My mother moved to the Northeast about 20 years ago, far from her original home in Guatemala, and similarly distant from her 13 other siblings who settled in California and the Midwest. We visit this side of my family irregularly — spring break in Oklahoma being the most recent occasion. My time in Tulsa last March was spent trying to make up for the fact that my Spanish is laughable, that I attend an “elite” university, that I live in Cambridge, and that I have fairer skin than my cousins. My Hispanic identity is at my core, yet it remains something I keep having to prove, define, and reflect on.
The Hispanic community, too, has had a difficult time trying to define themselves. For decades, it has been impossible to find a widely accepted pan-ethnic label for this artificially constructed group. Although the majority of Hispanics prefer to identify with their country of origin, there is a practical (oftentimes political) need for an all-encompassing label. In the past couple of years, the categorization “Latinx” has arrived to fulfill this need in progressive spaces — everywhere from college campuses to the corporate world. This is despite the fact that only 3 percent of Hispanic adults prefer using the term Latinx to describe themselves; even more damning, 40 percent of Hispanics are offended by it. As a baseline heuristic: if almost half a population is offended by the term used to describe it, maybe it warrants a second look.
This re-evaluation has already begun. Democrats are starting to view Latinx as an electoral liability. Joe Biden used the term in a speech last June, yet the descriptor is nowhere to be found in the most recent version of his 9,000-word “Agenda for the Latino Community.” The League of United Latin American Citizens has removed Latinx from all its official documents. At Harvard, substitutes such as “Latine” and “Latinidad” have been proposed as defensible alternatives — just last Thursday the Harvard Institute of Politics posted an infographic explaining the linguistic merits of Latine.
Although genuine momentum against Latinx is emerging, the term still has a hold on Harvard’s campus. This September, the fifth annual Latinx Convocation took place; Hispanic groups on campus such as Fuerza Latina and Latinxs in Finance and Technology still use the verbiage on all their mailing lists.
My own distaste for Latinx follows the line of many other commentators. The term screams ignorance of Hispanic culture, language, and priorities. Latinx is predominantly used by younger, college-educated, and progressive Hispanics. In other words, the 3 percent of Hispanics that prefer the term are not emblematic of the broader demographic. More important than the anglicization inherent in Latinx’s spelling — or even its failure to catch on in non-elite settings — is the fact that it actively offends a serious proportion of Hispanics. I am hard-pressed to think of another widely accepted term that could get away with this, let alone be considered the politically correct appellation.
Despite my broad concerns with Latinx, I don’t necessarily think it should be abandoned on campus. Hispanics at Harvard can choose any term they like to describe themselves — even if 97 percent of Hispanics nationwide wouldn’t agree with their choice. A lot of this cultural disparity boils down to wealth, stemming from the fact that socioeconomic diversity at Harvard is severely lacking. Even the recommended solutions, Latine and Latinidad, are far from what Hispanics around the country would want. The burden of this embarrassing incongruity, though, is not on progressive students who are concerned about gender inclusivity. Rather, it rests on Harvard to admit a more economically diverse, and thus culturally diverse, group of students.
Even though Latinx is just a symptom of larger cultural dissonance, its use still sends a clear message. Personally, I refuse to be labeled Latinx. A subtle wave of guilt washes over me every time I’m obligated to check the Latinx box on internship applications or advisory forms. I get the opportunity to be Latinx — while my Latino cousins do not. Being in an environment where the term is prominent is itself a privilege that most Hispanics do not have. Being labeled Latinx cements every one of the 1,500 physical and figurative miles from Cambridge to Tulsa.
It has been a longstanding fear of mine that I will become disconnected from my Hispanic family. Matriculating to Harvard has only amplified these concerns. The Ivy League bubble only serves to complement my other non-traditional Hispanic qualities. Latinx, at times, feels like the final straw. The last step to the top of the Hispanic Ivory Tower. It’s one I just cannot take.
Harold Klapper ’25 is an economics and philosophy double concentrator in Eliot House. His column “Practical Progressivism” appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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