Within hours of being sworn in as the new governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order Tuesday banning the term "Latinx" from official use in the state government.
It is one of the first, if not the first, executive order of its kind, Tabitha Bonilla, an associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, told NBC News.
It was one of seven orders signed by Sanders, a Republican, right after taking the oath. The other ones focused on prohibiting Arkansas schools from teaching critical race theory, budgeting and spending as well as other government affairs.
Most of these executive orders are consistent with the rhetoric Sanders campaigned on — except for the one banning Latinx, a gender-neutral alternative to Hispanic or Latino.
"That was nothing that I had seen from her until then. So, it felt surprising," Bonilla said.
For Ed Morales, the author of the book “Latinx: The New Force in American Politics and Culture,” the governor’s seemingly sudden interest to ban the term Latinx — which is often derided by conservatives and debated among some Latinos — speaks to "this anti-woke agenda" the Republican Party has increasingly adopted.
"It is something that seems to be tied to things that they object to, which is really anything that prioritizes marginalized people and marginalized points of view," Morales said.
Bonilla said that what's even more unexpected is that Sanders signed such an executive order on her first day in office.
"That sets the tone for the type of governance that you want to enact, of what you think is the priority, and the types of decision-making you'll do at an office," Bonilla said.
Sanders cited a 2020 Pew Research report that found that only 3% of the Hispanic population nationwide uses the term. She also cited the Real Academia Española, a Madrid-based cultural institution dedicated to the linguistic regularization of the Spanish-language, which rejects the use of “x” as an alternative to “o” and “a.”
She used the findings of both institutions to eliminate what she considers "ethnically insensitive" and "pejorative language," according to the executive order.
Morales said Sanders appears to have tried to use "the one Pew Hispanic report as evidence that people find it offensive or that they reject it" without considering that there have been subsequent studies that point to a small rise in the use of the term and the emergence of other gender neutral alternatives such as "Latine."
When citing the Pew report in the executive order, Sanders did not say the study also found that 76% of Hispanics had not even heard of the term "Latinx" before, Bonilla pointed out.
"She's offering these justifications, and it just seems to me like she's been trying to portray data and information in a way that really is about pandering," Bonilla said.
Nearly 4% of the eligible voting population in Arkansas is Hispanic, according to Pew. But "pandering" to Latino voters on cultural issues that may be considered divisive among some Hispanics could be on Sanders' radar if she's aspiring to venture out as a vice presidential or presidential candidate in the future, Bonilla added.
The executive order also calls on all state offices, departments and agencies to submit written reviews regarding their current use of the term “Latinx” and revert to using “Latino,” “Latina” or “Hispanic.”
“I can’t think that it would show up very frequently in most government documents,” Bonilla said. “My biggest question is: Who does this affect the most?”
Sanders' new executive order seems to be part of an increasing number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures across the nation, since "Latinx" is often considered a more LGBTQ inclusive term. The vast majority of these bills have been introduced by Republicans.
"It’s really about transgender individuals and nonbinary individuals," Bonilla said. "And in the language, it’s also portrayed as being about the Latino community."