Should organizations use Latin@ or Latinx?
Thursday, August 31st, 2017
Written by: Pierre Berastaín, Assistant Director of Innovation and Engagement, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network
In recent years, we have seen a rise in public discussions around gender inclusivity in English and Spanish terminology. These conversations are important and worthy of comprehensive, meaningful civil discourse. Language changes to accommodate shifting attitudes, perceptions, positions, and preferences, and this is very much the case with the discussion between the terms Latinx and Latin@. Although Casa de Esperanza’s National Latin@ Network incorporates the @, the conversation about use of either term is still openly and regularly held among staff. People frequently ask Casa de Esperanza which term is more inclusive or proper, and how either term’s use affects overall content legibility. Given the frequency with which we receive questions around language, we drafted the following thoughts for consideration:
Spanish is a gendered language, with many common nouns ending in “a” or “o,” giving them male or female connotations. For this reason, in conversations about gender inclusivity, some grammarians or lexicographers insist that Spanish is already a rich language that can accommodate for gender neutrality. For example, instead of “los profesores,” one could say “el profesorado,” which would incorporate female and male professors. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply for all cases of engendered language. For instance, there is no term for the gender-neutral term “parents,” except for “padres,” which is masculine.
Several years ago, and as a response to the strict gender norms in Spanish, the NLN decided to opt for the term “Latin@” to maintain the reference to both “a” and “o” endings in Spanish. People don’t necessarily like this notation because, in their mind, the @ still alludes to the masculine and feminine duality that exists in Spanish, thereby constraining the writer to dichotomous conceptions of Spanish. This might be true, but it is also important to remember that many pre-colonial civilizations believed in the co-existence of both feminine and masculine qualities in all beings — human and non. Pre-Incan and Incan civilizations, for instance, believed that for men to maintain an internal balance, they needed to “tap into” their intrinsic feminine side (and vice versa). Some of today’s Central American indigenous groups honor the duality and ambiguity in LGBTQ gender expression by asserting that those with gender fluidity have special gifts that benefit the entire community. One could argue that the @ pays respect to those indigenous and ancient roots that assert the duality of gender in all creation.
In the last couple of years, however, we have seen an increase in the use of x at the end of words, as in Latinx, but we still encounter some similar roadblocks as we do with the use of @. For example, what do we do with “parents” (padrx? madrx?) or “niños and niñas” (niñxs?). Some people still prefer the x ending because it eliminates the reference to the gendered nature of Spanish. Others prefer it because the x takes gender to another “dimension,” alluding instead to gender non-conformity.
Another option, perhaps, would be to default to “female” language—that is what some feminist organizations have done in Latin America. In other words, when speaking about a group whose make up is mixed, some people default to the feminine notation. There are times, however, when this would not be possible and the default to feminine terms would create more confusion. For instance, we could just say “las activistas” and “las estudiantes,” but someone who isn’t familiar with our philosophy might assume that all students in the group or all activists were female. Yet another option would be to include parentheticals. For instance, “los padres (y madres) tienen que conversar con sus hijos (e hijas).” This style can get rather lengthy.
Ultimately, each agency needs to decide what language to use, but regardless of the decision, it is important to clearly state the rationale. It is also important to create a policy that determines which documents will use the @ or x and which will not. For instance, an agency might make it a point to maintain “standard” Spanish in press releases and research publications, but not in blog posts. There is also the question of access and literacy. Some Spanish-speaking survivors in your state might have limited Spanish proficiency, so reading Latinx and Latin@ or niñ@s might render brochures and pamphlets inaccessible and sometimes incomprehensible. For those who use screen readers, for instance, people who are blind or have low vision, writing Latin@ or Latinx might also present an issue, as these readers might not recognize the notation.
Here at Casa de Esperanza, we continue to have conversations about our language. Currently, we use the @ and opt to include an explanation where appropriate, such as in infographics or other documents for general consumption. Ultimately, we make a determination on usage of the @ based on our intended audience and purpose.
 A literal translation would read, “the fathers (and mothers) have to speak with their sons (and daughters)” as opposed to “Parents have to speak with their children.” In English, “parents’ and “children” are gender neutral and thus encompass both male and female entities. The parenthetical clarifications would be necessary in Spanish since “parents” translates as “padres” (which is also the masculine ‘fathers’) and “children” translates as “hijos” (which is also masculine for ‘sons’).