As some lawmakers seek to ban the term Latinx in government documents, there is growing resentment and disfavor from the very community it aims to represent. Latinx has been pitched as a more inclusive alternative to Latino and Latina – the goal was to create a gender – neutral label encompassing people of Latin American descent regardless of their gender identity. With the growing trend towards using Latinx in media and academia, where does this hesitance stem from – and why?

While the effort to create Latinx may be well-intentioned, this term lacks the inclusivity it initially promised. A 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only 3% of Hispanic and Latino adults in the United States prefer to use the term Latinx to describe their identity, demonstrating that the use of this term may not reflect the needs or preferences of the community.

Latinx emerged as a response to the gender binary inherent in the Spanish language, which requires gender-specific nouns and pronouns. This practice is deeply ingrained in the language and has long been a source of frustration for non-binary and gender non-conforming people of Hispanic origin. Some argue that Latinx solves this linguistic problem. However, many Latin Americans find the term to be an imposition of non-Hispanic cultural values and a term that fails to respect and celebrate the linguistic and cultural nuances of Hispanic communities.

The issue is not just about a misgendered language but also about a misgendered people. Non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals have historically been marginalized and excluded from both Latin American and U.S. society. By aggregating identities and experiences into a single term, Latinx, we miss the mark on solving the core representation issue and perpetuate a system of exclusion and data invisibility.

In our area of research – health equity – there is a common practice of aggregating data and expanding the visibility of definitions and terms encompassing many people. For example, one data source may group Hispanic or Latino as a distinct category, whereas other sources may combine ethnicity and race, blurring the lines on who is actually represented in each group. This is one of the core issues with Latinx. The term lumps together gender expression from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences under one umbrella term, which can obscure each individual’s unique identities and experiences and hide intersectionality.

Latinx erases the linguistic and cultural diversity within the Latin American community. Spanish, like many languages, is inherently gendered, with masculine and feminine nouns and pronouns. By imposing the term Latinx, we are essentially forcing a non-Spanish language rule onto a culture that has already found its own ways to be inclusive. Latino is already used as an inclusive term that seeks to eliminate gender distinctions and solves the problem that Latinx seeks to solve. 

Instead of imposing values onto a culture that may not be fully understood, researchers should directly consult, incorporate and amplify Latin American voices to work towards solutions that are genuinely inclusive, respectful, and empowering for all. Although banning any term is not the most equitable approach, it is not as farfetched as you may think – as U.S. policymakers are following in the footsteps of countries like Argentina and Spain, who have already issued public statements banning Latinx from being used in many capacities.

While the issue Latinx seeks to alleviate is central to the lived experience of many, ultimately, it is conflating two issues: self-identity and representation. Representation and inclusivity in categorization and data used by researchers, academics, and policymakers already have a gender-neutral and inclusive term that came from the very community it seeks to represent: Latino. 

Read more stories about Latinx community on our website.

Juan Carlos (JC) Gonzalez, Jr. is a health equity researcher, advocate, and Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project and AcademyHealth. JC is currently serving at the Institute of Global Health Equity...

Mahia A. Valle is a health communications expert with a special interest in higher education. As a first-generation immigrant, she is committed to championing health equity and cultural humility through...