UC San Diego has begun using new words to refer to Latinos and Chicanos in a move that reflects the profound change that’s occurring nationally in the way many people define their gender and sexuality.
The gender-specific terms Latino and Chicano are being selectively replaced with Latinx and Chicanx to promote acceptance of virtually anyone who falls under the headings.
The change is being promoted by students, social justice activists and the LGBTQ community, which are trying to get people to look beyond conventional notions of gender, sex and appearance.
As broadly used, Latino refers to people of Latin American origin or descent.
Latinx includes men and women of Latin American descent, people who are not exclusively male or female, people who don’t think of themselves as a man or a woman, and people who don’t act or dress in ways that are common to people of their gender.
The same basic definition applies to Chicanx, with the exception of heritage. Chicanos are Americans of Mexican descent.
“This is about making the university more inclusive,” said Becky Pettit, UC San Diego’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion. “We’re meeting students where they are.”
The university also is trying to more broadly appeal to Latinos, an area where it has lagged behind some University of California campuses.
The new word changes, made this week, mean that the school will use Latinx and Chicanx in a lot of its official communications, such as news releases and publicity. The words also might end up being used in the naming of certain campus events.
Schools like Grossmont and MiraCosta colleges already use those terms in their publicity. So does UC Irvine. The University of San Diego holds a Chicanx/Latinx graduation.
But deeper change is being sought. And it involves two words — Latinx and Chicanx — that are not widely used by the general public, partly because there’s confusion about what the words mean and how they are pronounced.
People are especially perplexed by Latinx, which was reflected in a reader survey published this year by Remezcla, a media company.
The survey found that readers were almost evenly divided between pronouncing Latinx as latin-x and la-teen-x. A small percentage preferred lah-tinks. Still others have suggested referring to Latinos as Latin@, a gender-neutral term that hasn’t caught on.
Colleges and universities are often among the first places for new language to appear. That’s precisely what’s been happening over the last couple of years.
At UC San Diego, it is no longer uncommon for a person to announce their “personal pronouns” when they introduce themselves at a meeting.
For example, a person might say, “My pronouns are he/him/his” or “she/her/hers.” Or the person could ask to simply be referred to as “they” because their gender identity doesn’t neatly match that of a man or a woman.
The issue of gender identity also has surfaced in the way students apply for undergraduate admission to the University of California system.
Students can now choose from heterosexual/straight, bisexual, gay and lesbian to describe their sexuality.
Under gender, they can select gender nonconforming, genderqueer, transgender, trans man, trans male, trans woman or trans female.
Making a selection — which is voluntary — can be confusing. Some of the terms aren’t well known to the general public, and some have multiple meanings.
The UC says that genderqueer refers to “a person whose gender identity and/or gender expression falls outside of the dominant social norm of the assigned sex, is beyond genders, or is some combination.”
The new California Gender Recognition Act is likely to make all of these terms more familiar to a wider audience. The act, which begins to take effect Jan. 1, will make it easier for people who are transgender, nonbinary or intersex to obtain state-issued IDs that specify their gender.
“Terms and practices change over time,” said Dayo F. Gore, an ethnic studies professor at UC San Diego. “It doesn’t mean it is a zero-sum game. The important thing is how do we think about the changes. It gives us a chance to be open and speak.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune asked Pettit whether some people will view words such as Latinx as an act of political correctness, leading to blowback against the campus.
“I think the nature of higher education as institutions is to create spaces for resistance and for people to redefine themselves and for people to redefine the world that they want to live in,” Pettit said.
“I don’t mean to sound flippant, but that’s what universities exist for: to allow people to think freely, to allow people to redefine and shift culture.”
Robbins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.