The Controversial History of the Word Latinx


Zachary Kurtz, Staff Writer

Isabel Mavrides-Calderon (11), Federica Italiani (12), and Gabriela Peralta (12), the leaders of the Latinx Advocacy Club, hosted a Unity Week workshop called “The Controversial History of the Word Latinx” this Wednesday. 25 students and teachers attended the workshop in person and several students and classes participated over Zoom. 

The term Latinx is a gender neutral alternative for the words Latino and Latina that describes anyone from a Latin American country, Mavrides-Calderon said. The term brings all Latin Americans under one umbrella as opposed to the word Latinos — used to describe any group of Latin American people that includes one man — which can make women and non-male identifying people seem like second class citizens in the language, she said.

Italiani, who is Venezuelan and moved to the US when she was twelve, came up with the idea for the workshop after her uncle sent her an article on the word Latinx, she said. She was surprised to learn how the word was created by the liberal elite in the United States. 

When she received the email about students running Unity Week workshops two weeks ago, Italiani texted Mavrides-Calderon and Peralta asking if they would be interested in creating a workshop, she said. “I thought this would be a cool thing to talk about, and just to explore more behind this since it is the name of our club.”

Mavrides-Calderon thought the topic of this workshop would be perfect for Unity Week because the word Latinx is all about inclusion, she said. 

The group wanted the workshop to be discussion-based while providing background on the word Latinx and its history, Peralta said. The presentation was a series of slides that covered the origins, present, and future of the word Latinx.

Italiani said the term Latinx is especially controversial and complex due to the political situations and humanitarian crises going on in much of Latin America. The conversations that people in progressive communities in the United States are having, are nonexistent in Latin America, Italiani said. “There have been so many humanitarian crises in a lot of Latin American countries that there’s just no headspace or there has been no headspace yet to progress in that area of society.”

The presentation explained to viewers the pushback against the term Latinx from conservative Latin American culture. In the presentation, Italiani, Mavrides-Calderon, and Peralta showed a newsclip in which two Latin Americans, one who approves of the term Latinx and one who doesn’t, voiced their opinions on the controversy.

One of the people in the video, former Rep. Carlos Curbelo, believes that the use of term Latinx is an imposition on the Latin American community and that it reflects a misunderstanding of the Spanish language, while Jonathan Jayes-Green, a queer Afro-Panamanian, argued that the term provides inclusivity for the community. “The video was really interesting because not only was it a very clear representation of the two opposing viewpoints surrounding this term, you could also see very clearly in their expressions how much they disagreed with each other, despite the fact that they had a very civil and polite discussion,” Willa Davis (11) said.

Athena Spencer (11), who also attended the workshop, came away with a deeper understanding of the word Latinx and the controversy surrounding it, she said. She found the video particularly interesting since it demonstrated the vastly different sides of the argument for and against the word Latinx, Spencer said. 

Kaia Fisher (12) was surprised that only three percent of Latin Americans use and approve of the word Latinx while 97 percent either don’t approve of or have never heard the term, she said. She was interested to hear about how the speakers believe that the younger generation can impose social change within the Latin American community, Fisher said. She thought that it was really impactful how the presenters responded to that percentage and how they thought about the future of the term.

During the presentation, Italiani, Mavrides-Calderon, and Peralta also spoke about how this pushback has caused those who identify themselves as Latinx to create the term Latine. The appeal of the word Latine is that it is easier to pronounce in Spanish than Latinx; however, Italiani is unsure if conservative Latin Americans will be more likely to accept the new term given their strong opinions regarding what the word represents, she said.

Mavrides-Calderon has high hopes for the term Latine because it is an inclusive word that is also culturally evolved, she said. “Right now white academics and white activists aren’t using the term Latine, they are all using the term Latinx, but I think personally that there should be a switch towards it so we can both have something that fits the language and also is different.”

Peralta thinks that the controversy around the word Latinx is an important topic, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ acceptance, she said. The Latin American community has difficulty accepting those who identify as LGBTQ+ in the community and the word Latinx helps bring recognition to that group of people, Peralta said. “I think it forces Latin American people to deal with the fact that there are Latin American people who are non-binary or who are transgender or who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.”

While at first Peralta thought that it would be difficult to create and run a workshop, she ended up finding the process to be seamless and easy, she said. “If you’re passionate about something, if you like talking about something, or if you even have questions about something, it’s really, really easy to put it together,” Peralta said. “I hope people don’t feel intimidated by the picture it gives off or the image it gives off because it really doesn’t have to be so high stakes.”

Like Peralta, Italiani found that it was not stressful as she is very interested in the topic the workshop covers, she said. “It’s just about connecting with the Horace Mann community as well and making it interactive,” Italiani said. Ultimately, she hopes that students will sign up to host workshops whenever they have a cool idea that they want to talk about and share with other people, she said.