By Alyssa Exposito
This is the second in a series of articles covering ideas and terms related to feminism: we hope to offer a digestible way to learn about these related topics, which can often be construed as messy and/or convoluted.
As a first generation Cuban-American, I have struggled and argued with my identification as a human/woman given the historic and systemic framework that has existed long before I was born. Ostensibly, I am a Latina.
Sometimes labels are put onto people because it’s easier for others to sort you out and place you in a category than to delve into understanding you as an individual.
Yet, as Daniel Hernandez put it, “[Having a term to identify and separate people of Latin American descent] is a minefield of geography, color, and language since we can be of any race and have few things in common beyond some degree of adherence to the Spanish tongue.” Because of this, most U.S. Latinos identify themselves based on their families origin (Cuban, Puerto Rican, Colombian etc.).
It was French colonists who first dubbed the term “Latin” as a way to differentiate the people living in their colonial holdings from Anglo colonization in the Western Hemisphere.
Here in the Americas, “Latino” flowed from French, into English and Spanish (versus the term “Hispanic,” which evoked just Spain, Latino appeared better suited for a multitude of Spanish-speaking countries). The use of “Latina” soon followed.
Gender-specific adjectives and nouns do exist in many other languages. In Spanish, one would use “el avion” as a male noun to say “the plane.” Then there’s the female noun “la banana” or “the banana.” Which is how “Latino” and “Latina” have been supported throughout all of these years.
Linguistically speaking, it’s only natural, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with problems. You see, this doesn’t welcome inclusivity to those who are queer, transgender, and to many feminists, because it disregards those who are gender non-binary.
Thus, the media has taken hold of the term “LatinX” for the last year or so. It’s use has been encouraged because it’s more inclusive to those who do not identify with the more deterministic terms like “Latino/Latina,” since it implies neutrality (where the masculine has often taken precedence) in a world that is increasingly acknowledging the aforementioned non-binary genders.
Going beyond this, the Spanish language in its plural form always defaults to the masculine. For many, this solidified how the patriarchy imposed on the culture.
Many fellow “Latins” I know, especially women actors, have slowly dropped “Latina” because of the stereotypes one perceives women of Latin descent to have. For example: “spicy, fiery, hot” all of which are also used to describe a pepper. Insert eye roll.
Remember when we spoke about intersectional feminism and how we should begin to think beyond the scope of our own experiences? This is a good case in point, because for many Latin females, these stereotypes are attributed to us regularly. Another stereotype is that we must be “sexy, exotic, passionate” and yes, while all those traits aren’t necessarily negative, when we are reduced to solely these traits, we are confronted with a mass form of objectification and colonization of our bodies (that often originate from men).
Know that these are forms of micro-aggressions that are part of a bigger systemic issue.
So how should we identify others of Latin descent? Simple. The way they choose to self-identify. How does one respond to them? Simple. With absolutely no over-the-top cultural generalizations that come in the form of Carmen Miranda “Chiquita Banana.” When we assume, create stereotypes, and reduce people to traits society portrays them to possess, we strip people of their individuality, the authenticity of their culture, and their right to autonomy.
While linguistically and culturally, LatinX will conjure up some difficulties, I am not opposed to the questions it has driven, which in turn have forced people to further research and educate themselves on these thorny issues. I have always been a proud Latina, but I will say that I now am beginning to identify myself as simply “Latin” because I don’t need the suffix to delineate, separate, and stereotype me further.
But the beauty in all of these discussions is knowing that someone else might make a different choice, or a different identification, and that’s perfectly okay, too.