A recent article by Ariel Dorfman (How Spanish Can Help Us Survive Viral Times: A Journey into the Heart of a Language We Need Now More Than Ever, BY ARIEL DORFMAN | FEBRUARY 15, 2021) inspired me to explore my own trajectory through Spanish and my love of the language and the people who speak it. But I know, out the gate, that I am fighting a battle that I have already lost.
Recovering my Spanish.
When I was wee, (five) my mom moved us all to Clearwater Beach, FL in her divorce from my dad in Carlisle, PA, where we had lived for a few short months. We had so far grown up in Mexico City in a big house with my abuelita who only spoke Spanish. Before that we lived in Lima and Buenos Aires (and even Caracas before I was born). Our British school in Mexico, I would discover, was years ahead than the schools I would go to in the US. In the US, my little brother and I were doing OK trying to learn English. But when together, we preferred to speak Spanish. One day in the playground of our Catholic School (St. Cecilia) my brother and I were caught speaking Spanish. I had to go see the Mother Superior who was nothing like the nice 17-year old nun who was my classroom teacher, Sister Claire Ceclia (who liked me). Mother Superior had a big desk, and her office was dark. She had a large cricket bat with holes punched through the bat part. She told me that if she ever heard that I was speaking Spanish again she would hit me with the bat. I was five and in culture shock. She scared the crap out of me. I was learning that gringos were mean, and yet I was a gringo! I was born in Washington DC to a US foreign service family, elite, privileged little kid. That didn’t matter to Mother Superior. Spanish was for fruit pickers and Cuban refugees. Florida was Dixie. I was ashamed of Spanish even though that was the only way I could talk to my abuelita.
We moved back to Mexico (not a minute too soon). The Spanish came back in fits and starts. My new brother Michael, spoke better Spanish than his English but we (the boys, five of us) would all go back to the same British school and learn proper English. My sister would go to the French school and learn proper French, I suppose. This is a common feature throughout Latin America. The expatriates and the ruling class put their kids in private foreign schools where the curriculum is in both Spanish and … French, English, German, and now even Mandarin. The Americans in particular seemed to never perfect their Spanish, living their whole lives in Mexico, often spoke only a broken Spanish, just enough to tell the maid what to do. In my elite school, Spanish was a subject like French (mandatory) and Latin. Mexican history was buried in the history curriculum right up there with Harold of Wessex getting shot in the eye with an arrow at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Yes, we knew more about England in my very British school than we did about Mexico! And hardly any of us would even go and live in England except for the ambassador’s son. The only time we learned about Mexico was on outings to pre-Columbian ruins and museums and government buildings all painted with murals of Orozco and Siqueiros and Diego Rivera. This huge, amazing country, rich in history and culture, was merely subject matter in my school. Sadly, this was true of Spanish also. In my Spanish class, our teacher, el Señor Montarraz (an exile from the Spanish Civil War) told us that if there is a room with a thousand women and only one man, the pronoun is “ellos”. We (my class) did actually all agree that that was absurd. So, I learned that many things in language are absurd. That one never went away. But my last year there, my Spanish teacher was a younger woman who was also attending the UNAM, told us what was going on at the campus in 1968. We were quite shocked to hear about the goon squads and then, Tlatelolco. But she was delighted that my mom was….
At home my mother was devouring Latin American authors in her small study. She attended courses at the IFAL and L’Alliance Française and had some rather well-connected intellectual friends. She had all the first editions of Garcia Marquez, Cortazar, Paz, Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Neruda, Vargas Llosa, Bryce Echenique, and the poets, Cesar Vallejo and Arguedas (Yes, Peruvian literature was her favourite). The literature of Mexico and Chile and Argentina filled her small library. She was in social circles that allowed her to meet and host some of these such as Paz and Fuentes. (My brother Paul used to take Octavio Paz’s dogs for walks.) My mom thought Vargas Llosa “dressed like a parrot”, “un poco huachafo”. She had met him in Lima and was sad at his broken friendship with Garcia Marquez. She handed me books by Garcia Marquez to read. Cien Años de Soledad and the poetry of Neruda were my turning points. I came to a realization that I was reading the best literature being written on the planet at the time and that it came from where my mother’s family came from. It was Lima and Buenos Aires and Caracas and always Mexico DF. We went on outings to the Fondo de Cultura Económica bookstore. Her friend, the poet Blanca Varela ran the FCE bookstore in Lima. I relished in the fact that I could read all this in a single language. It’s an exhilaration that I only felt again decades later watching the film Motorcycle Diaries. I wanted to see the Americas the way that Che Guevara saw them. I wanted to understand all the people from Ushuaia to Iquitos, from Colombia to Mexico to Cuba. I wanted to be a total Latinoamericano.
