A primer on the words and works that illuminate Latinx experiences
September 15 — October 15 marks Hispanic Heritage Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the contributions and influence of Hispanic and Latinx Americans on the history and culture of the U.S. While we believe that recognizing these achievements should occur all year, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to demystify terminology (including Hispanic — which is not the same as Latino) and to highlight creative works by Latinx writers. Below, scholars from the UCI School of Humanities help us do just that.
What is the difference between Latinx and Hispanic?
“Hispanic and Latino are often used interchangeably as umbrella terms for people of Latin American and Spanish descent living in the United States. But over the years there has been a debate about which term should represent a very heterogeneous people. Hispanic, which historically meant ‘of or pertaining to Spain,’ was increasingly used in the 1970s and became a category on the 1980 U.S. Census. But in the 1980s, prominent journalists and community leaders argued against putting the emphasis on Spain and made a case for Latino as representing the different types of backgrounds of people from Latin America. Latino became more widely used in California and some other regions, while Hispanic was more common in Florida. Today the use of one or the other is influenced by region and political leaning. In many cases, those who are conservative politically tend to prefer Hispanic. For more on this, see Geraldo Cavada’s recent book The Hispanic Republican. On the progressive end of the political spectrum, the use of Latino prompted questions about gender exclusion because it is a masculine form in Spanish. The result was the use of Latino/a, Latinos/as, and, more recently, Latinx. These debates remind us that the millions of people to whom these terms refer do not all agree on which one to use.”
- Rodrigo Lazo, professor of English
What is Latinx?
“Latinx is a gender-neutral form of Latina/o adapted primarily by some in the LGBTQIA+ community to assert their intersectional queer and Latina/o identities. It is especially used by gender nonconforming folk who do not subscribe to the gender binary alternatives of Latina or Latino. The use of ‘x’ also represents an emerging trend throughout the Spanish-speaking world, which includes the United States, that challenges the use of binary canonical masculine (-o) and feminine (-a) forms to indicate grammatical gender in Spanish nouns, pronouns and adjectives. Examples include Spanish words like ‘amigxs’ (friends) and ‘bonitx’ (beautiful). According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 23% of persons who identify as Hispanic or Latina/o have heard the term Latinx, and 3% use this pan-ethnic label to describe themselves.”
- Julio Torres, associate professor of Spanish
What books should I read to learn more about Latinx experiences?
If you’re on the hunt for new books to read, you’re in luck. Marco Antonio Huerta-Alardín, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, is the author of four collections of poetry. Below, Huerta-Alardín shares a few books he recommends reading.
“By using documentary aesthetics and retelling the story of Antigone, the book denounces the devastating effects that the politics of the drug war have inflicted on the bodies of the common citizens. I chose this book because it tells a version of the many stories I have unfortunately heard from loved ones when I was living in Mexico a few years ago.”
“This book is a hybrid between a memoir and a poetry collection and has a crucial visual component. The poems portray the experience of womanhood and growing up in the borderlands and it traces a genealogy of Latina writers and thinkers who have addressed the issues of gender, identity, and culture in relation to the U.S./Mexico border.”
“I believe Marcelo is one of the most important young Latino writers at this moment. The book brings visibility to one of the most salient issues of recent years by portraying the experiences shared by thousands of immigrants living in this country who have been denied their own humanity and their right to exist.”
“I choose this chapbook because it offers a unique perspective on issues surrounding Black girlhood and queerness, and because it also challenges notions of Afro-Latinidad as it offers an intimate perspective on these issues. I also love the title that reminds me of a childhood song that my mom would sing to me when I was hurt.”
“These poems embody the experience of what at different instances in recent history has been called the crisis of unaccompanied immigrant children at the U.S./Mexico border. The collection interrogates the tense relationship between the deadly gang related violence in El Salvador (upon the historic U.S. meddling in its politics and military) and the racist xenophobic violence faced by BIPOC in the U.S.”
What is Afro-Latino?
