Why Did LatinX Stick?

On September 15, we kicked off LatinX Heritage Month celebrating our cultura and heritage. But I must say, it is no surprise that not everyone calls it LatinX Heritage Month; and, you may have more commonly heard or seen it referred to as Hispanic Heritage Month – it’s current official name. During this time, I celebrate what I love most about my country, and more specifically Los Angeles – that I can listen to my favorite band, Maná, dance to cumbias, and learn how to cook costillitas with our matron, nuestra abuelita. And, while I can now enjoy these beautiful aspects of my culture by myself or in front of thousands, it was not always that way.

The first time I realized I was having an identity crisis on the dimension of my culture was between middle and high school. I remember realizing that I loved speaking Spanish, but some of my cousins were not taught, and in a way, discouraged from doing so. I was planning my wardrobe for my anxiety-filled first day of high school, and some of my primas told me that my outfit was “too ghetto”. Admittedly and regretfully, I changed what I was wearing, because I wanted to be accepted. In high school, I began a “puppy-love” relationship with a partner who shamed me when I wanted to celebrate my culture or listen to Spanish music. “My family won’t like you… I can’t believe you like ‘that’ stuff.” And, by the time I went to college, I experienced culture shock. The worst part is that I did not even realize it was happening. I attended a prestigious university in the heart of the wondrous melting pot of Los Angeles; I observed a student and faculty population different than that of not only the greater Los Angeles community but the United States as a whole. I was confused, I was lost, and I was trying to discover myself all at the same time. I share this experience, because I know that I am not alone. I know that, like me, many LatinX youth and elders alike are still experiencing this identity crisis. 

Fast forward to graduation and the start of my professional career – gratefully, I find diversity in entry level positions; but, higher up the corporate ladder, the heterogeneity begins to dwindle. Consequently, I start questioning what is happening? Luckily, my educación and chingona-ness result in my success in the workplace; I owe this to my madre. Little by little, I feel more comfortable being able to pull gems out of my cultura bag and wear them proudly. It began with the iconic hoop earrings and resulted in encouraging others to share and express their cultura in the workplace. We did this through sharing; maybe this was the purpose of “Show and Tell” after all. We played each other’s music, hosted potlucks, and shared our origin stories. For the first time, it felt like we could bring our authentic selves to the workplace.

I digress. Now, our millennial generation is credited and sometimes guilted for developing and promoting the term LatinX. The topic of Diversity and Inclusion is being discussed nationally in all sectors. And, many of us still do not know who we are. Understanding the distinctions between ethnicity and race are not requirements to graduate high school; they are not even required to graduate college. So, what do we know? Well, I know that the first time I was filling out demographic data for school, I did not know what box to check. I knew I did not identify as White, Black or African American, Asian, or American Indian. The order that these race categories are listed surprises me to this day; and, at the time, there was no “Other” option. When I applied to my first job there was a new surprise – a question that asked about my ethnicity with two options: 1) Hispanic or Latino 2) Not Hispanic or Latino. That was an interesting one; why would those be the only options? And I thought – “Are we not all just human?!” Befuddled, I checked the boxes that were the “closest fit”. As I pivoted my career to public service, I began to understand why these boxes existed. In the 1970s, NCLR advocated for the development of the term “Hispanic” in an effort to identify and track trends of a group of people with common ethnic backgrounds. The term “Brown” was considered, but did not seem accurate in its grouping of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans; so, the common ground was the most common language, Spanish (JSTOR Daily, 2020). As a result, the term Hispanic was adopted. Respectfully, I am grateful that disparities and trends are being documented and recorded through national programs like the U.S. Census due to this distinction. But, I take issue with this misnomer; it fails to recognize the diversity within our cultures and life experiences. It is linguistically rooted in a history of colonization and oppression. When I ask diversity experts why we still use this word, I fail to ever receive a response that is convincing. Most commonly, I hear that this is the term used by government agencies to acknowledge us as a minority; therefore, we should use the term to advocate for our interests. But, if we are not going to change the language, who will? How long will we have to accept the status quo before we own our identity and its dynamicity?

I identify with LatinX, because it is inclusive and feels like one of our abuelita’s priceless hugs, wrapping you with warmth and encouragement. It allows us to include isolated and mixed Indigenous and European roots. During this LatinX Heritage Month, I urge our leaders of advocacy groups and organizations to have real conversations about the way that we identify within the United States, so that we may truly own our identity, cultura, and heritage.

Wishing you a LatinX Heritage Month filled with orgullo!

Glossary of Terms

  • cultura: culture
  • cumbias: a type of Latin American dance music of Colombian origin, similar to salsa and using guitars, accordions, bass guitar, and percussion. a dance performed to this music (dictionary.com)
  • costillitas: Mexican short ribs cooked in salsa
  • nuestra abuelita: our dear grandmother
  • primas: cousins
  • educación: education – used in the formal and informal sense
  • chingona-ness: an independent woman filled with ambition and grit
  • madre: mother
  • orgullo: pride

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