In Mexico “hasta las piedras hablan”. There is a deep past to Mexico that I have felt in few other places. The pre-colonial cultures have morphed and adapted yet remain in so many places. I remember trying to help a group of Huichol Indians when I was twelve on the bus in the “bougie” neighborhood of Lomas de Chapultepec. They had gotten on right the bus in the wrong direction. Now they were lost and disoriented in the tony neighborhoods of the upper class. But they did not speak Spanish so I could not be much help. They thought they were headed to the Zocalo to petition the president. All of the contradictions of Mexico can hit you in one bus ride. On TV every Sunday the (very gay) poet Salvador Novo had a show in Nahuatl. It was not his mother-tongue but it was the first time I heard a major indigenous language on Mexican TV, which was then “muy oficialista”. Perhaps it was the Instituto Nacional Indigenista that convinced Televisa to let the poet speak Nahuatl on TV. But I never heard an indigenous language on radio and TV after that. (By the way, Mexico City had an English language radio station CBS carrier and still does.)
My brother and I were sent to an American school in the US rather than continue with the curriculum of my British school which prepared you for British exams, the GCE “O” and “A” levels. The French school prepared you for the “Bac” and French exams. My sister went to France of course. The American school in Mexico prepared you for US exams like the SSAT. But it had a rep as a bad school. Mucha mota. None of our school prepared us to take the Mexican exams of the SEP. We were educated in a completely Eurocentric and colonial model of international education that thrives globally to this day. Our school had very high scholastic standards but there were also outstanding Mexican schools K-12 (pre-primaria, primaria, secundaria, preparatoria) run by Jesuits and other Catholic orders, but even the bourgeoisie wanted their kids in the foreign schools. And there was the Colegio Hebreo Tarbut for a Jewish education. One draw was to make their kids bilingual. Some Mexican schools then called themselves “institutos biligües” (meaning English) to attract that market. Spanish alone was never good enough.
Spanish in exile
Michael and I went off to a New England prep school. It was a very nice, even liberal, school by the prep school standard—first to go co-ed and institute elective courses like in college. It even offered a history course called “American Imperialism”. The New England ruling class surprised me with their total parochial and provincial attitudes toward most things west of Ohio, south of New Jersey or north of Stowe, Vermont (great skiing). I was called “taco” and asked if I rode a burro. I suddenly hated gringos. They put chalk insults on my room door (“Spic”). I knew that in “my country” nuns were singing psalms in Latin in large monasteries that were there 1592 and are there still, while the Anglos died of starvation in Massachusetts. Yes, I was suddenly “proud” of colonial Mexico because the gringos were so damn ignorant. It never leaves you in Mexico, the past, the longue durée, good or bad, beautiful or ugly or both, like the nuns’ canticles. Mexicans taught me to live with paradox, that things are both/and, not either/or.
My Spanish teacher was a flamboyant old queen who stank of “Bay Rum” and had a terrible accent. We called him Beezer. The fact that he was “gay as the sun” did not matter to the school or our parents. As a closet gay boy in a boarding school, I did not want much to do with him. I preferred French class with the younger (much better looking) prof who was also the drama teacher and taught us bad slang in French. We read Camus and Sartre. I had a new cultural beacon, it was French 20th century authors and existentialism which I read in French. My Latin American Spanish was withering on the vine as I read Unamuno and Los Pazos de Ulloa from Bazan. Spanish had lost its energy for me as we immersed ourselves in the peninsular literature.
