Do you know what the term Latinx means? It's a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina that arose in academia before spreading to trendy celebrities, media pundits, and virtue-signaling politicians. As of now, however, the people to whom that term applies aren't buying it. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 3 percent of U.S. Hispanics use Latinx to identify themselves. A large majority of Hispanics—76 percent of them—have never even heard of the term, which Merriam-Webster included in its 2018 dictionary.
This result echoes findings from November 2019 that, despite being, as Reason noted at the time, "a favorite of campus activists and ethnic studies departments," Latinx appealed to only 2 percent of Hispanics nationwide.
The irony is that the term Hispanic is inclusive and gender-neutral but, as the Pew study explains, it spurred "resistance" in the 1990s because "it embraced a strong connection with Spain." However, its gender-specific and hence suddenly problematic replacement, Latino, hardly severs all connections with Spain, let alone with European imperialism.
As historian John Phelan explained, one of the earliest proponents of the concept of a "Latin America" as an alternative to the older "Spanish America" was Michel Chevalier, a 19th-century French political economist who, "as early as 1855…spelled out a geo-ideological program which could serve as a rationale for France's economic expansion in both America and the Far East." The Pan-Latin element was essential because it sought to make France the leader of an imperialist block of Catholic nations that—along with Spain and Portugal—could resist the power of the Eastern European Orthodox Slavs and of the Northern European Protestant Anglo-Saxons and Germanics.
Although Chevalier developed his thesis after the independence of most Ibero-American countries, he considered that "the Hispanic nations of the New World belonged to the Latin-Catholic block of South Europe." As such, he not only championed the French construction of a canal across Central America, but also assumed "the role of principal apologist of (Emperor) Napoleon III's Mexican expedition" of 1861, after which the French toppled nationalist president Benito Juárez and made the Austrian royal Maximilian von Habsburg a short-lived Emperor of Mexico. All of this took place, Phelan writes, amid "a veritable barrage of Pan-Latin propaganda."
While the conversion of Ibero-Americans into Latins resulted from 19th-century French imperialism, the term Latino rejects modern Spain in favor of an odd embrace of the Roman Empire. The French wanted the mostly Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Americas to be called Latin because of the linguistic origin of the Romance languages. And it was, of course, the Romans, hardly politically correct peaceniks, who conquered the Iberian Peninsula and Gaul (later France) and made them Latin-speaking. Which is to say that using Latin or Latino or even Latinx to distance oneself from European colonialism takes a sense of humor.
On the contrary, Hispania, the Latin word for Spain, may have been of autochthonous, Iberian origin, although there is still debate on the matter and several philologists have suggested Phoenician roots. It is intriguing, however, that most people sense the spuriousness of the entire question. As Pew reports, "half of Americans who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking Latin America and Spain have consistently said they have no preference for either Hispanic or Latino as a term to describe the group. And when one term is chosen over another, the term Hispanic has been preferred to Latino."
The preference for Latinx by certain woke progressive gatekeepers reflects a commitment to the artificial and top-down over the evolved and organic usage of the people themselves.