Recently, I was having a conversation with my spouse about identity designations. The conversation went something like this,
“Why are people using Latinx? Why don’t you guys just use Latin instead and omit the need for X?” He assumed that Latin was gender neutral.
A brief history of Latin
According to Dictionary.com, Latin is a word with three meanings. First, it refers to the official language of the Roman Empire. Second, it identifies the forms of literary Latin- Medieval, Late, Biblical, Liturgical or Vulgar. Finally, it identifies natives or inhabitants of Latium or ancient Rome.
Napoleon III coined the term “Latin America” in the early 1900s. It aligned the countries of the American continent where Latin-based languages were spoken. This was important for the French. The goal? To align “Latin-Americans” with “Latin Europe” against “Slavic,” and “Teutonic Europe” as well as against “Anglo Saxon America.” More relevant, by changing the prior description of Hispanic America, it could increase France’s role in the region. This would enable France to invade Mexico and install Maximilian I as its emperor in 1861.
So back to my husband’s question, why don’t I call myself a Latin Because I do not connect myself to ancient Rome. But, I do identify myself as Latina, Latinx or Latino-Americana, so why distinguish?
In the US, Latinos were not identified differently from whites prior to this time period. This is not to say there was no discrimination against people of Latinx descent. In the US, social movements sought to increase the voices of minority groups in the 1960s and 1970s. To identify the needs of Spanish (here I use it to mean the language) people, a special designation was needed.
By the 1990s when I was growing up, Latino-Americano was part of the vernacular. I embrace it because it aligns me with women who have similar life experiences, even if their families aren’t from Mexico. And, I believe that hate reduces when we see ourselves in others. Can you imagine what it would mean for “White America” to realize that the term “American” is not exclusive to them? Imagine if they realized that the term includes all the people living between Denali and Del Fuego? Such a realization would change our society.
How do you identify? Why?