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Don't call me Latinx, I'm a Latin American

Ever since I emigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador, I’ve used the term Hispanic to describe my heritage. But lately, I’ve been corrected on multiple occasions about the term I use to describe myself — told that I should use the more accepted term, Latinx.

OK, so I understand where Latinx comes from — the desire for a gender-inclusive term for people of Latin American heritage, avoiding the gendered ending of Latino or Latina. But, why Latinx and not Latin American?

If this large group of people must be distinguished as an ethnic group of U.S. citizens — such as Asian Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans — why not adopt Latin American?

Is it because we are not American enough, though our ancestors have been in the Americas since before Columbus sailed the ocean blue?

Much of this debate is clouded by the larger term, “American.” For many U.S. citizens, American means “them”, not people who live south of the border. This raises an even larger question: Why do we need a blanket term for a large and diverse group of people from the nearly three dozen countries south of the U.S. border?

Is this not another example of white normativity?

Do we label Americans of European descent European Americans, or are they just understood as Americans?

At the heart of this debate lies the issue of labeling, where an outside group (or a small percentage from an inside group) decides on a term, or label, and then dictates which people fit under the larger umbrella of this label. This happens all the time, and the shadow this umbrella casts is hardly constant: its edges waver, growing and shrinking as categories shift.

The whole notion of race has a long and terrible history, blending skin tone, ethnicity, and country of origin into a simplified binary judgment of white vs. non-white, with powerful legal ramifications going back centuries. In his award-winning book, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that “race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.”

I have friends who have lived in this country for decades but still refer to themselves as “Mexican.” I have other friends who call themselves “Hispanic,” or “Chicana/o” or just “American.” Should I correct all of these friends and tell them their descriptors are dated, that they are now Latinx and need to start referring to themselves as Latinx?

As I talk with friends and colleagues, I’m learning how Latin and non-Latin Americans are just as confused as I am regarding these labels, and the debate is so charged that a great many people are walking on pins and needles, afraid to offend others or to seem tone deaf. Or worse, racist.

I believe this topic is only creating more problems, confusion, and division. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, recently stated at the 75th U.N. anniversary, “We live in a world with a surplus of problems and a deficit of solutions.”.

This squabbling over terminology and this policing of labels is more damaging than helpful. Furthermore, this rebranding of the Latin American community is more often the purview of white progressive Democrats, and not that of the subject group. I’m finding that a great majority of Latin Americans are insulted by the term Latinx, and it’s only pushing many of us away from the Democratic Party. It is this kind of divisiveness and meaningless rhetoric that has pushed me to become an Independent. I believe this could have serious unintended consequences for the Democrats in the Latin American community and only serves as a distraction from the real problems facing our country.

Can we not instead focus on solutions for problems in education, voter suppression, wages, health care, immigration, housing, racial equity, domestic terrorism, homelessness, mental illness, addiction, failing infrastructure, and strengthening our democracy? If we want to do something to improve the oppressive conditions many Latin Americans live under in the United States, why not advocate for an end to the exploitation and inhumane treatment of undocumented workers?

Why not band together to demand legislative action to overhaul our guest worker programs and create a legal and humane path for workers to work and be allowed to return to their families and native communities?

Why not work together and demand an end to modern day slavery in the United States?

As a Latin American who came to the U.S. undocumented many years ago, this is where I will be focusing my energy, not squabbling over which label is the most P.C.

Laz Ayala lives in Ashland.