It was not to come back until I signed up for Latin American literature at UC Santa Barbara two years later. The prof was a refugee from Argentina. The year was 1974. We all knew he was a very anxious person whose worry was inescapable. We had no idea what was happening in Argentina. I changed my major from philosophy to Latin American Studies. We read much Argentine literature from “literatura gauchesca” and “costumbrismo” to Borges and Cortazar. I was re-enchanted. He brought me back with all his pain of exile and his love of Argentina. But I still feel guilty for selling my first edition of Cien Años (sewn spine) in a garage sale, and left Elena Poniatowska’s Hasta No Verte, Jesus Mio in a laundromat in UC Santa Cruz. That’s where I encountered many students whose parents were exiles from the military regimes in the Southern Cone. There was also a group of second generation Cuban-Americans at UCSC who wanted to normalize relations. They had a magazine called Areito. The Chilenos and Argentinos were opening up a venue on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley called La Peña Cultural Center. This would be my cultural hub when I moved there. Both my boyfriends worked there.
The War on Spanish
By the time I got to Berkeley, Latin American Studies was now my second major and I was attending events at CLAS on Bowditch. Later working on my MA on agriculture and petroleum revenue in Venezuela that I ran into the experience that cemented my rather odd militancy on the defense of Spanish. California had been debating “bilingual education”, which really meant teaching Spanish along with English in public schools with significant numbers of newly arrived immigrants. The push back from the Anglos was astounding. Laws to make English the ONLY and official language were being proposed in states with large Spanish speaking populations. Bilingual ed was considered a disservice to children, even by Latinos! “It can only put them at a disadvantage in their need to properly assimilate to American culture”.
In my own department, Geography, a debate ensued as to why the department only accepted coursework in French or German as satisfying the foreign language requirement for the MA. We were known for our Latin American focus. Why not Spanish or Portuguese? The answer was that “nothing worth reading in Geography is published in Spanish or Portuguese”. Seriously? We raised a stink and got the rule changed. But I was reminded, yet again, on what I call the Anglo War on Spanish. (More on that after I am done with this yarn.) One day I had an argument in the middle of the hallway with the most conservative grad student in the department at the time on bilingual education. (I had a rep for being the lefty outspoken activist in my battles with prof. Barney Nietschman over the war in Nicaragua. He was pro contra, I was pro FSLN.) The student told me that bilingualism was bad, it had “destroyed Canada”. I had no idea that Canada was no longer because of Quebec! The Anglo mind works in mysterious ways. The department chair, Alan Pred, came in on my side saying his son was being chided in his school in Berkeley for being bilingual in Swedish and English. I came to realize that opposition foreign languages and to Spanish in particular was part of that aggression so unique to the Anglos, that sense of entitlement and exercise of power.
Some years later in a grad seminar on Environmental History led by a renown ecofeminist and on my dissertation committee, each student gave a small talk. I was criticized by one very militant feminist in the class on two counts. I had neglected to say “him or her” every time but worse, I had used a lot of passive voice. (The mouse was chased by the cat.) She said that this was a very sexist form of speech since it disguised the role and gender of the actors. While pleading guilty to the first charge, I was not ready for the second. My use of passive voice was from Spanish and I was in the habit of using it still. I knew from edits on my thesis chapters, that English speakers HATE the passive voice. I actually don’t know why. But I do know that while the right wants to take over the government, the left wants to take over the English Dept.
The use of passive voice in Spanish comes from an indeterminate sense of origin and outcome. I think this might also be in part a Catholic thing the way that active voice is a Protestant thing. The critique I got in class came from my use of ingrained grammar that avoids the certainty of the active voice. There is a big difference between “I did not get your letter.” and “No me llegó la carta que me mandaste.” The latter actually says, “it did not arrive to me the letter which you sent to me.” In the former, there is a sense of blame or failure of the sender. In the latter (which needs more words and is therefore inefficient) anything could have happened. The donkey fell down the abyss with the mail pouch might be a reason. There is no blame. Protestants, believing in their own holiness, are always looking for the sinners. Catholics, accepting themselves as sinners (presumably seeking forgiveness), are not so eager to point the finger. So, they live in a world where all kinds of stuff “happens”. But the Anglo critic thought I was being a sexist. Another lesson learned about gringos. They own the language. But Mexicans taught me “shit happens”.
