What’s in the ‘x’ of Latinx?
As colleges and universities make moves toward renaming academic conferences, university centers and majors/minors using the term “Latinx,” rather than “Latino” or “Latina/o,” we must consider: What does it mean to include the “x” for research and practice — and for Chicana/o- and Latina/o Studies programs?
In May, Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) and the Program in Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies hosted a conversation to better understand the ‘x’ in Latinx. The forum brought together scholars of queer theory, Latinindad, cultural production, literature, education, art and activism, and featured a panel with professors Anita Tijerina Revilla, Juana María Rodríguez and Richard T. Rodríguez. I served as host and moderator of the forum. Several themes from our discussions emerged that other institutions thinking about the “x” should consider.
What is Latinx?
“Latinx” can be defined as a political identity that centers the lived experiences of queer, non-binary, gender non-conforming/creative and/or trans* individuals. The “x” pushes us to think critically about the different ways race, gender, sexuality and geographic location can impact how we and others understand Latina, Latino or Latinx identities and experiences.
While there is no consensus on who authored or where the term Latinx was first introduced, Google Trend data shows the term first appeared in 2004 and gained wide popularity in 2015. These trends mirror those on social media, and in academia, with several journal articles, dissertations and books starting to use “Latinx” in their titles and as demographic descriptors in their work. While we can see this as progress when it comes to queer and gender inclusivity, a closer look suggests an overwhelming majority of the work published is void of a critical discussion or explanation of the use of the term “Latinx.”
Used this way, “Latinx” is mainly a placeholder to describe those that identify as part of the “Latina/o,” “Latino” or “Hispanic” community, instead of including an interrogation of race, queerness and gender identity. The forum was our attempt to begin this type of interrogation and the implications it has for the field of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies and for departments and programs.
Using the “x” in Latinx: A few principles
If you’re considering using the “x” in Latinx, the first step is to ask yourself why you are including the “x” and how you will include the meaning of the “x” in your work. In other words, how are you are making space for conversations related to gender and sexual identity and its relationship to Latinidad? Intention behind the inclusion of the “x” is key.
Secondly, do you keep or lose the “a/o” as part of Latinx? While semantics plays a role/part in this, the more important question being raised here is: How do we make room for the important work that still needs to happen to understand Latino and Latina experiences while also thinking about Latinx?
For Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies: How and in what ways do you include the lived experiences and histories of queer, gender-queer and non-conforming Latinx into core curriculum and foundational courses? This discussion in particular poses large questions about who is present and who is made invisible in our curricular work, and how we can make sure those absent are centered.
Finally, have patience, love and generosity. This is true for anyone doing the work of “making sense” of the “x”. We must provide space to make mistakes, instead of hyper-policing how and when we use the “x”. If we are doing this work as allies, we must also with great intention centralize and bring to the forefront non-binary, gender non-conforming/creative and trans* Latina/o(x) in our syllabi, introductory courses, majors/minors, mission statements and community center values.
Including the “x” should be considered a political stance that unapologetically supports the lives, histories and bodies of queer and trans* Latina/o(x) communities. But if the “x” is only included as a move towards inclusivity, as a catch-all term, then we must question the intent of including the “x” to begin with. As Richard T. Rodriguez puts it, “if the X is to simply become something to which anyone can easily lay claim, we will need to aggressively pose the question: Why adopt it at all if the ultimate goal is to cross out any traces of queer assertion and affirmation?”
Rigoberto Marquéz is the director of community engaged learning at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford.