By Michele Ruiz
Nov. 5, 2019
Over the past several years, new terms are being introduced into the English language to describe individuals’ race and gender.
Key to building an inclusive workforce is understanding what these terms mean, and how and when to use them in the workplace. One term that has many company leaders perplexed is “Latinx.”
The gender-neutral moniker “Latinx” (pronounced lah-TEEN-ex), plural: “Latinxs” (pronounced lah-TEEN-exez) has been in use online since 2004, mostly in the United States. The term was added to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary in September 2018 and is used to describe those persons of Latin American descent who do not identify as male (Latino) or female (Latina) or who simply do not want to be identified by gender.
According to the 2019 Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the term “Latinx” is part of the broader conversation on gender-neutral/inclusive terms as it breaks with the Spanish language’s masculine/feminine grammatical tradition with the ‘x’ connoting unspecified gender. Some have suggested similar uses of ‘x’ as in the gender-neutral Mx. (versus Mr. or Ms.), as having influenced the creation and use of Latinx.
The frequency of use of Latinx has increased year over year, and it is expected that trend will continue in 2019 and beyond. Latinx is gaining traction in the United States on social media and in academic writing.
There is a lot of confusion about the proper usage of Latinx because the term is relatively new and some perceive it as politicized. There are no hard and fast rules about its application. Colleen Newvine Tebeau, product manager of the AP Stylebook, suggests when using the term, it is advised to know your audience.
For instance, LBGTQ communities (especially younger individuals) in several countries are embracing its use, especially those communities in larger cities and those home to academic institutions. Samantha Díaz Roberts wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2016 that their perspective is that Latinx seeks to transcend traditional gender binaries and improve inclusion for the LBGTQ community, gender binaries and improve inclusion for the LBGTQ community.
Other communities provide politically passionate arguments against the term and the ideology it represents. Some believe its use is disrespectful of the Spanish language and others have resentment of cultural meddling by academic elites, social-justice warriors and non-Latinos. Comments in the mainstream press run approximately 5-to-1 as critical of Latinx (as seen in two recent articles covering the term Latinx and the politics around it in The New York Times).
When in doubt about its use, it is advised to ask the target audience. Generally speaking, use Latino/a with audiences that are more conservative and over the age of 30, including traditional Catholics and people with a deep reverence for the sanctity of the Spanish language. Consider using “Latinx” with younger (25- to 30-year-olds), more liberal audiences, including the LBGTQ community, liberal arts/higher education faculty and staff, artistic communities, third-wave feminists, progressive politicians and those who have stated it as a preference.
Be aware that visually impaired audiences may have difficulty with the word until dictation/narration software learns its pronunciation. (It can be mispronounced as lah-TEEN-inks.) Also, keep in mind that the term’s proper pluralization is Latinxs, not Latinexs. Some audiences will insist on altering articles to reflect gender neutrality as well, so los Latinxs becomes lxs Latinxs, and yet others prefer Latine to Latinx. (The plural of the former is Latines, which avoids the awkward construction and pronunciation pitfalls of Latinxs.)
Writing experts are starting to frame how to use it in various contexts. For example, according to the 2019 edition of the AP Stylebook: “Some prefer the recently coined gender-neutral term ‘Latinx,’ which should be confined to quotations, names of organizations or descriptions of individuals who request it and should be accompanied by a short explanation. Hernandez prefers the gender-neutral term ‘Latinx.’ ”
Understanding the context and sensitivities of Latinx provides additional opportunities for enhancing diversity and inclusiveness while giving insight into bias surrounding the terminology. So, if you’re not sure how your organization should proceed, try starting with open, honest dialogue in your company.
That act alone will show that you care about inclusivity. And don’t be surprised if you get some pushback. It’s still a very fluid situation as it’s quite controversial.
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