Column: I don’t call myself Latinx, but the conservative war against it is ludicrous

A woman with long brown hair sits in a chair, lit by TV light, and speaks.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivers the Republican response to President Biden’s State of the Union address on Feb. 7.
(Al Drago / Associated Press)

For the last decade or so, “Latinx” has provoked the linguistic version of a pie fight.

No one who comes within the orbit of this term can resist joining in the uproar. When they inevitably tap out, they emerge messier.

The neologism refers to folks who trace their heritage to Latin America and is thus a rough synonym for “Latino.” Its champions argue that “Latino” reinforces patriarchal norms — the –o suffix in Spanish nouns is the masculine form, the –a signifies feminine — and that the “x” is inclusive by recognizing nonbinary people.

Although no one knows the exact origins of “Latinx,” the word began to emerge in online culture during the mid-2000s, used by people who identified with it. It earned mainstream attention after the 2016 Pulse massacre in Orlando, which happened during a “Latin Night” promotion at the gay nightclub.


A few months before Pulse, I heard “Latinx” for the first time at Long Beach Zine Fest, when an audience member asked what I thought about the term. I said if someone wanted me to refer to them as Latinx, I would.

That’s about as magnanimous as the discussion around “Latinx” ever got.

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Although it’s now a staple at college campuses and in progressive circles, a 2020 Pew Research Center study found that three-quarters of Latinos hadn’t even heard of “Latinx” and only 3% used it.

The pushback by Latinos across age and political groups has been relentless and frequently derisive. Opponents claim that people should spend their time on more important issues and that no one should have terminology imposed on them — that “Latinx” is too tied to an LGBT identity, too hard to pronounce, and that no “real” Latino uses it, whatever the hell that means.

What’s real is the blowback from Latino political leaders. In 2021, the League of United Latin American Citizens — one of the oldest Latino civil rights groups in the country — announced it would no longer use “Latinx,” declaring the term “very unliked.”

That same year, Ruben Gallego, a Democratic congressmember from Arizona, tweeted that his staff wasn’t allowed to use “Latinx” in official communications because “when Latino politicos use the term it is largely to appease white rich progressives who think that is the term we use.”

Last month, Connecticut State Representative Geraldo Reyes Jr., a Democrat, authored a bill that would ban state agencies from using “Latinx.” Reyes told the Associated Press that he found it “offensive” as a Puerto Rican because “they” didn’t have to make up a word for something that already exists — never bothering to define who “they” were.


I don’t call myself “Latinx,” because it doesn’t resonate with me — but neither does “Hispanic.” Besides, I’ve always taken the long view in this name game. Over the past 100 years, “my” people — that is, those whose ancestral roots are in Mexico — have paraded around at least a dozen terms to describe “us,” from the European (Latin) to the radical (Chicano) to the specific (Mexican American), the strange (hispanoid, which academics used during the 1960s) and even sometimes, if you can believe it, “American.”

Each of these descriptors had defenders and detractors — the legendary labor activist Bert Corona revealed in his memoir that some community groups he tried to organize in the 1950s never formed because of disagreement over what pan-ethnic term should be in their name. But the fight over what to call “ourselves” has historically been an intra-Latino one, almost always among those of the liberal persuasion, with outsiders quizzically looking on.

What’s new with the debate over “Latinx” is there’s now an uninvited group that wants in: conservatives.

A study shows that only 3% of Latino adults use the label “Latinx,” but the term has vocal supporters. The debate about names and identity among Latinos isn’t new, especially in politics.

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“Latinx” was barely on their radar until the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, when then-candidate Elizabeth Warren uttered it during a debate. It quickly became a punchline for the likes of Bill Maher and Greg Gutfeld, who ridiculed Democratic politicians as being so out-of-touch that they were calling Latino voters something the vast majority didn’t even favor.

In recent months, GOP members have employed “Latinx” as a wedge issue, with the idea it will drive more Latinos toward their side. Two Republicans are co-sponsoring the anti-Latinx bill in the Connecticut legislature. Last fall, a dark money group led by former Trump administration members put up a billboard in Commerce that read, “Only oppressive cisgender bigots say ‘Latino.’ It’s LATINX now. Pass it on.” This followed a billboard the group put up in Austin — people should “defend pregnant Latinx men,” it read in Spanish.

Meanwhile, one of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ first acts as governor of Arkansas was banning “Latinx” from state documents out of “respect [to] the Latino community” and in an effort to “prohibit the use of culturally insensitive words.” In her response to President Biden’s State of the Union speech, Huckabee Sanders claimed that “Latinx” was “derogatory” yet didn’t explain why.


When I recently pointed out on Twitter the irony of conservatives lambasting a term like “Latinx” — which emerged organically from a maligned community — in favor of “Hispanic” — a designation that the federal government codified in the 1970s — you’d think I had just beat up a Donald Trump piñata at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The argument by conservatives that they’re opposed to “Latinx” because Latinos don’t care for it is laughable, considering a majority of Latinos want amnesty for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, yet the GOP is as build-the-wall as ever. It also obscures the reason behind the right’s sudden interest in trashing “Latinx”: fear.

As Latinos continue to vote in higher numbers, the Republican Party realizes it can’t demonize them for cheap political points anymore, because it needs them more than ever. Nor do traditional culture war issues like abortion and opposition to gay marriage hold as much sway as they used to, as much as the GOP would love it to be otherwise.

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More Latinos have joined the GOP in recent years — but that had more to do with the allure of a wannabe strongman like Trump and a Democratic Party perceived as elitist and too focused on Green New Deals and social justice issues instead of the economy. Standing against “Latinx” is the last, best chance for conservatives who have no other ideas. On this matter, they’re no different than Democrats like Gallego and Reyes, who appear to think that Latinos are easily swayed dupes who need protection against evolving language.

The same polls that show Latinos rejecting “Latinx” also reveal that the term doesn’t particularly offend them.

The Pew Research Center study cited by many anti-Latinxers revealed that only 12% of those surveyed “disagree with or dislike” it. A 2021 poll by Bendixen & Amandi International, a Democratic firm that focuses on Latino outreach, found that while only 2% of those polled identified as Latinx, 57% said the term “doesn’t bother them.”


But let conservatives ramp up their word war as the 2024 elections approach. By focusing on “Latinx,” they’ll commit the linguistic version of the Streisand effect — named for Barbra Streisand, who sued to have a publicly available photo of her cliff-top Malibu home removed from the internet, instead drawing far more attention to it.

This time, Latinos will see the Republican Party for what it really is: a giant cow pie. Toss it far, far away.