New Haveners react to proposed ban on the term “Latinx” in state general assembly
Following the proposed ban on state agencies using the term “Latinx,” some in the New Haven Latine community believe that the bill may work to erase non-binary identities.
Jessai Flores, Illustrations Editor
Last month, five Latine Democrats proposed a bill to prohibit state agencies from using the word “Latinx” in the Connecticut General Assembly, seeking to become the second state to do so after Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s ban in Arkansas in early January.
The lawmakers will hold a public hearing on Tuesday at the Connecticut Legislative Office Building to discuss the bill. The representatives sponsoring the bill cited their belief that “Latinx” is a “woke term” that is “offensive” to state Latine communities. For proponents of the term “Latinx,” the “-x” in “Latinx” provides a gender-neutral alternative to the traditionally masculine “-o” or feminine “-a” endings.
“I want to be abundantly clear: my bill does not apply to daily interpersonal conversations,” the bill’s chief sponsor Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr wrote in a statement to the News. “The proposal is solely aimed to remove the term LatinX from government and education documents sponsored by the state of Connecticut. The overwhelming majority of people who live in Latin American countries neither use nor support the term.”
Finding “Latinx” to be “derogatory,” Reyes told CT Insider that he was inspired by Arkansas’ ban, although he believes Connecticut lawmakers had different intentions. Reyes noted that “Latino” is already gender-neutral in the Spanish language and the added “x” is unnecessary, as well as unnatural to the Spanish language. In an interview with CNN, Reyes said that the now six sponsors of the bill are not attempting to be “divisive,” but simply wish to not see “Latinx” within the government and higher education.
Three percent of self-identifying Hispanics or Latinos in the U.S. identify as “Latinx,” according to a December 2019 bilingual survey by the Pew Research Center.
The New Haven Pride Center uses the term “Latine” or allows people to identify as “Latino/Latina/Latine” to ensure everyone can use a label they feel most comfortable with, according to Acting Executive Director Juancarlos Soto. “Latine,” an alternative to “Latinx,” is similarly gender-neutral but uses the “-e” ending which is more natural to the Spanish language and appears in several gender-neutral Spanish nouns such as “estudiante.”
Soto said that he was “shocked” by the bill prohibiting state agencies from using “Latinx” and shocked by the fact that it was a legislative priority for the representatives.
“I think trying to ban a term that LGBTQ communities primarily use, it’s going to have this effect of erasure,” Soto said to the News. “You are now forcing a non-binary person in a state form to have to identify themselves as either male or female. And that is causing the effect of erasing that person’s identity. But also now, whenever they interact with any government agency at a state level, they’re going to be erased, they’re going to be misgendered. It’s traumatizing and awful for someone to be misgendered.”
Soto explained that having influential representatives call the term “Latinx” “offensive” could fuel attacks on the identity of non-binary people who identify with the “Latinx” term. Additionally, given the history of discrimination against non-binary people from state agencies, Soto said it would be harmful to allow those agencies to say the term is offensive.
“Not necessarily in our vocabulary”
Four Spanish-speaking Latine people who work or live in New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood told the News they had never heard of the term “Latinx,” including a Puerto Rican man who has lived in the U.S. for over 30 years.
In the US, 76 percent of self-identifying Hispanics or Latinos had never heard of the word “Latinx,” according to the same 2019 Pew Research Center survey.
Yamilett Hernández, a resident of Fair Haven and student at University of New Haven, said she had heard of “Latinx” and identifies as either “Latinx” or “Latino” for the sake of neutrality. Hernández said she disagrees with the proposed bill.
“I feel that [the law] would take away neutral use as a way to not categorize ourselves,” Hernández said to the News. “No neutral use makes it even harder to identify who I am.”
Hernández, in addition with Soto, attributed the diverse opinions on “Latinx” to a generational divide within the Latine community. Young Hispanics, from age 18 to 29, are the most likely to have heard of “Latinx” at 42 percent of their cohort, while 7 percent of Hispanics who are 65 or older have heard of the term, according to the Pew Research Center survey.
