The ethnic descriptor “Latinx” — a gender-neutral form of “Latino/a” popular with millennial and Generation Z left-wing activists that has been picked up elsewhere in the media sphere — has been kicking around in various forms for more than a decade.
According to the folks at Merriam-Webster, it was first popularized in 2007. There’s been a smattering of articles in the press about it since then, as well as a bit of internal debate within the left regarding its usage, but one could argue it officially arrived when Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts dropped it in a debate in June of 2019.
A fully wound-up Warren noted the economy was “doing great for people who want to invest in private prisons, just not for the African-Americans and Latinx whose families are torn apart, whose lives are destroyed and whose communities are ruined.”
She got some pushback for pronouncing the word “Latin-X” and not “Lateenex,” but that wasn’t the biggest problem, or at least not the one critics ought to have been focusing on.
Instead, the issue is that for all the talk about “Latinx,” less than a quarter of those who would be described by the term have actually heard of it — and of those, only an extremely small percentage actually use it.
According to a Pew Research Center survey released last week, 23 percent of U.S. Latino adults have heard of the term. However, only 3 percent of them actually use it.
This is in spite of the fact that the term “has emerged as an alternative that is used by some news and entertainment outlets, corporations, local governments and universities to describe the nation’s Hispanic population,” Pew noted.
The only potential caveat that could be given in the data is there has been increased interest in the term. According to Pew, Google data show searches for it shot up dramatically in June of 2020.
However, this very raw piece of data hardly means the unawakened have now been woked. The other data is hardly encouraging for “LatinX” advocates.
For instance, among the 23 percent who’ve heard of the term, only 33 percent said it should be used. Considering this works out to about 7 percent, less than half of those who say the term should be used actually do use the term.
These results were similar to another 2019 survey by a progressive polling firm, ThinkNow, which asked 508 people of Hispanic origin in the United States how they preferred to refer to themselves.
The top result was “Hispanic” — a term that not only encompasses those from Latin America, but also from other Spanish-speaking countries formerly under Spanish colonial rule (e.g., the Dominican Republic and Cuba, for instance, and even countries like the Philippines under certain versions of the definition) — with 44 percent.
“Latino/a” — which refers to those from Latin America — was second with 24 percent.
The respondents’ specific country of origin was third, with 11 percent. Then there were a few more and finally, in last place, “Latinx” with 2 percent.
This was behind Mexican-specific term “Chicano/a,” a term for Mexican ancestry with political undertones that’s fallen out of favor in recent decades (5 percent) and simply “American” (6 percent).
In a Nov. 19, 2019, column on the term, Ross Douthat — one of The New York Times’ nominal conservatives — cited the ThinkNow survey and the reasons he thought that “LatinX” wasn’t catching on.
“Beyond its novelty, there are obvious reasons for that stark unpopularity: When spoken, ‘Latinx’ sounds like neither normal English nor conversational Spanish, and it looks like what it is, a word designed for ideological purposes rather than for felicity in speech,” he wrote. “If you are deep inside progressive discourse, you will immediately understand those purposes — ‘dismantling the default masculine’ of romance languages, centering gender neutrality or nonbinariness in place of a cisgender heteronormativity. If you are outside that discourse, politicians who use it will sound like they don’t know how to say ‘Latino,’ or like they’re talking to an audience that doesn’t really include you.”
Raul Reyes, an immigration attorney and USA Today contributor, tried to refute that line of thinking in a commentary piece for The Hill in which he wrote that “Douthat’s column was illuminating, although not in the ways he intended.”
Reyes’ rebuttal was also illuminating, and again not in the ways he intended.
“This poll had a margin of error of five percent, so the number of respondents preferring ‘Latinx’ could actually be seven percent. The poll skewed towards Spanish-speakers and the foreign-born, which are generally the groups least likely to use this word,” Reyes wrote.
“And most of its respondents were outside the 18-24 range, the group most likely to use ‘Latinx.’ In short, Douthat drew conclusions based on a single, arguably flawed poll.”
Let’s leave aside the margin of error argument since it still wouldn’t have shown wide acceptance. Reyes is saying that it’s a mistake to dismiss “Latinx” as, to quote Douthat, “a word designed for ideological purposes rather than for felicity in speech.”
By saying that, however, Reyes is also admitting its prime usage in the Latino community is within a narrow band of English-speaking, American-born 18-24-year-olds.
So if that’s the case, why ought media outlets, politicians and others use it to describe a much broader community that doesn’t embrace the term?
And by the way, if the Pew poll is anything to go by, the younger set isn’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm for the term, either; only 7 percent of Latinos 18-29 use the word.
But apparently, conservatives are the problem — because we’re afraid of the word.
“Douthat’s column seems to be part of a broader effort by conservative writers to denigrate the term ‘Latinx,'” Reyes wrote.
“By emphasizing that the word does not resonate with all Latinos, they likely hope to promote disunity among Hispanics. How cynical that conservatives are taking a word designed to encourage inclusivity and using it to stir up division.”
Actually, Mr. Reyes, what we’re doing is pointing out the cynical nature of a small group of activists — most of whom aren’t Latino — and how they’re using media and national political discourse as a wedge to drive cultural change on issues of gender and language by pushing the use of an invented term.
It’s a fake way for the powerful to pretend they care about race without really caring about the people they say they’re caring for.
It’s the linguistic version of a Caucasianite influencer’s post-George Floyd Instagram plea imploring people to buy from black-owned bookstores — and then buying “White Fragility” (a book by a white woman) on Kindle and only reading the first few pages.
It’s a neologism designed to create a pitched cultural battle where none previously existed, elevating its proponents (many of whom, it’s worth noting, are conspicuously non-Latinx) to some form of minority prominence.
This is also allowing them to claim victory when everyone on the other side gets tired of arguing another attempt to change English into Newspeak — even if the term never achieves wide usage.
And meanwhile, 13 years after its invention, 3 percent of Latinos actually use the word to refer to themselves.
If this is where the left is going to plant its rhetorical flag, it’s neither cynical nor problematic for conservatives to point out Latinos aren’t the ones planting it and the left isn’t doing it for the benefit of the Latino community.
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