More than a controversial label, Latinx was political tactic during midterm elections

In the aftermath of the midterm elections, many are still discussing and analyzing the red wave that swept some corners of the country, including Miami-Dade. The once-Democratic-stronghold hadn’t voted for a Republican governor in two decades and Latinos helped Gov. Ron DeSantis to his resounding victory.

Fifty-eight percent of Latinos in Florida voted for DeSantis, while 42 percent voted for Democratic challenger Charlie Crist. In 2018, DeSantis beat Democrat Andrew Gillum by less than one percent and had 44 percent of the Latino vote.

How did DeSantis gain 14 points of Latino support in four years? Or is it Hispanic support? What about the controversial “Latinx?”

For purposes of clarity and consistency, this story will use “Latino.”

Unlike its older cousins, “Latinx” has no clear origin. “Hispanic” came to be in the 1970s for the U.S. census. Latino was adopted in the 1990s in resistance to Hispanic because of its connection to Spain. Online searches for Latinx began in the early 2000s but it gained popularity after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting and it entered the English dictionary in 2018. Since then, the word’s popularity has grown among celebrities, politicians, academics and the media.

But what does its own community think of the gender-neutral, pan-ethnic term?

“We found it as almost like a parody, trying to impose such an inauthentic term on a group of people,” said Armando Ibarra, president of Miami Young Republicans. “It was just such a ridiculous term that it was almost comedic when people would use it, and it would just come out so inauthentic.”

According to a Pew Research study published in 2020, only 23 percent of U.S. adults who identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of Latinx. Only 3 percent use it to describe themselves.

Furthermore, a 2021 poll by Bendixen & Amandi International shows that 40 percent say the term offends them, while 57 percent say it doesn’t offend them.

While most don’t seem offended by the term, criticizing Latinx actually drew Latinos to Republicans.

Ibarra said that Latinos saw that many people didn’t like the term Latinx and began ridiculing the term on social media during the summer to attract voters. Ibarra, who is of Cuban heritage, and the group found it so ridiculous that they approached Latinx from a place of “comedy.”

In politics, liberals are embracing Latinx more frequently than conservatives and Ibarra says that doing so hurts Democrats’ chances among Latino voters.

“I think it alienates them from Hispanic or Latino voters that they’re trying to connect with,” Ibarra said. “I think that has had an impact as sort of a signal. Voters see somebody say that and they kind of question whether the person who uses that term understands [the community].”

Many disapprove of ‘Latinx’ because they don’t feel ownership over the term. That is, since its exact origin is unknown and it has been mostly used by non-Latinos, many feel that the term was saddled on the community with no consideration for the culture or the language.

In Spanish, words that end in ‘o’ are masculine and ‘a’ are feminine. When the word is applied to a group and becomes plural, proper grammar is to use the masculine version (with some exceptions).

But for Cyan James, who is 21 years old and Cuban, breaking traditional grammar rules don’t bother her.

“If [critics] looked at linguistics, they will know that every single language changes over time,” James said. “Even when you encounter other languages, there are loads of words that we have in English and Spanish that come from so many different languages, [so] none of us are speaking the original way that English or Spanish sounded maybe like 500 years ago.”

James, a Democrat, is still more likely to use Latino in her every day as a standard. However, if someone asks her to use Latinx, she has no problem accommodating.

“I’ve seen plenty of people, who are typically genderqueer people, who really embrace it and they like the addition,” James said. “I haven’t fully adopted into my everyday language unless I’m talking to another member of the LGBTQ community, but it’s really nice to have it there.”

Jahneé Smith, mutual aid co-chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at FIU, is Cuban-American and Puerto Rican. She identifies as non-binary and uses they/she pronouns, but doesn’t like ‘Latinx.’

Enter the fourth cousin: Latine. This label also has a bit of a nebulous creation, but it emerged from online spaces of queer Latinos to create a gender-neutral option that does abide by the rules of Spanish. Words that end in ‘e’ are gender-neutral.

“I don’t really like ‘Latinx’ just because it’s not something that feels genuine to my culture or my identity,” Smith said. “I think that ‘Latine’ does just because it is in Spanish and it was created by gender queer Hispanic and Latino people. I just think that it feels more genuine to my connection, to my culture.”

Registered as a Democrat but identifying as a Socialist, Smith feels that the Democratic party doesn’t understand its Latino voting base, saying that Dems only seem to try to connect with Latinos on immigration and border issues while there’s a long list of other topics Latinos feels more attached to.

“I think they just don’t understand how to connect with the Hispanic base,” Smith said.

Republicans, on the other hand, saw that a lot of their issues align with the concerns of Latino voters, such as the economy and police funding. Additionally, older Latinos, especially in Miami-Dade, tend to be against the issues Democrats defend, such as LGBTQ issues.

“I think even at a political level, [Latinx] played a major role because many voters see elected officials who use those terms and they understand those elected officials to not get the community,” Ibarra said.

Smith knows that LGBT issues aren’t a priority for older Latinos but believes that society can progress to a place where everyone feels accepted and seen.

“I think we realized that language can be a lot more inclusive,” Smith said. “I’m being true to my identity when I say ‘Latine.'”

Managing Editor, D.C. Correspondent

Natalie is a senior double majoring in journalism and English. An NBCU Academy DEI fellow, she is reporting from Washington, D.C. on national issues that affect the South Florida community. She has an interest in political reporting and gender issues.