In California, hundreds of gringos who hire 100% Spanish speakers (and now indigenous speakers) to work in their fields and plants never learn Spanish. Often there are workplace rules or even state laws requiring English only. Countless YouTube vids of crazy Karens going off on foreign speakers at WalMarts with all the confidence of a racist backed by law and tradition. It has only given me more evidence that Anglo North Americans reserve a profound xenophobic animus toward non-English speakers, but especially Spanish. So, I’ll come back to that.
Many years later, living in L.A. and working for the State of California, I found my Spanish was welcomed in the eastern San Fernando Valley where I now live. I can spend a whole day in Van Nuys and environs and only speak Spanish. So, I applied to be a principal at a charter school in the area that taught almost all newly arrived migrants from Central America and Mexico. In the interview I was asked what my vision was for the school. I said I imagined a school like my school in Mexico only in reverse. We would highlight the history and culture of the countries of origin, we would teach Spanish and its literature. We would fly the flags of all the countries where the kids had family. We would learn about geography and indigenous people and food and customs and history. The chair of the committee (Latino) was not impressed. He told me flat out “there is nothing these kids and their families need more than to forget their countries of origin. They need to learn English and adapt to their new home to be successful.” I knew that even (especially?) the immigrants had well-learned to reject their past and embark on the process of assimilation (“agringarse”). I wept. I live in the largest Spanish speaking city outside of Latin America and there is NOT ONE 100% Spanish language school except maybe daycare.
In every major city in the US (and even some minor ones) there are French schools. The Lycée is quite prestigious in L.A. In Berkeley the French school has a waiting list. What do the parents want? Do they want their kids to know how to order from a Gourmet menu or to read Derrida in the original? In a country with 320 million people, 52+ million of which are Latino, there is not ONE not even ONE total Spanish immersion curriculum school. And “bilingual” is reserved for a transition to English only. There is NO long-term bilingual Spanish/English K-12 curriculum anywhere, at all! There is no Spanish language institution of higher education. (Mexico has two English language universities and American visiting scholars can teach in English, even at the UNAM.) Despite the desire of so many of my friends and even family to have their kids be fluent in Spanish, there’s no practical way to do it. With billions in investments in the hemisphere, most US corporate execs only speak English. They don’t need to speak Spanish. The lingua franca of US imperial dominance is English. There is no “Liceo Ibero-americano”. Nobody wants one. All indicators show that the “mother tongue” is lost to the third generation of immigrant kids whether their parents came from the Azores, Greece or el Salvador. I think it takes one generation today because of pop culture and social media. But the Anglos have a very specific fear and loathing of Spanish in particular. Armenians are not taught to be ashamed of Armenian the way Latinos are taught to be ashamed of Spanish. Where I live, a mostly Latino neighborhood, Armenian flags are everywhere. Mexican flags are scarce, and the Anglos go nuts when they see it. They write letters to the editor of the L.A. Times asking why the Mexicans don’t go “back home”. Not one Latino elected official has any command over the Spanish language. Alex Padilla can talk about his Mexican parents, but he can barely speak their language. When politicians do speak a foreign language like Mitt Romney or Pete Buttigieg, it’s rarely Spanish. French is cool though.
A casual review of local and state government documents translated into Spanish often show glaring errors and bad usage. Campaign material is notoriously badly translated. My own perusal of material I receive shows over half of it to use wrong or bad Spanish. Recently I have selected #2 on my phone when asked “For English press 1, for Spanish press 2”. It’s really appalling what counts for a Spanish speaker on the other end. But I do it anyway because the waiting time is often shorter. Spanish does not demand respect or improvement. I have been asked when doing a translation job into Spanish, to pleas “dumb it down” because the monolingual target audience “does not have a big vocabulary.” So, we use words ported into US Spanish usage like “troca” for truck. That target audience lost its vocabulary simply by being ashamed of its mother tongue.
This leads up to my thesis. My life experience has taught me to become a defender and even jealous guardian of Spanish in the United States. This is a worthy battle. This is not some lame defense of Spanish as used in Cervantes any more than an argument that English spoken should be Shakespearian. I do not think that languages are fossils stuck in time or regulated by illustrious people (men) or Royal Academies. Languages are socio-cultural constructs that indeed change through time and are often a terrain of social struggle along with other aspects of culture. Language, particularly popular usage, is the living communicative tissue of people. Each vernacular peculiarity reveals the station, class and mobility of the user. Studying the modalities and power relations inherent in the regulation of language (official vs popular) is central to cultural analysis and society. It has always been a significant part of political struggle. It is not surprising that many intellectuals turn their attention to the various ways in which modern language usage and social difference are embedded in daily practice and reproduce inclusion and exclusion. One cannot be naïve as to the special role of language in gender identification, misogyny, and patriarchy.