The survey also indicates that Hispanic college graduates are more likely to have heard of the term “Latinx” than those with a high school diploma or less — 38 percent compared to 14 percent; U.S.-born Hispanics are more likely to have heard of it than foreign-born — 32 percent to 16 percent; and those who can speak English are more likely than primarily Spanish speakers to have heard of it — 27 percent to 7 percent.
Alex Guzhnay ’24, Ward 1 Alder, said he prefers Latine as it is “easier on the tongue.” Growing up in Fair Haven, Guzhnay recognized that terms like “Latinx” and “Latine” were largely unused and unknown, even among the younger population.
“My opinion is that if there’s going to be a word that government institutions use, it should be Latine,” Guzhnay told the News. “But I think that should also come with the recognition that the majority of folks in New Haven are immigrants coming from other nations. These words aren’t necessarily in a vocabulary as much as maybe in academic circles and in other spaces.”
While Guzhnay thinks that “Latinx” can sound “unnatural” when speaking Spanish, he is not in favor of the complete government prohibition of the word.
Soto said he wishes that the representatives had suggested the usage of “Latine” instead of the outright ban on “Latinx” if they were concerned about language not sounding grammarly correct. Soto said he also hopes that the bill will prompt conversations about why younger generations of the Latine community have opted to expand their vocabulary.
“This is why language is beautiful. Because it’s growing, it’s changing, it’s expanding,” Soto said. “We’re getting more labels to describe and to be visible of who we are. And I think sometimes we, as people across the board, have a little bit of an unwillingness to let and allow language change.”
What appears where?
In New Haven, organizations serving the Latine community opt for a variety of different terms. The Progreso Latino Fund — a philanthropic fund with the goal of empowering the Latine community and expanding Latine philanthropy — uses “Latine,” citing the diversity of the Latine diaspora and the need to “equitably value the dignity of all.”
Junta for Progressive Action — an organization that provides services such as legal and immigration services, adult education and youth programs to Latines in Greater New Haven — uses “Latinx” throughout its website.
La Casa Cultural Center likewise uses “Latinx” on their website. However, Dean Eileen Galvez, Director of La Casa, uses “Latine” in her personal communications.
“Latine communities, like all others, have always defined and redefined themselves,” Galvez wrote to the News. “Just like the Hispanic term was created in the 70s, language and forms of identification will continue to evolve. At La Casa, we have students that identify in a myriad of ways, from Hispanic, Latina, Latine, Latino, Latin@, Latinx, to ethnic, nation, and community based terms and many others. We encourage students to use what they are comfortable with and to honor how others identify as well.”
After a simple search on the Connecticut Official State website for “Latinx,” the website provides approximately 1,280 results. “Latinx” appears in documents including a factsheet on healthcare affordability, a “Latinx” Heritage Month announcement by the state Department of Administrative Services and an energy and water assistance application asking if applicants identify with “Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish Origins.”
Soto acknowledged that there are pitfalls with any iterations of “Latinx/e/o.” The terms may have the effect of making the Latine community a monolith and oversimplifying nuances between different nationalities, languages and races, according to Soto. Some people who view “Latinx/e/o” as an oversimplification have argued that the terms particularly erase the different lived experiences of Afro-Latines and Indigenous people from Latin America.
“[There are] folks who may come from Latin America or folks who are in the Caribbean, who want to find community across national lines,” said Soto. “I think Latine is this beautiful term that allows us to connect to each other, but it’s also a term that can erase Afro-Latine people and can erase Indigenous people. All of these things are so complicated, and I think we could talk about it for hours and hours and hours and still not get to an answer.”
State Rep. Juan R. Candelaria — one of the six sponsors of the bill who serves southern New Haven in communities including Long Wharf, City Point, Barnesville and the Hill — did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The other four sponsors of the bill are State Rep. Christopher Rosario, State Rep. Robert Sanchez, State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, and State Rep. Hilda E. Santiago.