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What does it mean to be Latinx?

What does it mean to be Latinx?

FIU explores Hispanic language and identity

March 11, 2020 at 1:45pm

La tierra de mis padres no es la mía.
Desterrados y buscando libertad, llegaron a su nuevo hogar,
Un nuevo amanecer, a new home.
I still hear the voices of my ancestors,
los susurros de mis abuelos,
que me cuentan su historia,
a story that is also mine.
I pass on their legacy, as my children will pass along mine,
Mi historia, desde este nuevo hogar.
My home.
                                              –Gisela Valencia 

Wherever we come from, whatever our story, many of us in Miami are children of immigrants, refugees. We understand what it’s like to have two or more languages. We understand what it’s like to straddle the vague area between two cultures, somehow part of both yet distinct from neither.

I’m Cuban American. Around me are Nicaraguan Americans, Mexican Americans, Haitian Americans, Venezuelan Americans, Jamaican Americans.

There are many of us – the next generation, the first-generation Americans. 

What exactly does it mean to live and interact in Miami as a child of immigrants? What does it mean to speak Spanish at home? What does it mean to be Latina or Latino or Latinx?

The largest Hispanic-serving institution in the nation, FIU is bringing that conversation to the forefront. While the university caters to Miami’s ethnically diverse population, researchers are working to establish a hub for exploring latinidad.

In its latest project, the Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment (CHUE) has organized its first “What is Latinx Conference?” to delve into numerous topics related to identity and community.

“The conference is a celebration of who we are and what we are” in Miami, said Phillip Carter, the center’s director and a linguist in the Department of English. “It’s a chance to pause and ask, ‘What does it mean to be Hispanic-serving? What are the issues that impact Latinx kids in schools? What does it mean to be Latino and Latina?’ Let’s celebrate, interrogate and question what that all means.”

The conference features a wide array of scholars from across the nation and within FIU, including sociologists, anthropologists, writers and linguists. These scholars bring diverse cultural backgrounds from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. During the conference, they will explore topics ranging from Latinx languages to Brazilian identity in Miami and educational issues related to Hispanic-serving institutions. 

With its diverse population, FIU is the best place for this conversation, Carter said.

“FIU is different. Miami is different,” he explained. “Who we are is really special. That’s something we can talk about and can be proud of. In the future, more and more places are going to look like us. I think because of who we are, that we have a chance to take a lead on this area and embrace it and move the conversations around exploring latinidad. This is a front-burner issue for us at FIU.”

Jonathan Rosa, a sociologist and linguistic anthropologist from Stanford University, kicked off the conference March 10 and spoke about the debates swirling around the term “Latinx” and the role of such labels in society.

Some scholars view the word as being more gender-inclusive than “Latino” or “Latina.” Other scholars feel that the “x” at the end of Latinx reflects an English-language appropriation by stripping the terms of the gender-specific endings used in Spanish. Additionally, a recent poll found that "Hispanic" is the preferred label for Hispanic Democrats in Florida. 

“On one level, I’m very interested in the power of language,” Rosa said about this debate. “But also, I’m interested in the idea that this issue about language is not really about language. It’s about a broader debate. There’s a broader conversation about how we relate to one another, how we organize institutions and the world.”

Rosa said the most important part of this issue is who decides on the label. “It’s less about the label that you end up with than about people defining their own labels.”

Ultimately, Carter added, the conference’s goal is to empower individuals to decide which parts of their identity they value – which identities they want to rescue from oblivion, which ones they want to embrace, and what it all means to them.

So, what does it mean for you? Quién eres tú?

A full schedule of conference events is available online.

This conference has been postponed due to the university guidelines in response to the coronavirus pandemic.