it applies to the American-english language, the proper neutral word in Spanish is "LATIN", for the male is LATINO and for the female is LATINA. But, here is my point: Why the census bureau has to DIVIDE people in so many groups when we all belong to the same human race? I think is discrimination.

  48. @Guido I'm afraid you are leaping far ahead of our realities. The reality is that people are perceived and treated differently, at every level from personal to institutional to governmental -- everyone knows this, but we can't recognize and think about it without gathering information. Discrimination won't go away if we close our eyes to it. And it's worth pointing out that that not all differences are problems at all. Do we really want to see ourselves as one undifferentiated mass? I don't think so.

  49. A member of President Obama's Cabinet has to raise the question of "what it means to be an 'American.'" Wow! One would think he could provide an answer to whatever he considers to be his community or tribe. He might rephrase his question as to what is holding people back from being "American." Perhaps he can consider the proposition that to be an American incorporates and transcends race, ethnicity, religion and gender and other micro obsessions. The notion ob being American stems from the idea that unity can be found from diversity: from the many, one. Identity politics is an attempt to destroy the fabric that hold the country together. Those that preach and practice it perhaps are ... being un-American.

  50. @San Ta: It's not "from diversity towards a homogeneous unity", it's a unity that contains diverse elements -- elements that retain their own characteristics, even as they participate in a shared project. Individuals don't have to give up their individuality to participate in healthy groups, and those groups don't have to give up their characteristics to participate in a healthy larger society. The analysis, and the experience itself, can be pretty complex and ever-changing, to those that pay attention to what's going on.

  51. @John Bergstrom: Giving yourself a complement? One of the Federalist Papers was title something like "the union as opposed to faction." Of course the idea here was political, but as all identity POLITICS is political by definition, the notion that given various personal identities there has to be a larger, more encompassing one - E Pluribus Unum - has been lost. To be an "American," therefore, should transcend all particularist identities. If not, there is no such thing as an American.

  52. I won’t be calling myself “Latinx” anytime soon. It appears to be a term that tries to address a legitimate gripe about gender and language, but ends up creating other problems. I’m Latina, Hispanic or Hispanic American. But Latinx, I am not.

  53. Julian Castro refers to the "hundreds of years of intermixing among African, European and indigenous people in ...Latin America", but this is the reality for many if not most people in the US, and not exclusive to people of Latin heritage. Remember how Obama had to defend his white mother and yet, still couldn't be considered biracial? In a weird way, it was an echo of the old Octaroon law which said 1/8 Black = all Black. In his case, 1/2 Black = all Black. At the same time, he also had to go through the "not a real American" by birth ordeal. In the theatre world, casting calls often list specific races with the implication that if you are of mixed race or just "ambiguous" looking, you will not be welcome. Since It's only been since the 2000 census that you could identify as multiracial, I am hopeful that in the years to come, the mestizaje will emerge as the new majority in our country.

  54. Have only recently seen the word "Latinx" and had to google what it meant. Why do we need this term? It seems like a made-up word to me. What's wrong with Latino, Latina, Hispanic?

  55. @DCNancy Gender-neutral language. Hence, a female poet is a poet, not a poetess. The masculine has always been the default. I now consider female actors to be actors, not actresses. At the risk of being overly PC, I will say that language matters and shapes reality. I remember when articles would refer to "lady lawyers" and "female doctors," because "She is a doctor/lawyer" sounded incorrect. How does one pronounce "Latinx?"

  56. Latinx is just another term, like Latino/a and Hispanic that further marginalizes individuals that are not monolithic and do not get along with each other. What this country needs is to stop classifying citizens under race. If DNA testing became a law, whites in this country would find out that they are not 100% white or black or Asian or Native American. Moreover, the reason why people from south of the border of the United States look for a term to identify with is because the truth is that they are in denial of their own heritage unlike "white" or "black" or "Native American" or "Asian" Americans who choose an identity by how they look disregarding or unaware that they are of mixed race and ethnicity. The opposite is true of "Hispanic" or "Latin American" and now "LatinX" individuals. These are terms preferred to deny in their shame that they are mostly black, Native American, or even Asian when the ideal is to be white or European. I've met many Latin Americans, or those coming from countries where Spanish is the official language when colonized by Spain, who claim they are white when it is obvious they look very Native American. We need to stop this trend of identity politics that fosters divisiveness. Instead, we need to focus on integrity, excellence, hard work, and character and work together for a better future no matter what country we were born in or live in. And this country needs to go back to being a role model for that search for liberty and justice for all.