When you return to school in the fall and make your way to the office in Student Commons to greet your friends (and mourn the end of summer), you might notice a few things have changed. First, Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) is changing to Center for Identity and Inclusion (CII). We'll have more discussions on that eventually. Second, the Latinx Student Services (LSS) office will be using a small letter that sits at the epicenter of a lot of controversy. That’s right -- later this year, Latinx Student Services will officially become Latinx Student Services (pronounced "la-teen-ex"). For some of us, this change will go largely unnoticed -- it is, after all, just one letter. For others, this change is welcome and perhaps even long-awaited. And still, for others, this change can stir up a lot of confusion: what is Latinx? Why are you changing Spanish? I’m a man/woman, I don’t want or need a different way to identify. These concerns and questions are valid and important, which is why I’d like to take a little time to unpack the X.
I suppose I should first introduce myself: my name is Katelin Champion and I’ve been the graphic designer for LSS since the fall of 2016. If you spend any time in CII, you’ve probably seen me at the round table in the computer lab, usually with headphones on, being very quiet. That’s because I’m an introvert and I have the social drive of a spork. I’m also a recording arts student at the University of Colorado Denver and I’ll be graduating in the spring of 2018. I am the daughter of Mario Champion, an extremely dark and tall Mexican man, and Cynthia Helmandollar, a self-described “Heinz 57 white” woman. I have two older siblings, four nieces and nephews, and more aunts, uncles, and cousins than modern math can express. All that being said, nothing about me or my life makes me an expert on Spanish, LGBTQ issues or identities (although I belong to this community, as well), or Spanish-speaking countries and their respective myriad cultures and traditions. I don't write this as an authoritative figure on the word Latinx, nor am I an ambassador for every person who supports the use of the identifier. Instead, the office’s name change, and the subsequent discussion here, comes from the overarching discussions of students in the LSS office and CII. My words come from heartfelt research, months of debate and consideration between faculty and students in LSS, as well as a desire to ascribe humans dignity.
To begin, let’s take a look at our office name now: Latinx Student Services. The reason we made the change from Hispanic Student Services to Latinx was... well, it's a little complicated and political. The CliffsNotes on the problematic aspects of "Hispanic" is that the term is used in reference to Hispania, which is the Roman name for the Iberian peninsula, or modern-day Spain and Portugal. In other words, under the term Hispanic, people's ethnic identities are relegated to the Spanish occupation. Folks from Spanish-speaking heritage, but not from Spain, are identified in relationship to the colonisation of their ancestors. There's also some interesting history on the U.S. Census change to Hispanic in the late 60's in conjunction with the Chicano movement, but that's for another article. Regardless, our office decided to move away from that narrative and adopt Latinx Student Services in an attempt to be more inclusive and thoughtful of our student body. But, although this was a move in the right direction, Latinx has it's own issues.
As we already know, the Spanish language is gendered; e.g. women are Latinas, men are Latinos. A room full of thirty women are amigas, but take those same thirty women and add one man and you have room of amigos. If we were to tell a story about that room of people and how they constructed an uprising to overthrow an oppressive power and save a small village of puppies, that story would be a narrative of amigos, Latinos, hermanos -- when in reality it was thirty strong, resourceful, compassionate women… and Andy. Was Andy integral to the whole plan? Of course! But it wasn’t thirty Andy’s who saved the puppies; the Spanish language only allows it to sound like Andy and his male friends comprise the Puppy Crusader Brigade. Women are invisible, linguistically, in the presence of Andy. Latinx is an attempt to rectify that erasure, but is it enough? Latinx represents our brothers and sisters but what about the millions of humans from Spanish-speaking descent who don’t fit or feel comfortable in only those two camps: hermanos y hermanas? This is where it gets complicated but fun.
