ER '20

Breaking down the term “Latinx” — whose identity it speaks to, and whose it leaves out.

Valentina Sol Pucarelli (BFA 2021) is an undergraduate from Buenos Aires, Argentina focusing on Photography, Film, and Video.

Illustration by Raven Mo

When talking about the Latinx identity, there are a few things that we should start taking into consideration. “Latin America” today is not only used to refer to the name of this region but also the ethnicity of the people that live in it. Like many things in the American continent — yes, America is a continent, not a country — the name of the region we call today “Latin America” was put in place by colonizers. “America” refers the Italian dude who “discovered” it, and “Latin” refers to the Latin language, which died into French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese in the 6th century, and was not born in this region either. 

So how did everything from Mexico to Argentina end up under this one name? Well in short, because the languages considered for the naming of this region belonged to the colonizers, rather than the 500+ indigenous languages or Black communities that were forcibly brought here and enslaved. Although today the term “Latinx” can be used to bring “Latin Americans” together, it technically erases anyone that is not white from it. Since the languages of the colonizers were chosen to name this region, the only people that could be historically accurately Latinx are white people from France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal. It might be a little too late to change Latin America’s name now, but what we can do is understand that for many, “Latin America'' is merely the name of this region, not an ethnic or racial identity. Saying that “Latinx” is an ethnic or racial identity, is saying that everyone in this region shares the same culture, language and experiences, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In order to explore this “Latinx” identity and its nuances further, I first want to acknowledge my own context and identity. I’m a cis woman from Buenos Aires, Argentina, I’m white (I understand if this is where you stop reading), I moved to Chicago about three years ago to attend SAIC, and I’m still processing a lot of the information that is going into this article; in short, I’m no expert. One of the reasons that I want to acknowledge this is because I will be talking about my own personal experiences with this concept, and by no means I represent all people from “Latin America," especially those with a darker skin tone, those who have experienced a whole different kind of prejudice. Being “Latinx” means something different to each person in this region, and mine is only one perspective on it. 

Before I moved to the U.S., I didn’t think much about my identity, neither my whiteness or my “Latinicity.” I had the privilege to do so. Race or ethnicity weren’t really topics of conversation in my predominantly white surroundings. When I moved to the U.S., I was met with new perspectives of what “Latinx” and whiteness meant, ones in which I didn’t seem to entirely fit into. I have encountered a lot of people that didn’t think I was “white white” because I was born in South America, while others would get confused that I speak fluent Spanish or have a “Latin” accent while inhabiting a white body. The number of times I've been told “I thought you were white” (I am) is now uncountable, as if the way I spoke made me an exception for being it. These perceptions of my white body and identity exposes the “Latinx” stereotype that Americans have: that we are all brown? Like spicy food? Dance salsa? Eat tacos? Are loud? Maybe that stereotype also extends to thinking of us as rapists and criminals?

Although today the term “Latinx” can be used to bring “Latin Americans” together, it erases anyone who is not white from it.

It’s not wrong to say that white or white passing people from “Latin America” may still experience discrimination, but it wouldn’t be for the color of their skin. Rather, it would be for the way we speak or our country of origin. White-skinned “Latinxs” benefit from the oppression of BIPOC almost as much as white people in the United States do. When we identify as “Latinx," what we might experience is xenophobia, fetishization, exoticization, but NOT racism. As white people, there’s always going to be a place in the world which we wouldn’t experience these forms of discrimination — our home countries. This is not to say that the opportunities in our homes are necessarily better than in the U.S., but the advantage for inhabiting a white body over someone with darker skin is clear. The idea that all people from “Latin America” are POC is dangerous for people with darker skin as it allows white people to enter their spaces, festivals, scholarships and take advantage of resources that are made for those with less privilege and access. 

Indigenous activist Nia Huaytalla (@haluami) uses their Instagram platform to teach their followers about Indigenous experiences in “Latin America.” If you speak Spanish I urge you to go follow them. Not only do they educate about the history of racism in this region for free, but they specifically bring attention to the fact that indigenous communities in “Latin America” actually reject the term “Latinx” as an ethnic background category, and we maybe all should. Indigenous people are from Abya Yala, the original name of this continent. Latinicity is a colonial construct as it was defined by the colonizers that came to dominate this land and it erases indegnionus communities. Latinx is not a racial-ethnic collective, it’s regional.

Today, in this region there are people of all skin colors, religions, talking different languages and experiencing different realities. The fact that “Latin America” is home of many communities with so many experiences means that painting us all with the same broad brush is not only unfair but unjust. Not only because we have different languages, religion or skin colors, but because our experiences in relation to these factors determine our upbringing, privilege and opportunities given. There is a need for intersectionality and nuance in what we are called, too. 

“Nuance is our way to freedom.” — Priscila Garcia Jacquier

As white and white-passing people from “Latin America,” it is extremely important that we start taking responsibility for our whiteness. We are not the exception. It’s good to feel proud of where you come from, taking responsibility for the color of our skin will not strip away our culture, our family history or the fact that the U.S. government will continue to see us in a certain way — but it could be a step forward against white supremacy. We need to acknowledge the history that the color of our skin tells and the privilege that comes with it. We also need to stop claiming and taking advantage of spaces that are not ours because other people may think of us as POC, and more than ever we need to actively advocate for those people in the “Latinx” community that continue to be oppressed and neglected by white people. Being from “Latin America” does not mean we are POC and does not excuse us from being racist.

“Nuance is our way to freedom.” —Priscila Garcia Jacquier. f

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