LATINO, HISPANIC, LATINX. What the heck do we call ourselves?
It is Hispanic Heritage Month, and for me, it’s always the busiest time of the year.
I have a love-hate relationship with this month. I love it because there are lots of opportunities presented to me during this time. As one of the few working Latina filmmakers in the US, I get asked to speak at Universities, screen my films, attend Latino film festivals, and there are also lots and lots of events. The hate part comes from wishing these types of opportunities were available all year long, not just for me but for other talented Latino artists. AND that at times all of the marketing celebrating Hispanic Heritage month feels pandering, like all of a sudden every brand remembers we exist. But I digress…
This year, things are different. I still have a hectic month, but this time around, I’m constantly asked to call myself LATINX. A term I feel doesn’t represent me.
The term Latinx started popping up on my social media a little over two years ago. A Facebook page declared that this is what we are to call ourselves and if we don’t, then we’re prejudiced against non-binary folks. Latinx, many have explained to me, moves away from assigning gender to things and people and that the word HISPANIC is merely an expression of colonialism.
This is partially true. The word Hispanic was first used in the 1970 census to collect data to identify those of Spanish descent or those whose countries were colonized by the Spaniards. That is why many people don’t appreciate the term. But a lot of folks do.
When I moved to the US 20 years ago, I adopted the term Latina to describe myself. I love this term. It not only identifies me as someone whose heritage comes from Latin America. I loved that it is in Spanish. Adding the “A” at the end did that. I’m proudly a woman, and I’m proudly bilingual. I believe that it should be my choice to call myself what I’d like and not be forced to use Latinx. The most significant issues I have with the word are that it’s a made-up word, and it cannot be pronounced in Spanish. I asked my parents to say it and they simply can’t. That, to me, creates a divide, which is the opposite of what the term is trying to do. Some people have said to me “It’s just a word,” But words are powerful. Entire wars have sprouted out of “Just words.”
That being said, I APPLAUD the movement and the intention behind the term LATINX. It has forced many, including myself, to get out of our comfort zone and acknowledge that we assume this world operates in a binary gender centric manner. When we do this, we are in fact, discriminating against those individuals who are neither male nor female. I personally have dear friends in my life that identify as LATINX, and I respect it. I will call anyone who asks me to call them LATINX just that.
I have come to realize that it is mostly generational. People who are from my parents’ generation don’t get it. People from my generation, seem to be split up about this, and younger folks seem to embrace it.
It’s also regional. When I travel to the heartland of the country, most haven’t heard of this term.
Most people in Latin American reject Latinx all together. I suspect it is because it’s a word in English and because in Spanish X stands for NOTHING / ZERO. I’ve heard of people in Spanish speaking countries also modifying Spanish to be more gender fluid by replacing “Latino” with “Latine” for example “El Maestre.”
The thing is, it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to come up with a term that truly encompasses the Latino culture. We come in all races, practice different religions, have different nationalities, and speak many different languages. But there’s an affinity that cannot be denied. I didn’t eat a Mexican tortilla until I moved to the US. But somehow, now that I live in the US a tortilla seems like it’s very mine, just as much as an Arepa.
I love traveling throughout this country and seeing different expressions of the American-Latino experience. I can’t help but feel identified with them, even though if they’re different than mine. Like the time I went to Texas and saw people dancing Square Dance to a Cumbia song! I was blown away by this and quickly joined in.
There’s something very beautiful about being able to drink Coquito with a Puerto Rican friend and discover “Hey in Venezuela we have something similar called Ponche Crema!” And so on.
If you want me to call you Latinx I will GLADLY do so because that is your choice and I respect it. If you want me to call you Chicana, I will GLADLY do so because that is your choice and I respect it. If you want me to call you Hispanic, I will GLADLY do so because that is your choice and I respect it. If you want me to call you Mexican, I will GLADLY do so because that is your choice and I respect it. Please call me LATINA.
All of these terms mean something to someone. And as long as we use them proudly to connect with one another, and not divide us, I think all of them should be embraced. We should not impose a term on an entire group of people, that will only divide us even more.
I dream of a day in which as a community, we realize that celebrating our connectivity will make us more powerful. Because there is power in numbers. The African American community, in the entertainment business, is a perfect example of this, they have come together, demanded change, and most importantly supported each other. Now they have a very much deserved seat at the table. Let’s get OURS TOO!