The term Latinx has been sweeping across college campuses in the nation with the intent of creating inclusion while inadvertently pitting members of the Latino community into a cultural war.

In Latin countries, language plays a role in intersectionality, or the overlapping of social identities as they relate to discrimination and oppression. Some Latin countries are against non-gender conforming individuals, as evident by the lack of support systems for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queen (LGBTQ) youth.

Spanish is known as a heavily gendered language. Words ending with –o and –a are categorized as masculine or feminine, respectively. When speaking to a mixed gender group, the –o ending is used.

A few years ago, Latinx arose to meet the need for an all-inclusive term for the Latino community. Some argue that Latino and Latin@ were not effective ways to include individuals who fell outside of the gender binary.

Latinx was created to promote inclusion of gender fluid and non-gender conforming individuals. Latino Americans are creating Latinx for their culture, as it falls in the halfway point between Latino culture and American culture. It was not intended to be a change for the entire Latino culture or the entire Spanish language, as some opponents perceive.

“It will take time for change," said Edgar Sanchez, freshman in computer engineering. "People will notice and ask questions. Some people will accept but others won’t change their minds.” 

College organizations have been changing their names from Latino or Latina to Latinx as a way of accepting those individuals who identify differently and helping those individuals find a source of comfort.

“Those who want to learn more want to be more aware and educated of their privileges and identities,” said Griselda Murguia, junior in sociology. “There are also those who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, and when they don’t understand, they push it away.”

Murguia, co-president of Latinx Student Initiatives, said there is a lack of dialogue about inclusion because people are not comfortable speaking about topics they are not educated on and experiences they have not had.

This led the organization to change its name from Latin@ Student Initiatives to its present name. The change was also intended to draw students from other cultures.

“It shows we are more aware and accepting of different identities in society and not sticking to tradition," Murguia said. "If we do, nothing would be changing."

Michelle Ramos, sophomore in nutritional science, believes millennials have been very accepting of Latinx because they’ve been exposed to more diverse individuals compared with their parents’ generation.

“Latinx communities tend to be traditional and they like to hold onto traditional values," Ramos said. "It’s going to be a challenge to break that. For now, here in the U.S., I think it’s a great way to move forward and hopefully that carries on. As millennials get older, they’ll hold more power politically and economically. Our views are starting to change the country, and eventually, society will accept the term more easily.”

Proponents of Latinx don’t believe it is destructive to the Spanish language if the change is accepted.

“Society is becoming more accepting and liberal. So are the terms,” said Cristian Olmos, freshman in microbiology.

Jessica Graham, senior in business management, is part of the Latinx research group delegate to the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE).

“We’re not meaning to impose any specification of a word or label," Graham said. "Our main goal is to be inclusive of all genders. We’re trying to make more people aware of the oppressions in the Latinx community. There’s a lot of intersectionality among any community. Those outside the gender binary face more oppression. By using Latinx, I’m not sure how that’s a destruction of the Spanish language."

Joi Latson, sophomore in global resource systems, is also a part of the Latinx research group delegation to NCORE. She believes in showing support to those who don’t identify as male or female.

“More people need to become allies," Latson said. "Being allies can help strengthen a group that feels targeted."

Some people aren’t comfortable identifying as male or female because they fall somewhere in between. Latinx helps them know that their identity is accepted. It has also stirred controversy between those opposing de-genderization of the Spanish language and those wanting the Spanish language to reflect societal change.

Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science, traces his roots to Colombia and Germany. He’s the founder of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa (LULAC). Schmidt identifies Latinx as a problem typical of American society’s pluralism and various identities that break down into more sub-identities.

“This movement on campuses is really not about Hispanics or Latinos," Schmidt said. "It’s an offshoot of the gender neutral movement. The problem is if we change it to Latinx, then do all of the other words have to be changed to end with an x."

He sees college campuses as places to explore and push things that are not yet accepted in the community. Altering the Spanish language needs the input of people outside of the college community.

“Universities are places where people can push boundaries and see how we can live and identify differently than we were told,” he said. “Latinx is a manifestation of a society that is undergoing a lot of change. We don’t understand this because this is re-segregation. We want to stick together with people like us and have cultural markers that identify who we are.”

Although Latinx was created to increase integration, it subsequently enforced re-segregation because people want more precise identities, Schmidt said. By using Latinx, people who don’t identify within the Latin community are already excluded. It’s only inclusive for those who fall outside of the gender binary within the Latin community, which is only a small percentage. Those who don’t want their gender to be neutral might even perceive Latinx as exclusive.

“Denying gender is a silly idea; society can’t function without gender," Schmidt said. "If people want to degenderize and be in a gender-neutral society, that’s fine, but forcing people to use it becomes a challenge."

Schmidt said the advantages and disadvantages of the term are equal. It’s inclusive in one direction but exclusive in another direction. Some accept and respect the term while others are repulsed by it. Some Hispanics consider it marginalization and ridicule it.

Schmidt said the term will contribute to a significant increase in microaggression because people don’t understand the term, which will make them push away from it.

The term currently only means something to people who have learned the Spanish language. The term being accepted requires a long period of education and explanation.

Another problem Schmidt sees is the insult Latinx brings to the Spanish language. He said many Latinos are insulted by the term because college students are changing the language spoken by many generations. It is just another cultural and generational battle in the United States. 

“We are a country constantly in a culture war,” Schmidt said.

Latinx is currently concentrated on college campuses, but Schmidt said it may be possible for Latinx to be adapted into society in 10 to 20 years. Passports and immigration papers are currently gendered and only use the term Hispanic, which means Latinx doesn’t mean anything to the law. Other implications exist for universities, companies and government agencies that look to hire Hispanics, not Latinxs. In the short term, Latinx doesn’t have much influence on them.

Fernando Aveiga, president of the Ames LULAC council, views Latinx in a more positive light. He believes the notion that Latinx is a destruction of the Spanish language is foolish because language is constantly evolving, borrowing from other languages and becoming more hybrid.

For Schmidt, Latinx is a way to pursue the festive lifestyle associated with the Latin community. Aveiga, an economics graduate of Iowa State, believes Latinx is a way for us to learn from other cultures, and in turn, benefit the country economically.

“Language evolves to help unify us; it’s part of a revolution,” Schmidt said. “The United States has the best opportunity to have culture as the center of the economy. We can learn from each culture on different lifestyles, spaces and colors. Diversity is where evolution happens.”

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