That said, my main argument is that English speaking mainly Anglo Saxon America has held a great animus toward Latin America and the Caribbean for most of recent (150 year) history and that part of that animus is a rejection of the Spanish language. It is derided and reduced to a quaint list of foods and song lyrics. Most Anglo references to Spanish are derisive. “Hey hombre, como esta? Hey amigo?” And then there’s no effort to pronounce its short vowels and crisp syllables at all, even by Americans who have lived in Mexico for 30 years. ‘E’s and ‘I’s are confused and… who cares, right? Spanish if funny. It is a lower-class language. It’s for fruit pickers and refugees. Like Guillermo on Jimmy Kimmel, we are amusing, inoffensive, cute. It’s OK to use words like Chipotle and Burrito, it's all food. Even among Spanish speakers, the youth have a limited list of household words and phrases to use with grandma. But the language of education, progress and success is… English! The language of technology is English. The language of sports, movies, cool music and excitement is English. So, we have a huge disadvantage that cannot be overcome.
The “Latinx” Question
So, do Latinos care about this? Latinos are not and never have been a monolith. When you combine the evangelical churches with anti-communism, you get “Latinos for Trump”. When you look at union organizing and service employees and workplace struggles in meat packing plants, you have progressive Latino leaders. But for the “conservative” Latinos, there is the notion of the zero-sum game (if you get something, I have to lose) and pulling up the ladder mentality (I work hard to make it in America, and you want refugee status?). And there is racism toward browner, more indigenous, and blacker new migrants vs. the whiter ones. Even the census asks if you consider yourself “white Hispanic” or “white South American”. The “Hispanic” v “Latino” terms have been around and do mark a boundary on degree of assimilation. Even here in L.A., some Latinos will tell me (proudly!) “I don’t speak Spanish” when I mistakenly assume they do and speak to them in Spanish. The Anglo project has been mostly successful despite the rantings of the right on bilingual ed and language acquisition.
This inexorable wave of pressure to assimilate is lubricated by the extra tagging of Spanish as particularly “wrong”. Latinos do not defend the beauty of their language. They barely defend their right to use it. They do not teach it to their children. And now we are told, the language needs fixing. Now the focus is gendered nouns that refer to people. The progressive social movement people, with the best intentions, lead the charge. Gendered nouns exclude people who do not identify with the gender binary. Let’s fix it.
How is “Latinx” a solution? I have cringed since I first heard it. Many Spanish speakers I know also cringe, but they are afraid of being branded reactionaries (I already was.). I do think it came from the university and is in no way a grassroots movement (3% of Latino people use it at all according to a recent Pew study, while 65% are aware of it, a huge majority rejects it). Why does this not matter to the proponents? Is it because the language architects hold that population as politically suspect? The overwhelming rejection of the term is only evidence of the sexism and phobia inherent in Latino culture. They need to “be educated.” (by whom?)
So, “Latinx” got dropped on Latinos by academics, some journalists, and some people in the arts community (gallery owners and performance spaces) and in non-profits. It was fast adopted by politicians and some community leaders, all with the best intentions, but ignorant of any debate. This is important because I do not think that one need be aware of being part of a reprehensible project if you have never thought about the overall context in which you are now acting. I don’t think purveyors of Latinx could even imagine that their success is connected to the imperial system in which they work. So, it is seen in the context of the “culture war” where the proponents are progressive and their critics are conservative reactionaries. In that context it is very much part of the disruptive culture of millennials and Gen Z. "Move fast, break things”. So, it is popular with the (monolingual?) youth. In some circles that is automatically validating. But young people today are notoriously fickle and subject to fads and short-term attention. To me, it is graffiti. It’s spray-painting Spanish (see concluding comment as evidence) for a perceived inherent failing—gendered nouns. But there are at least 9 languages I know that have gendered nouns (French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Gallego, Catalan, Occitan, Romanche, and several more. Why stop at Spanish?) Putting an x at the end of one gendered noun that refers to people only begs the question, what about the others? Mexicanx? Argentinx? We already got Filipinx and Chicanx. It actually sounds horrible to me.
