Excerpted From: Ed Morales, Latinx: Reserving the Right to the Power of Naming, 39 Chicana/o-Latina/o Law Review 209 (2023) (79 Footnotes) (Full Document)


EdMoralesThe use of the term “Latinx” has come under increased attack. In the U.S., the term “Latinx” is an identity term, derivative from the term “Latino,” used by a growing number of individuals whose ancestors descend from Latin America to be inclusive of non-binary and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Several states, like Arkansas, Virginia, and Florida have attacked any form of rhetoric or school instruction that critically analyzes the history of U.S. racism, such as Critical Race Theory, under the premise that such thinking is harmful to their residents. Arkansas and Connecticut have directly singled out the use of the word “Latinx,” in the use of official or government documents as harmful, citing polls that suggest the word is offensive to Latin American descendants living in the U.S. While conservatives are following an established roadmap that demonizes assertive anti-discrimination claims by marginalized groups, some moderates have assented, seemingly out of fear that voters agree such language is out of touch with mainstream attitudes in the U.S. Latino community.

In January 2023, during her first week as Governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders prohibited the use of the term “Latinx” in official government documents, replacing it instead with “Hispanic,” “Latino,” or “Latina”. The executive order stated that the purpose of the ban was “to respect the Latino community by eliminating culturally insensitive words from official use in government.” This is representative of a thinly disguised ‘anti-woke’ agenda adopted by many conservative Republicans.

Sanders is not alone--Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order on his first day in office “ending the use of inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory, and restoring excellence in K-12 public education.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has become the ‘anti-woke’ national leader, having successfully championed and signed into law the dystopian “Stop WOKE Act,” prohibiting teaching or instruction that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels” students or employees' race-based thinking or analysis. The law is already creating uncertainty and anxiety among students and professors in Florida universities.

A few weeks after Huckabee-Sanders' executive order, Connecticut State Representative Geraldo Reyes, Jr., a Democrat, introduced a measure in his state legislature to bar the use of “Latinx” from government and state education documents, claiming the term is “offensive and unnecessary.” Reyes objected to the gender-neutrality invoked by Latinx as “woke,” insisting that “[t]he Spanish language, which is centuries old, defaults to Latino for everybody.”

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There is a need for solidarity among people of Latin American descent despite our many racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences. At the same time, we do not want to lose what makes us unique by being Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Colombian, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Black, Indigenous, women, or queer. Latinx might do the trick, and, perhaps, Latine might take its place. No matter how many changes and variations, our current historical reality shows that the power of naming should be reserved for those whom history has long ignored.

Ed Morales is an author and journalist who writes for The Nation, The New York Times, and CNN Opinions. He is the author of Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico and Latinx: The New Force in Politics and Culture, and is a lecturer at Columbia University's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race and a 2022-2023 Mellon Foundation Fellow at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.

This Article uses the term Latinx to refer to individuals of Latin American ancestry who live in the United States.

The “x” in Latinx is a substitute for identifying gender in Spanish words, making it emblematic of non-binary individuals and their allies. See Ana María del-Rio González, To Latinx or Not to Latinx: A Question of Gender Inclusivity Versus Gender Neutrality, 111 Am. J. of Pub. Health 1018, 1018-19 (2021).