The Latinx Factor

By Ashley Bean Thornton

My own internal responses and practice when it comes to gendered language are not especially rational, well thought out or consistent.  There’s a tug-of-war between my desire to be taken seriously and treated respectfully, and a lifetime of linguistic habits and aural sensitivities that I absorbed being raised by Southerners in the South.

For example, it irks me when someone refers to me as a “lady” — even worse “sweet lady.”  To me that is the linguistic equivalent of a patronizing pat on the head.  I know good and well that most people don’t mean a thing by it. They may even mean it as a compliment – but still, I don’t like it.  On the other hand, I have more than once heard myself describing someone as “You know, that tall lady over there in the polka-dot shirt…”  Go figure!

It has always aggravated me that I was supposed to be fine with words like “Mankind” and “Mailman” representing everyone in a category whether they were men or women. On the other hand, I almost never like it when we change the words in the hymns at church to be gender neutral.  I am fine with the theology – but it grates on my ears.

It has always rubbed me the wrong way that “he” is the default pronoun – and all of us “she’s” are supposed to be fine with that.  On the other hand, when I am writing, I hate the clunkiness of he/she.  And – even though I am dedicated to using “they” for people who prefer that pronoun – I haven’t made the transition to using that as my default pro-noun for general non-gender-specific writing/speaking.

Coming as I do, from this wobbly position as a second-rate crusader for gender equality in language, the following headline caught my eye in my daily news scan: SENS. CRUZ, RUBIO INTRODUCE BILL TO BAN FEDERAL USE OF TERM ‘LATINX.’

I have only the most basic understanding of Spanish, but even I know Spanish is a gendered language – “o” means male, “a” means female; a “Latino” is a man, a “Latina” is a woman.  I also know that “Latino” is the default used when the group can include men or women.  For example, if you look at the U.S. Census you can find a demographic category “Hispanic or Latino” where “Latino” refers (presumably) to both men and women.

I had seen the word “Latinx” a few times here and there, but I didn’t know much about it.  To my Anglo ears it sounded like a handy way to get around the challenge of trying to use a gendered language to respectfully include everybody.

I am not surprised at all to hear that a switch from Latino/Latina to “Latinx” is causing some heartburn – there’s usually always some heartburn with any kind of change. I am a little bit surprised it’s a big enough deal that we need legislation to BAN its use in federal documents.  Why is that?

I decided to consult the oracle.  I posted on Facebook: “I am curious about the term “Latinx.” I would be interested to hear from folks who are Latino/Latina/Latinx what you think about it. Do you like it? Not like it? Not care about it?”

I got a terrific – mostly civil by Facebook standards – thread of responses. I learned plenty!  Several people shared articles and links to videos that I thought were very interesting and helpful, I have linked to them below.

Predictably, my Facebook friends had a range of responses from “I hate it, I’ll never use it” to “I like it, I think it serves an important purpose.” There were all kinds of interesting variations in between like “I don’t care for it, but it’s not offensive,” “I use it, but I am not offended by Latino or Latina either,” “I’m happy to call people whatever they want to be called.”

Here are some things I learned from the thread that I either didn’t know or hadn’t thought about before:

  • Among the people who don’t like “Latinx,” at least some of them have less trouble with the “x” than they do with the “Latin.” “Latin” indicates Latin American descent.  People who are from all different places – Puerto Rico, Cuba, Southwest Texas, Mexico etc. etc.  do not necessarily like being lumped under the big label “Latin American.”
  • The “x” feels arbitrary and anglicized to some people because it doesn’t fit with the way the Spanish Language works. Another, non-binary term that has been offered instead is “Latine.” This feels like a better fit to some people since there are already gender-neutral words in Spanish that use the “e” ending.
  • “Latinx” is particularly embraced by and used by the LGBTQ community. It may have even been invented by that community. It is considered a way to be honoring and respectful towards non-binary people.

All of this feels to me like part of the normal, healthy, evolution of language.   A much quoted Pew survey from 2019 showed that at that time “only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term “Latinx,” and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves.”  This makes sense to me too as part of the normal evolution of language – a small minority of “language pioneers” push for new ideas, and it takes a long time for those new ideas to find their way into common usage.

All of this brings me back to the question of why this has become a big enough deal that people are proposing legislation to BAN the use of “Latinx” in federal documents?

To help answer that question I looked up a few quotes from people who are proposing such bans:

Senator Ted Cruz (R): “Hispanic Americans overwhelmingly oppose the term ‘Latinx,’ and I want to make sure our government does not bow to woke activists in our federal departments or agencies by insisting on ridiculous terminology like this. It has no place in official government communication.

(Side note from ABT I don’t know where Mr. Cruz is getting his data about Hispanic Americans OVERWHELMINGLY opposing the term…the evidence I have seen is that Hispanic Americans have OVERWHELMINGLY never heard of the term…)

Senator Marco Rubio (R): “Hispanic Americans don’t need fabricated woke terminology imposed on us. The term ‘Latinx’ has no place in our federal agency’s official communication as it’s a degradation tossed around by progressive elites.”

Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R): “The Biden Administration is waging a woke crusade on Latino identity and the Spanish language. We cannot allow the Biden Administration to use White House communications to attack our language and impose progressive ideology on our people.”

The overblown language used in these statements made me think that the Republican folks proposing this ban were probably less interested in the integrity of the Spanish language than in driving a wedge between the “progressive elites” and people who value their “Latino identity” – two typically Democrat leaning interest groups.  A ban seemed extreme to me.

I still think there’s probably something to that…but it turns out there is recent history of using legislation to ban words considered to be offensive from use in federal legislation.  In 2016, President Obama signed legislation banning the words “negro” and “oriental” from federal documentation.

Also, interestingly, in February, a group of Democrats in Connecticut proposed a similar ban on the word “Latinx” in state government and education documents.  State Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr. of Waterbury, the bill’s chief sponsor, one of five Latino Democrats who signed on to the legislation, said “Latinx” is not a Spanish word but is rather a “woke” term that is offensive to Connecticut’s large Puerto Rican population. “The Spanish language, which is centuries old, defaults to Latino for everybody,” Reyes said. “It’s all-inclusive. They didn’t need to create a word, it already exists.”

More recently, in May, though, Mr. Reyes has sponsored different legislation. According to a May 25 NBC news article,  his new bill, H.B.-6909, “aims to approve the use of the terms ‘Latine’ as well as ‘Latino’ and ‘Latina’ in state documents and official communications. The legislation wouldn’t prohibit the use of ‘Latinx.”’  He, and his fellow Latino Democrats, evidently changed their minds after hearing from LGBTQ groups who testified that “Latine” (Latiné) has been gaining acceptance in Latin American countries.

I’m still pondering which of all these options I will use in my own writing going forward.  I’ll probably chicken out and stick with “Hispanic” whenever I can at least for now.  Even though I have learned the designation “Hispanic” is not universally popular either, it seems a little less controversial for now.  Even though I don’t know which word I will use, I do know that I appreciate all my Facebook friends who were willing to share their thoughts on the issue even though Facebook does not always feel like the safest venue for nuanced conversation about controversial topics.

I like the idea of “Latine.” I’d like to use a non-binary word, and why not use one that makes sense in the context of the Spanish language as a whole?

Mainly I agree with the sentiment that I’m glad to call people whatever they want to be called.  Unfortunately, that “live and let live” attitude doesn’t help much for the purposes of writing for the general public, where sometimes you just have to pick a word.  I know I am going to aggravate some of my friends no matter what I decide to do.  Oh well…the price of writing about stuff people care about I guess.

I do especially appreciate this passing comment from Geraldo Reyes Jr in Connecticut about his revised bill, “There’s no punitive action [for using the word “Latinx.”] There’s nobody out there policing it. We’re just making this an awareness situation and we’ll see how it plays out for a year and then we’ll see if we have to do something else next year.”  I know that probably feels to some like a big wimp out, but I think there’s quite a bit of wisdom in just not deciding for a while.  I think it might be smart to present a few options for inclusive language and then just let it roll for a while to see what catches on and what fades away.

Sometimes we get used to new things and even like them if we give them a chance. We don’t have to make a federal case of everything…even the wording we use in federal documents.

Want to make sure you get all the Dead Dillo posts?  To subscribe to this email list, click here! 


Sens. Cruz, Rubio Introduce Bill to Ban Federal Use of Term ‘Latinx’ | Senator Ted Cruz (

Some Republicans Want to Ban ‘Latinx.’ These Latino Democrats Agree. – The New York Times (

Representative Salazar Introduces the Reject Latinx Act | Representative Maria Salazar (

Ray Perryman: Hispanics now largest ethnic group in Texas (

(1) John Puder – 𝐏𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞 𝐝𝐨 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐜𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐦𝐞 𝐋𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐱! 𝑭𝒊𝒓𝒔𝒕, 𝒘𝒆 𝒘𝒆𝒓𝒆… | Facebook

Replying to @_lesliemendez_ #greenscreen RE: Latinx/e Being a “Woke Am… | TikTok

The Word History of Latinx | Merriam-Webster

Latinx, Latino and Hispanic: How this ethnic group’s label has sparked debate – ABC News (

A Brief Explainer on Latine and Latinx – Hispanic Executive

Democratic-backed Connecticut bill would ban ‘Latinx’ term – Los Angeles Times (

Connecticut lawmakers who tried to ban ‘Latinx’ now promote ‘Latine’ (

Obama signs bill eliminating ‘Negro,’ ‘Oriental’ from federal laws | PBS News Weekend


  1. Ferryn Martin on July 20, 2023 at 10:39 am

    I think Ashley Bean Thornton is our own Heather Cox Richardson but with a special twist. Thanks again, Ashley!

  2. Meg Wallace on July 26, 2023 at 4:34 am


    Brilliant research and marvelous writing. You have found your calling. Again.

Leave a Comment