The letter x in Mexican Spanish has three or four sounds. In “Mexico” the x is a “j” as in “Mejico” or Xavier or Ximena. In “Xola” it has the sound of “Sh”. It can also sound like “ks” as it does in English as well, “pax”. Standing alone it is pronounced “equis” as in a Dos Equis beer. And in front of some nouns, it is pronounced “ex” as in “el ex-presidente Donald Trump”. In some rare cases is sounds like “ch” as in Aranxa. In English it has one sound only. The fix doesn’t work for us. But I am sure we can be made to dance to the tune of those who have the power to repair our faulty language.
I know that among academics the pressure to adopt the term is the greatest. And the term will probably not go away any time soon. The New Yorker has adopted it. But the New Yorker also insists on umlauts on vowel diphthongs like “coöperate”. It has not caught on. I predict academics will lean toward the x. But I am reminded that in the 1970s a far larger group of people inside and outside of academe wanted the word “women” to be written as “womyn”. That was to do away with the word “men” to even appear in the word that refers to women. It faded away. Why? Is this not a parallel?
English is an ever evolving and dynamic language that has the two (or more) “advantages” of a neutral gender and the ability for adjectives to come on front of nouns, even creating whole new words like “softwear”. Romance languages are lacking in both. English is rich in nouns. Spanish is rich in verbs (even two verbs “to be”). In a world where everything is eventually a “thing”, English comes out winning. So, in Spanish we say “sofwer”. English also has the advantage of being the language of empire. So many translators I know get all their income translating English manuals for software and hardware into Spanish. Americans use a handful of verbs, “to get, to be, to have, to do”. Verbs are artificially created in this verb-poor language. Gerunds are common. Who ever thought “impacting” could be a verb? Now it is. For me, Spanish is the dynamic language because it looks to process like change and motion and action. There is a verb for everything. English looks at things or turns actions into things. “But I am not a noun, I am a verb.” (R. Buckminster Fuller).
To go out on a limb…. From my perch, "Latinx" is an assault on Spanish that can't actually be fixed. But it does not translate into Spanish without provoking a roar of laughter since in Spanish the gender agreement goes beyond the noun. So, we would have to address our Spanish speaking comrades thus: "Estiamadx compañerx Latinx,"—hilarious, of course. The fact that the authors of this verbal abortion don't mean their new standard to actually be used by Spanish (and Portuguese, French, Italian, Catalan, Gallego, Romanche, Romanian, etc) speakers only underscores my point. "Latinx" is nothing more than another iteration of the war on Latin America. It is waged by people whose linguistic privileges as English speakers are weaponized with the long reach of their imperial economy and cultural hegemony that comes with their modern entertainment and cybernetic culture. And they enjoy a great deal of legitimation in the university. Yes, we are at a disadvantage when superpowers own the English language journals, news agencies, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Google, etc. One viral video on TikTok and voila! a new trend, a new phrase, a new (Anglocentric) meme. You win, we lose.
Does the term address a problem? This is arguable since we know it has not been led by a grassroots movement of non-binary gendered people. Studies show that “non-binary” people are 0.06% of the overall population. Latinos make up 18% of the US population (<60 million). That makes the Latinx group about 36,000 people. Even if 100% of that group wanted the language altered to lift the yoke of gender assignation inherent in Spanish to be removed with the awesome X, it would still be (and remains) a hard sell. Why offend millions to advance a dubious cause that lacks the groundswell to make it real for 36,000 people? By the way, use of Latinx by Democratic party candidates in Florida (I know, you can guess where this goes) cost the Dems votes. Those were Dem voters until they heard “Latinx” and… cringed!
Lastly, the X does NOT include the previously excluded, as are women for example. My trans friends (almost all Latinas) have struggled to be seen in their choice of gender. They are committed to be seen as Latinas and hate the Latinx term they believe erases their struggle. Is that not a problem? Can gender neutrality also erase gender where people want to affirm it? Some feminists support Latinx because it is better (simpler?) than Latino/a or Latin@. No such change is demanded of his/hers or him/her, she/he though. It always seems to be all about Spanish.