“Over the last few decades, there has been a noticeable resurgence in attention to the scholarship on the invisibilization and erasure of Black people and Black culture within discourses of Latinidad. Unlike discourses of mestizaje that tend to incorporate parts of Black culture yet position Black people at the margins of national identity, the term Afro-Latino marks the presence of Afro-descendant people in and from Latin America. ‘Afro-Latino’ (also written as Afro-Latinx as a gender nonbinary term) demands that we recognize the ever-present experiences at the intersections of Blackness and Latinidad for Black Latinxs. There is no singular experience that can encapsulate what it means to be Afro-Latinx as the lived-experiences of Black people throughout the Americas vary and are multiple. The work of scholars Lélia Gonzalez, Lorgia García Peña, and Keisha-Khan Y. Perry provide potential paths for us to think and talk about what it means to be Afro-Latino.”
- Kat Cosby, Ph.D. student in the Department of History, and Mell Rivera Diaz, Ph.D. student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese
What are some works by Latinx creatives I should check out?
If you’re interested in exploring creative content by people who might be categorized under the umbrella of the term Latinx (as Lazo, Cosby and Rivera suggest, Latinx is a complicated, contested, and newly emergent term), check out the following recommendations from Valentina Montero Román. An assistant professor of English, Montero Román is interested in Latinx and African American literature, women of color feminisms, critical race theory, and modernism. Below, she shares recommendations for poetry, short stories, memoirs, podcasts, and essays.
“Gabby Rivera, author of Juliet Takes a Breath and Marvel’s America, also has a comic series called b.b. free. Rivera says ‘b.b. free is a bouncy love letter to queer kids everywhere, especially the chubby Puerto Rican ones;’ a story that is a ‘trippy wild adventure road trip [she] always wanted to go on as a kid, with a post-climate-change America twist.’”
“The Latinext collection, the BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4, is edited by Felicia Rose Chavez, José Olivarez, and Willie Perdomo. I can’t summarize this collection better than Willie Perdomo does in the introduction: ‘Poets, voluntarily or not, consciously or not, are engaged in a moment of resistance to definitions, monolithic stereotypes, and outmoded ways of looking at the Latinx experience. No one has the upper hand or singular authority on being Latinx, queer, trans, biracial, Black, fluent, or claims to the best pasteles, mofongo, or horchata. The mezcla, or the remezcla, is where we are going to find our strength, our vision, our power; and it’s in these pages where you’ll find the blueprint, which is simultaneously frightening, magical, and real. Welcome to this somos más moment.’”
“Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House is, as Melissa Broder eloquently articulates, ‘wrought with alarming premonition, propulsive rhythm, and a trove of folkloric archetypes… a genre-crushing memoir [and] a meditation on the eclipse of knowledge and intuition by the narcotic light of a destructive bond that feels like love.’”
“Maria Hinojosa leads NPR’s ‘Latino USA,’ which is the longest running Latino-focused program on U.S. public media. Hinojosa’s recently published memoir, Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America would make a good pairing.”
“Malcriada & Other Stories by Lorraine Avila is, as Danyeli Del Orbe describes it, ‘a courageous and bold compilation of stories breaking barriers within the Dominican diaspora.’”
“‘Monstras: Latinx Monsters and Folklore’ is a podcast with Brenda Salguero and Dr. Orquidea Morales that explores the world of Latin American and Latinx folklore, horror, and monsters. Check out their episodes on ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ La Malinche, and zombies.”
“Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a short story collection about ‘Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West.’”
“Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions is about the ongoing refugee crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border. As the back cover describes it, it is ‘an indictment of our treatment of undocumented children, a reckoning with our culpability for the dangers they are fleeing, and a damning confrontation between the ideals of the American dream and the reality of American racism and fear.’”
Where should I get involved at UCI?
Within the UCI School of Humanities, there are a number of ways to engage with Latinx scholarship, events and initiatives. We are home to the Department of Spanish and Portuguese where you can major or minor in Spanish and Spanish/English Bilingual Education; our Latin American Studies Center is a hub for research and programming around the study of Latin America across disciplinary boundaries, and our departments focus on a range of Latinx issues either through courses, faculty research and/or student research projects.