With the coming and going of Hispanic Heritage Month, many brands have taken it upon themselves to use the term “latinx” (pronounced “la-teen-eks”) in their promotions and mission statements.
While claiming to honor and celebrate Latino and Hispanic culture, in using “Latinx” they're bastardizing the language of that culture and then describing the people with a term that the majority don’t even prefer.
Ulta Beauty devoted an entire page on its website to celebrating employees of “Latinx” heritage. Facebook and Nordstrom published their plans to celebrate and draw more attention to creators of the “Latinx” community or “Latinx”-owned brands.
The goals and ambitions of these companies to celebrate, aid, and serve this group of people are overshadowed by their usage of a word that doesn’t exist in the very culture they’re claiming to honor. Ulta Beauty claims that a “few things that make Latinx Heritage Month so special” are culture, history, traditions, and community. Surely language is part of the Hispanic culture that they claim to be celebrating.
History of National Hispanic Heritage Month
National Hispanic Heritage Month is officially recognized by the U.S. government, with a law requesting that the U.S. president “issue annually a proclamation designating the 31-day period beginning September 15 and ending on October 15 as ‘National Hispanic Heritage Month’...and calling upon the people of the United States, especially the educational community, to observe such month with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15.
It started in 1968 with California Congressman George E. Brown and was initially introduced as only a week-long celebration, instead of a whole month (that change would be signed into law in 1988). With the emergence of the civil rights movement during that time, and the increasing awareness of many cultures in America, the celebration was started to acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions of Hispanic individuals in the community.
Adoption and Usage of “Hispanic” in the U.S.
“Hispanic” was officially adopted by the U.S. Census in 1970, and before then, people from the Latin American community were classified as “white.” A sociology professor at U.C. Berkley, G. Cristina Mora, explains how Latin Americans described themselves, prior to the cultural adoption of the term “Hispanic”: “Before these ideas of us coming together were even there, we were all our separate, distinct nationalities.”
“Hispanic” was officially adopted by the U.S. Census in 1970.
According to Mora, the usage of “Hispanic” was lobbied to the Census by the National Council of La Raza (now known as UnidosUS) not only to classify these groups more accurately, but also to bring them together. Where before these groups identified themselves by their nationality only, the proposed change would unify these individual groups under one umbrella, and through this unity, an “Hispanic agenda” could be better defined and worked towards.
“Hispanic” vs. “Latino”
Dr. Dario Fernandez-Morera, former professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University, describes “Latino” as a Spanish word that has entered the English language and can have many meanings. It can refer to “someone who belongs to the cultures of the Romance Languages, that is, those peoples whose language, and to a varying extent, whose culture, too, derive from the language and civilization of Rome, which was latin. Therefore, all Italians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Rumanians, and Portuguese, as well as all those Latin Americans whose language is Spanish or Portuguese...are latinos.”
But the meaning in Spanish changed, especially when, in 1997, “Latino” was used by the U.S. government to complement “Hispanic.” Colloquially, it’s used to refer to someone of Latin American heritage.
South American countries that were once occupied by Spain and Mexico could be identified as “hispanic.”
The distinction between “Latino” and “Hispanic” is easily shown when referring to this definition. South American countries that were once occupied by Spain, as well as Mexico, adopted many aspects of Hispanic culture, so their cultures could be identified as “Hispanic.” Meanwhile, Brazil was occupied by Portugal, so it didn’t end up adopting Hispanic culture.
Because Spanish culture falls under Latino culture, all the liberated South American countries (and Mexico) came to adopt the identity of Latino americanos. It encompassed all their adopted cultures and their histories, while also taking on a new identity, exclusive to them, as independent countries.
“Latinx” vs. “Hispanic” and “Latino”
The origin of “Latinx” isn’t easily identifiable. However, David Bowles, a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, describes in a Twitter thread, a justification for the term “Latinx.” In his thread, Bowles provides extensive insight on the aftermath of independence for Latin American countries and the creation of “Latino” as an identity.
He claims that the emergence of ‘x’ replacing the final vowel in a noun came in the 1990s, seen on protest signs reading “Ciudadanxs Unidxs.” This claim isn’t substantiated since no images or references are provided to back this up, and it isn’t clear which protests from which country he is referring to.
A Bastardization of a Culture and Its Language
“Latinx” isn’t a term that should be thrown around by brands and companies, and it shouldn’t be the word used to describe Latinos or Hispanics. How can a brand claim to care about and celebrate Latinos, when the majority of them don’t self-identify as such, or even think the term should be used as an official classification?
Only 4% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino say they prefer “Latinx.”
According to the Pew Research Center, “only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves.” When asked if they would like “Latinx” to be used to describe the Hispanic or Latino population, 61% say “they prefer Hispanic to describe the Hispanic or Latino population in the U.S.,” 29% say “they prefer Latino,” and only 4% say they prefer “Latinx.”
On a technical level, in Spanish, the letter ‘x’ typically makes a “sh” sound, like with the Mexican dog breed, “xoloitzcuintle” (pronounced “sholo’t-squeen-tleh”), or an “h” sound, like “Oaxaca” (pronounced “wa-ha-ca”). Should the letter ‘x’ find itself at the end of a word, it’ll be following a vowel, and it’ll extend that vowel’s sound with a “-ks” sound at the end. With “Latinx,” the rules for how to pronounce ‘x’ can’t be applied.
Additionally, literally every noun in Spanish is referred to with gendered pronouns. Couches are masculine. Tables are feminine. Will the next step be to just replace every vowel with ‘x’, in the spirit of removing gender?
With “Latinx,” the rules in Spanish for how to pronounce ‘x’ can’t be applied.
How can brands, companies, or activists claim “Latinx” is inclusive when it inherently leaves out Spanish speakers? You can’t begin to bastardize the language and then claim to respect the culture.
Are Latinos/Hispanics the Actual Target Audience?
Given the research that “Latinx” isn’t a preferred or even a widely-used term among the Latino/Hispanic community, and the fact that brands and companies continue to use it, it begs the question: Are Latinos and Hispanics even the target audience here? The forced corporate imposition seems to imply a greater concern with activists or groups that want to see everything gender neutral or equal. Even if that means appropriating an entire language.
Companies like Ulta claim to be inclusive and want diversity. But in the end, they’re just feigning an interest in diversity while being disrespectful towards a culture and its language. After all, doesn’t language play a big part in your culture, and that culture’s heritage?