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Embrace, Don’t Police 

How Academia Gentrifies Latino Culture and misses the mark on Latino solidarity

Even as I seek to surround myself with friends, professors who share my values and reject the current xenophobic anti-immigrant trend in American politics, I still find myself not fully accepted, not misunderstood. Having attended two urban, liberal arts college I have found myself alone, surrounded by those who claim to support my people, but refuse to support such a fundamental aspect of my culture.

My people’s language.

Before coming to Northwestern, I studied as a dual enrollment student as Guilford College a bastion of progressivism. One called them “militantly liberal”. For a while, I became absolutely fascinated with theatre and its culture. One aspect of this culture which struck me was that actors, producers and directors had an utmost, religious like reverence for the words of the play. As artists, we were free, and encouraged to reimagine and reinvent, the setting, costumes, time era and just about anything else in the play, except the words. To change the words, was sacrilege, an insult to the artist and his message. The words in a play to me, reflect the poetry of everyday life. Even if the audience would have a hard time understanding, it is essential to keep the words of the play original to stick to the true meaning of the story. Imagine changing the vernacular of Lorraine Hansbury’s Raisin in the Sun to make the play more accessible to white audiences. I cannot think of any justification for such a suggestion. Yet when it comes to the spanish language, I soon found, the reverence for this poetry of daily life, was not shared by my liberal colleagues. Instead of allowing me to speak my language the way my people have for centuries, white liberals at Guilford College, insisted on using terms such as Latinx and Latine, to describe what they called the Latinx community.

Proponents of the Latinx term argue that the non-gendered pronoun is needed to make the spanish language inclusive. To anyone like me, who appreciates the history and beauty of the Spanish language, this is baffling. Almost every noun in Spanish is gendered. Although the language is grammatically gendered, Latinos do not prescribe gendered aspects to objects which may be grammatically gendered. For example, the spanish word for dress, Vestido, ends with the masculine O ending. In the same way, use of the word Latino to describe a group of Latinos in no way implies that the group is primarily male, or that men supercede women in importance in the group’s hierarchy.

The spanish language is not some primitive tongue that needs to be corrected. Although well intentioned, proponents of the term Latinx or other substitutes fail to understand the gendered aspect of Spanish is part of what makes it beautiful. I could not understand why the same people who insisted on keeping all the words in Shakespeare exactly the same as the original would go so far as to change the word that describes an entire community to fit their sense of political correctness. I recognize that the use of the phrase Latinx is well intentioned, but ultimately, this well-intentioned trend is deeply insulting and gentrifying and ill-informed. It implies that the spanish langauge is inherently mysogynistic and homophobic that, LGBTQ issues in the Latino world stems from the intrinsic quality of Latino culture. Out of all the racism I faced in my life, no experience has felt more gentrifying and shameful than being pressured to say Latinx instead of speaking how I would with my friends and family across the world and in the Latino community I found in the U.S. I do not object to use of the phrase if one specific individual insists on being referred to as a Latinx, but when speaking about the Latino community as a whole, why should we change how we define themselves to accommodate for a miniscule fraction of the population. The word Latinx or Latine may have some Latino proponents, but this is a vocal minority that have exploited the rightfully given attention to LGBTQ issues in the media to hog the spotlight by inventing an artificial grievance. Neither the majority of Latin Americans, nor even the majority of LGBTQ are in favor of using the term. The only context I have heard the phrase Latinx or Latine used in real life are when students and faculty at liberal arts colleges, often people with little or no connection to Latin America insist on using the term, seemingly to highlight their own “accepting” virtue.

For years, I went without speaking my thoughts on this, yet during my senior year of high school at the Early College, I felt it was time to make my true thoughts known. I expressed all the sentiments I have stated in this article to my friends and colleagues at Guilford College and the response I received was astoundingly reactionary. People accused me of being transphobic and hateful, despite my reporting on transgender discrimination following the passage of North Carolina’s bathroom bill. Insisting on speaking my cultural language apparently makes me a hateful right-winger, no longer deserving of having a voice in the progressive media world.

Liberal academics can spend all day proclaiming themselves to be allies of minority communities, but if they demonize such an intrinsic part of our daily life as language itself, then the claim runs hollow.

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