To unpack the X further, we need to talk a little about gender and what it is / isn’t. Gender is usually broken into three categories: sex, gender, and expression. Sex, biologically speaking, is what you’re assigned at birth -- usually in accordance to your reproductive organs; doctors really like to break it up into male or female. Gender is how you feel to yourself; how one navigates our incredibly complicated and nuanced culture that promotes and reinforces only male and female. There is, however, much more to gender. One can feel like a man or masculine, or feel like a woman / feminine, or feel like a mixture somewhere between. Additionally, some people identify as agender, or “without gender”. These individuals don’t feel masculine or feminine or like any other gender. And still, others can identify as gender-fluid: like their gender doesn’t “stay put” and / or they feel differently at different times. There is a growing vocabulary surrounding gender identity which can be overwhelming for folks who have only ever identified as cis-gendered (pronounced “sis” -- is a person who’s sex and gender identity match. For example, I was assigned female at birth (sex) and I identify as female (gender), therefore I am a cis-gendered woman). For a small vocabulary list around gender, feel free to check out this list. Lastly, expression is how you dress or present your own unique gender flavor. Again, some people exist comfortably on the binary spectrum: feminine and masculine expression. But there are millions who do not; millions of humans who feel like both, neither, or like something completely unique. The -@ in Latinx simply does not extend to include these folks in our community, and that’s not really right. It’s not really okay to ignore people because they’re different from what is generally expected, and this is where the -x comes in.
Latinx, as you have probably inferred by now, is an attempt to bridge the gap between an inherently gendered heritage identifier and the complex spheres of one’s gender identity. The -@ replaced -o/-a, but still implied a definitive binary between masculine and feminine. The -x will replace the -@ in an attempt to further include more individuals in the gender spectrum -- a spectrum that extends in many different directions. But there is yet one more aspect of the illusive -x: indigeneity.
There are individuals who favor the Latinx identifier because the -x is also a linguistic nod to indigenous roots. Much like the Xicano/a (often pronounced “shee-khan-oh” / “shee-kahn-ah”) identifier, the -x alludes to the Nahuatl language that predates Spanish colonialism in Mexico. For these individuals, Latinx and Xicana/o removes power from centuries of oppression where their ancestors were stripped of their language and culture and stands as a kind of resistance or de-colonisation. Additionally, there are many who have indigenous ancestry, although not Aztec, who still use the -x out of solidarity, or because their own ancestral language was lost generations ago. For those whom indigeneity is an integral part of their identity, the -x can acknowledge and give power and dignity to that part of their history.
In our unpacking, we’ve covered the gendered nature of the Spanish language, the incredible (and growing) complexity of gender identity, and the allusion to indigeneity. Let us point out that using Latinx is not, however, a move to replace all the gendered nuances of Spanish -- we are not trying to change the Spanish language as a whole. Moreover, we will never require anybody to identify as something they are not comfortable with. If you identify as Latino, Latina, Afro-Latinx, Puertorriqueña, or anything else -- go for it! Our name change is spurred by the desire to include, not exclude. But we also acknowledge that the term Latinx isn’t perfect. For native Spanish speakers, it can be weird or uncomfortable to use. For some folks, the -x seems to mark out all “genderedness” rather than include. Others find the word appropriative from an academic position, picking out of Spanish what we can change at the institution level, bringing in issues of power. And others would still prefer alternatives such as Latine (pronounced “la-teen-ay”) because it’s more closely related to non-gendered words in the Spanish language such as estudiante or clase. These concerns are also valid and we ask that you join us on this journey of inclusion. Your insight is important and you’re a part of this community, too. But for now, we’re moving to Latinx because as far as we can see, it gives the most humans the most dignity. Because above all else, we want you to know you’re welcome.
If you, like me, identify as cis-gendered, we want to make it clear: you are welcome here. If you identify as non-binary, trans, gender-fluid, agender, or anything else, we want to make it clear: you are welcome here. If you identify as an indigenous person from a Spanish-speaking country, we want to make it clear: you are welcome here. If you identify as a person with Spanish-speaking heritage but you do not speak Spanish, we want to make it clear: you are welcome here. We want to make it so clear that we’re changing our name so that you are forever included, forever welcome. No -- more than welcome, you’re wanted.
For more resources and conversations surrounding Latinx, please check out these articles: