Things That Matter

This Comic Proves That The Great Debate On The Word ‘Latinx’ Rages On

There is much debate about whether we should use Latino or Latinx. Languages tend to evolve over time, especially to account for changes in society. As the world becomes more tolerant it makes sense that we’d try to come up with a new word that includes the sprawling diversity, gender or otherwise, of Latin people. However, nothing last forever, and what was the standard one day might be yesterday’s news.

A recent comic by Mexican-American artist Terry Blas called “You Say Latinx,” has reignited the debate around Latinx vs. Latine. Blas decided to opt for using Latine, but as he notes in his comic, ultimately which word you choose to use is up to you. 

Why do some people use the word Latinx instead of Latino?

Spanish-language is gendered, with nouns ending in an “a” perceived as feminine, and nouns ending in an “o” regarded as masculine. As Raquel Reichard notes in Latina, the language is oft considered sexist with masculine nouns taking preference over feminine ones. Reichard gives the example of seven women being referred to as “Latinas” until a man shows up and suddenly it’s a group of “Latinos.” 

While some have tried to subvert the norm by using “a” instead of “o,” others noted that it simply isn’t inclusive enough. 

“But even these variations fall short, as they exclude the countless people of Latin American descent whose genders fall outside the woman-man binary—those identifying as agender (without a gender), nonbinary (beyond the traditional binary), or gender-fluid (fluctuating genders), among a spectrum of other identities,” Reichard writes.

Enter: Latinx. The term is a way of stripping away the sexism while also including all Latinxs. Added to the Meriam-Webster dictionary in 2018, it is defined as, “a gender-neutral term for Latin Americans, but it has been especially embraced by members of Latin LGBTQ communities as a word to identify themselves as people of Latin descent possessing a gender identity outside the male/female binary.”

However, there’s only one problem: how the heck do you say it? How the heck do you insert an “x” into a bunch of words in casual conversation? 

“The main issue is with flow. You have one term made gender-neutral, but the rest of Spanish’s conjugation isn’t. I try to stick to neutralizing words that refer to people but also am not personally pressed to change all of Spanish’s structure,” Jack Qu’emi Gutiérrez, a nonbinary femme author, told Latina

Illustrator Terry Blas chooses to us Latine instead of Latinx. 

In his comic “You Say Latinx,” Blas recounts how going to a drag show inspired him to start using Latine instead of Latinx. The reason was simple: it’s easier to apply, pronounce, and use. In the comic, he is disarmed by how seamlessly a drag queen on La Mas Drag used Latine and substituted an “e” anywhere an “o” or “a” would go. 

“Bienvenidos a todos,”  was changed to “bienvenides a todes.” Blas described the “e” as rolling off the tongue. 

“I find language, labels and terms interesting,” Blas told Remezcla. “Latinx is a term that I find fascinating and confusing, and I encountered people who didn’t know what it meant.”

Blas believes Latine and “e” are easier to implement into language than Latinx and the “x.”

“I would never tell anyone how to define themselves,” writes Blas in his comic. “Use whatever you like to be more inclusive. But I think I will use ‘e.’ Which means that for me Latinx just might become Latine.” 

How gendered-language hurts expectations for everyone. 

The reason many have opted to use Latinx instead of Latino, is similar to why we say postal worker instead of “mailman.” When we use gendered language it usually reveals what that culture thinks of that gender. Case in point, “mailman” implies we expect all postal workers to be men, which can make it harder for people besides men to get the job. On the flip side, we no longer call the role “stewardess” but rather that of a flight attendant, and that’s to include people besides women. 

Moreover, language doesn’t include the fact that not everyone identifies as a man or a woman, other identities exist and some of the people who have them are Latinx too.   

“When children hear a job title that has a gender mark on it, like an e-s-s ending or an m-a-n ending, and you ask them to draw pictures or talk about who’s doing that job, they will pick the one that matches the gender of the word,” Brigham Young University English professor Delys M. Snyder said. “If we’re going to be fair in opening up the world of work to men and women, and make it possible for everybody, maybe our job titles should reflect that.”

Thus, ridding away with gendered language can make society more equal for everybody involved. 

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Mexico Just Announced It Will Offer Legal Representation In More Than 100 Indigenous Languages And It’s A Huge Victory

Culture

Mexico Just Announced It Will Offer Legal Representation In More Than 100 Indigenous Languages And It’s A Huge Victory

LandPortal / Instagram

Let’s finish this convoluted year with a piece of information that gives us at least a bit of optimism shall we?

The Mexican government, led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has gotten many things wrong according to its critics. However, one area in which it has delivered on its promises is on a different, more inclusive approach to indigenous communities that recognizes the centuries-long dispossession of which they have been subject. Plus, the fact that their culture has been crushed by the weight of mestizo, monolingual social structures.

States such as Yucatan are making good progress by, for example, making Mayan language compulsory in schools, which is a recognition that the original owners of a land that was never ceded still comprise an important part of the state’s identity. 

Even though since colonial times Spanish became the official language of what is now the Mexican territory, the country houses hundreds of indigenous languages and dialects.

Credit: Roma / Netflix

People who speak indigenous languages in addition to Spanish should be celebrated! After all, how many of us can claim to be fully bilingual? But this is not the case. As Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma showed, languages like mixteco and zapoteco, which originated in Oaxaca, are looked down upon by the white and mestizo elites.

This is a form or racism that not only embodies a form of self-hatred (most Mexicans have European and indigenous blood) but also plants the seeds of marginalization. The fact that indigenous languages are looked down upon does not only involve issues of cultural identity, but increases the social divide in more areas. 

But Mexican society experiences an endemic racism that basically punishes those who speak their mother tongue.

Credit: The Yucatan Times

Up to one million Mexicans speak only an indigenous language and even though many more are functional in Spanish, not being fully fluent causes socioeconomic gaps to be further exacerbated in a country defined by inequality.

For example, the job market for people with indigenous languages as a first tongue is limited, particularly in professional sectors. Spanish is the lingua franca and this means that those who do not master it are at a disadvantage. What is even worse, indigenous populations have historically been subject to abuse by the judicial system. If they are not fluent in Spanish, the accused are likely to be convicted as legal representation is compromised by miscommunication or totally non-existent. 

AMLO started his presidency with huge expectations on what he would do for Indigenous Mexicans.

When AMLO took power there was skepticism about how much he would do for indigenous populations after so many campaign promises.

As USN argued back then: “The plight of Mexico’s more than 12 million indigenous people, who often face inequality, injustice and persecution, has been thrown in the spotlight by the election of leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in July. Lopez Obrador, who campaigned on a platform of “first the poor,” has held ceremonies with indigenous leaders and vowed to bring meaningful change to these impoverished rural communities. But as the President turns his focus to major infrastructure projects, there are fears that all the rituals and rhetoric may end in broken promises once again.”

However, there are positive signs that lead us to believe that this sexenio (how a Mexican presidency is known, as it lasts for six years) will be different.

Now the government is providing legal representation in 103 indigenous languages, and this is a great step towards reconciliation.

Credit: South World

The Instituto Federal de Defensoría Pública (IFDP; Federal Institute for Public Defense) has significantly increased the number of indigenous languages in which it can offer legal advise and defense. The number has increased from 39 to 103, which is a huge step towards fairer trials for indigenous individuals.

Among the languages that are included in the list we can find maya, mixe, mixteco, mazateco, náhuatl, otomí, purépecha, tarahumara, huasteco, huichol, tepehuano, totonaco, triqui, tzeltal, yaqui, amuzgo, chatino, chinanteco, chol, chontal, cora, cuicateco, zapoteco and zoque. The states with the largest concentration of these languages are Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, Nayarit, Jalisco, San Luis Potosí, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Sonora, Sinaloa, Querétaro, Estado de México, Chihuahua, Michoacán, Durango  and Puebla.

