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The Latinx Wars: Ep. X – A New Hope (An Update)

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The Latinx Wars: Ep. X – A New Hope (An Update)

So the two Gilberts who I quoted in that post about the Latinx controversy turned out to be two very funny and gracious college students at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College.

(For some stupid reason, I assumed they were professors of said college. Why, I’ll never know. Mea culpa.)

The day after it was posted, they sent me an email, which I’m publishing with their authorization:

From: Gilbert Guerra
Date: Wed, Dec 2, 2015 at 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: You Say “Latinx”, I Say Whatx
To: José Simián
Cc: Gilbert Orbea
Dear Mr. Simián,
We recently read your article about Latinx that on rictusco.wpengine.com that critiqued our own article about “Latinx” and found it quite funny. We laughed. Ha. Ha.
In all seriousness, we would appreciate it greatly if you could share a bit more of your thoughts on “Latinx” with us. For example, you put forth that Latinos as an all encompassing term is insufficient and patriarchal, while at the same time acknowledging that adding an X to the term won’t do anything to educate simple peasants such as ourselves. What then is your suggested alternative to include non-binary people within Spanish? And what did you think of the other arguments we made in our article?
Please help us in our quest to become less stupider.
Yours sincerely,
The Gilbertx

My reply:

From: José Manuel Simián
Date: Wed, Dec 2, 2015 at 3:21 PM
Subject: Re: You Say “Latinx”, I Say Whatx
To: Gilbert Guerra
Cc: Gilbert Orbea

Dear Messrs. Guerra and Orbea,

Thanks for writing, and for the good sense of humor in spite of my rather unnecessary use of the S-word (as my 7-year old son calls it). As for your alleged peasant status, I doubt it applies to this situation. After all, you are the ones writing a long, thoughtful article in a respectable publication, while I am writing a short post on the fly on a snarky blog and resorting to playground insults.

Moving on to the your text, I quoted that particular section because affirming that “Latinos” is a “gender-neutral term” makes you sound as if you don’t understand the nature of the problem, i.e: that in Spanish the so-called gender-neutral plural terms happen to be the plural male nouns, or to put it in more conceptual terms (as I learned from Catharine MacKinnon when she writes about the alleged gender-neutrality of legal norms), that the male epistemology has become the ontology. I assume that you understand the nature of the problem and the debate, so I’m still puzzled as to why you would make a linguistic argument for the gender neutrality of “Latinos.”

On a related note, I don’t really understand why you argue from Spanish grammar or speak of “linguistic imperialism” as if this debate impacted the Spanish language. If I have followed correctly (and you acknowledge this in your article), the term “Latinx” is used in the United States, and among people who mostly speak English, not Spanish. I don’t see people in Latin America too concerned about this or who feel that their language is threatened. I don’t even see people who predominantly speak Spanish in the United States too concerned about these conceptual matters, either.

To your question, I don’t have a better alternative. Maybe a better term than “Latinx” will emerge and will catch on (it would be great), but I don’t have the answer. This is, sadly, one of those lose-lose situations, in which the solutions (like “Latinx” right now) are sometimes clumsier than the original alternative. In my country of origin, Chile, the first female president, Michelle Bachelet, made a point of addressing Chileans as “chilenos y chilenas” in every speech, and even though it felt good, it was certainly cumbersome. The language will keep evolving, because and in spite of imperialisms and other cultural forces, and maybe one day we’ll have actual gender-neutral words.

Again, thanks for writing. I need to go back to my stupid work now.

All the best,

José

Even if I disagree with them about this topic, I’m amazed. I wish I could have written something like this while in college. And if you’re not impressed already, you should read this response to their piece, written by two of their fellow students.

A new hope, indeed.

 

 

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