There is a solution to the gender bias inherent in Spanish. If the “a” ending is feminine and “o” is masculine, why not e? as neither? Why is the alternative “es” (pioneered in Chile and Argentina) not get the attention of the x? Because we don’t have any comparable soap box. Yet it is the only alternative that does address the problem of adoption into Spanish. It comes from Spanish speakers eager to see what changes can be made to provide an alternative to gendered nouns in Spanish (and Portuguese) that do in fact create problems. Latine and Latines work with singular and plural, Latinx does not. New pronouns or “elles latines” can be accommodated with the existing rules of Spanish. While novel, it sounds like we have had it for a long time. It certainly has a much smaller cringe trigger.
But the Anglos aren’t interested. Is it because it lacks the shock value that Americans like in everything? Is Spanish too soft? If they say, Latines, which is sonorous (and even sounds like Catalan) is that not aggressive enough? So, let’s ignore that since it wasn’t “our idea” anyway. Plus, how can they compete with the English awesome grip on communication and language? I think that Latin American intellectuals working in the English-speaking world and writing in English have a special obligation to protect the Spanish language and to promote ideas that come from Latin America. They should, for that reason, reject “Latinx” and promote “Latine”.
Who am I to speak to this?
One has to read one’s cred in order to not be attacked as a miserable sexist, misogynist, defender of patriarchy and colonialism and genocide. But it won’t matter. The left eats its own. And now the “left” has taken this idea (always up for debate) and turned it into an ideology (never up for debate). That is the Achilles heel (sorry for the Classic literature reference. I’m sure it shows me to be a bourgeois reactionary) of the academic left—to place debatable ideas in hermetically sealed compartments that are beyond debate. That said, here’s my left cred. I am a progressive socialist and have been since the tanks rolled in the streets of Mexico City in 1968. I was 13. I have not only taught higher ed courses in environment and political economy for forty years but also with experience at Pacifica Radio as a journalist and now active in the DSA. I am also a gay Latino male and support all LGBTQ rights issues, especially those rights of trans people and trans people of color who are victims of violence all too often. Of course, non-binary people are part of the rainbow that my friend Gilbert Baker sewed into the originally nine colored rainbow flag that changed the world. Sexual minorities have shown how fundamental this dimension of self is to our wellbeing and our right to play a constructive role in society. I am a faculty sponsor of the Gay Lesbian Club on my campus. I was married to another gay man for thirty years, ten of those legally. I work on myriad environmental issues on climate and greening the economy.
But I will remain ever vigilant of the power of the Anglos to erode, attack, edit, change, critique, and modify my mother tongue. “Latinx” will never stop making me cringe and there is nothing politically or intellectually “wrong” with me that it triggers a certain disdain on my part. It’s funny to fight a battle that I know I have already lost. Here is the evidence from a recent Taylor & Francis major textbook on Latin American Development. The book, The Routledge Handbook of Latin American Development, is dedicated thus:
I used to speak Spanish. Now I someone “moved fast and broke things”. Note the puerile satisfaction is fashioning something so new and different that it requires interpretation. Ugly and silly.
 Institut Français de l’Amerique Latine. Mexico City also had the Lycée Français and the Alliance Française. There is no comparable Spanish language educational organization in the US. The Spanish language bookstore in L.A. closed its doors over a decade ago. Our “foreign film” art houses rarely feature Latin American films.
 Many of these are on their way to the UCR library where they have a home.
 I have since found out that there is ONE institution of higher learning in the US with an 100% Spanish curriculum. It is the “School of the Americas” at Ft. Benning in GA where the military of Latin America are trained in the fine points of coups and torture!
 The book has 47 chapters, mostly contributions from well-known Latin American authors and writers on Latin America. The book is edited by cultural studies people. The order or structure of the book is entirely upside down. It ends with the important stuff: land, resources, environment, labor and cities. It starts with gender studies and cultural studies and cultural struggles as decolonial struggles, etc. I would never use this book.
See also: Does the Term “Latinx” Advance Social Justice? Washington Monthly, May 1, 2021