The service is therefore not concentrated in a single region, as is the case with several federal programs, but is spread out across Mexico’s geography. Added to this, the number of staff who is fluent in indigenous tongues was increased almost twofold, from 51 to 90. This legal personnel is comprised of lawyers who grew up with an indigenous tongue and understanding the indigenous worldview, which makes them a great asset during trials. Further, they have been granted permission to act as interpreters if there are no other speakers available. 

The goal, however, is to reach the 364 languages spoken in Mexico.

Credit: Mexico Desconocido

According to government officials the new appointments are only the first step and the final objective is to cover all the languages spoken in Mexico. 

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Schools In Mexico’s Yucatan Have Made Mayan Language Classes A Requirement And Here’s Why That Matters

Culture

Schools In Mexico’s Yucatan Have Made Mayan Language Classes A Requirement And Here’s Why That Matters

Child-Aid.org

Sometimes there are big, big steps towards inclusivity in Latin America, a region that is still defined by colonial structures in which the indigenous is frowned upon and often looked down at. Indigenous languages, for example, are always at a clear and present danger of becoming extinct due to the imposition of Spanish (or Castillian, as people who speak other languages in then  Iberian Peninsula call it) as the main language and often the only way to be part of the productive force. However, the southern state of Yucatan is taking a big step towards acknowledgement of the original owners of a land that was never ceded. 

Schools in Yucatan have taken an important step towards real cultural inclusion and diversity.

The State Congress of Yucatan has just made it mandatory to have Mayan language instruction in primary and secondary schools. This is a great step towards true inclusivity in a state that has long benefited from Mayan culture when it comes to tourism and areas such as culinary tradition and art. According to census data, more than 570,000 people in Yucatan speak Mayan, so areas of the state are actually fully bilingual.

The census authority in Mexico has pointed out that the prevalence of Spanish has affected the numbers of people speaking Mayan. “Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the percentage of people that speak Mayan in the state has been decreasing constantly and drastically in recent years,” the agency INEGI warned, as reported by Mexico Daily News.

Change will not come quick, however, as reported by the same outlet: “One reason for going slowly might be a shortage of teachers. Education authorities said in September there was a shortage of bilingual — Spanish and Mayan — teachers. The state said it would attempt to remedy the situation by introducing a “seed group” of 20 primary-level bilingual teachers who would pass their skills on to at least another 40 teachers in a process that would fan out and prepare more teachers to help meet Mayan instruction goals”. 

Mestizo Mexicans have a contradictory relationship to the country’s rich indigenous past.

There is no denying that there is a systematic and everyday racism in Mexican society. From government programs that inadvertently look down on indigenous Mexicans to the actual word of “indio” being used as an insult in everyday vernacular, there are manifestations of this type of discrimination on a constant basis and oftentimes people are not often aware.

This is no doubt part of the colonial heritage in Mexico, particularly when we consider that there was actually a caste system in place with Europeans at the top and indigenous people at the bottom. This discrimination is alive and well, and can be seen in different facets of Mexican society.

At the same time, however, institutionally ancient civilizations, particularly the Maya and the Aztec, are seen as the foundation of the country and a source of pride. The history of these groups is taught in schools and when Mexicans travel abroad usually the first thing they brag about is the glorious indigenous past and how the Spanish destroyed it all. There is a sense of nationalism emanating from the past glory of these civilizations. Sadly, this doesn’t always translate into how indigenous communities are treated. That is why including Maya in the curriculum is a BFD! 

The Maya were amazing scientists, poets and overall a very advanced civilizations compared to their European counterparts at the time.

The Maya civilization was not only advanced in the material aspects of life such as irrigation and construction, but they also reached a very sophisticated level of conceptualization. For example, their number system included the zero, a feat that might seem very simple and almost banal, but that requires a high level of abstraction and a very high level of mathematical intelligence. They also had a deep understanding of astronomy and the ways in which the stars and the Earth’s rotation affect crops and daily life. Hey, maybe we can learn something from them in these times of climate change crisis.

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