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Can Latinx and Latino coexist? Some want to ban it, others are unbothered

Learning about the word Latinx was an "eye-opener," said a student in Connecticut. Latino Democrats in the state have proposed banning if from government documents.

Cindy Hernandez hadn't heard of the word Latinx until a school class last Thursday, the day after Democratic lawmakers in her home state of Connecticut sought to ban it.

After hearing pros and cons, she didn't change her mind about identifying as Latina, but she saw how the nongendered word Latinx could be useful.

“I feel like it’s a perfect way to kind of include other people,” Hernandez, 17, told NBC News.

A group of Latino lawmakers in Connecticut are trying to ban the word from the state's government documents because they say it is offensive to Spanish speakers.

Debate over Latinx has intensified as its use has increased, with some saying the word has been imposed on Latinos. Polling by Pew Research Center in 2020 found that more than three-quarters of Hispanics and Latinos surveyed had never heard of the word.

Hernandez is a senior at Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury, Connecticut. She said she and the majority of her peers learned about the term for the first time in their African American/Black & Puerto Rican/Latino studies class, an elective every school district in the state must offer. The discussions were kept civil, said Hernandez, who has Mexican and Salvadoran roots.

“I identified as Latina, but I think that using both terms is good. And I think that a lot of people would probably choose to use both,” she said.

The school's social studies teacher Adrian Solis made the debate over Latinx part of his course curriculum before the proposed ban. But the legislative proposal made the lesson especially timely for his most recent class.

“It was pure coincidence that I was teaching it,” Solis said. “Many of them didn’t even know that the word existed. Some of them didn’t prefer to use it.”

Solis teaches three courses, two of which are honors classes, that include lessons on the topic. At the end of the marking period, after plunging into the pros and cons of the word, its background and context, a number of students said they now preferred to use the word Latinx. Most, however, opted for Latino or Latina.

Out of the 27 combined honors students who studied the issue last September, all of them said they preferred to use Latina/o before the lesson. Afterward, 14.8% said they now preferred Latinx.

Solis said that in an non-honors class that met last Thursday, when Latinx was the topic, just one of the 19 students chose “Latinx” before the discussion, but seven did afterward.

Ashyln Lema, another senior at Henry Abbott, said Connecticut's proposed ban came as a surprise. Despite preferring to use Latina/o, she said a lesson on Latinx last fall in Solis' class was an “eye-opener.” She concluded it is a word that is important for those in the LGBTQ community who feel comfortable using it.

“I don’t find the term offensive or anything. It’s a term that tries to make everybody feel inclusive, but I know it’s something that not many Latinos agree on. I guess they see this word more as a label, something that they feel categorized under,” said Lema, 17, who is Ecuadorian American.

The word is intended to promote inclusivity and depart from the gender-specific words of Spanish, where those ending in “o” are male and those ending in “a” are female. In plural uses, the male version (Latinos) is used to refer to both genders.

Latinx is more commonly used in the LGBTQ community, and in academia, as well as by younger Hispanics. The Pew survey found that although few Hispanics had heard of Latinx, those under 30 used it most, with about 7% doing so.

Although most people opt for the word "Hispanic," Latino and Latinx are seen as “decolonizing” terms, de-emphasizing the Spanish colonial rule of Latin America. Latine as a gender-neutral term has also come into use, more so in Latin America.

State Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., a Democrat who is leading the legislation of the ban proposal, had previously said Spanish language “defaults to Latino” for everybody and is a term that’s already all-inclusive. He also said Latinx is not a Spanish word but a “woke” term that is offensive to Connecticut’s Puerto Rico population. 

A 2021 Bendixen and Amandi poll found 20% of Hispanics surveyed were bothered a lot by the term Latinx and 20% were bothered somewhat or a little. Fifty-nine percent said Latinx did not bother them.

Reyes maintains his motivations for the proposed Connecticut ban differed from those of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who banned Latinx from from official use in state government within hours of of her swearing-in as governor.

Sanders had said the term was culturally insensitive, but she also cited its limited use among Latinos and that the Real Academia Española, a Spain-based cultural institution that is considered the top authority in Spanish language, rejects it. Critics have said her order was part of an anti-LGBTQ, anti-diversity agenda of the GOP.

The other Democrats who introduced the Connecticut ban alongside Reyes are Rep. Christopher Rosario, Rep. Juan Candelaria, Rep. Juan Sanchez and Rep. Minnie Gonzalez. Rep. Hilda Santiago said in an email she also co-introduced the bill.

Veronica Castañeda, 17, a classmate of Lema, said that after last week's lesson, she would use Latinx more.

Up until then, Castañeda, who is of Guatemalan descent, had rarely used Latinx in her Spanish-speaking home and outside of it. She had heard and seen the term, but preferred to use Latina. She said the lesson made her open to considering using Latinx as an all-inclusive term.

“If I was talking about a group of people, in general, I wouldn’t say Latinos, I would say, Latinx. And if somebody were to refer to me, they could call me Latina and that’s fine. I think of it as like pronouns,” Castañeda said. 

Castañeda said she would rather have lawmakers focus on other issues in the state, including health care and education. Schools need more funding and there is a shortage of teachers, she said.

“I don’t think that it’s worth putting so much energy into banning the term,” she said. “More and more states are gonna do the same — new legislation is gonna be incited to be less inclusive and more conservative.”

Castañeda said the proposed Latinx ban “negates us because it's negating other people's identity.”

“And you can’t just worry about yourself, you have to think about everybody as a whole,” Castañeda said. “You can’t lump Latin American people using a term that’s heteronormative. Maybe it hasn’t affected them so that’s why they’re saying that it’s a 'woke' term, or that they’re offended by it, because of the fact that it’s not impacting them.”