Updated: Aug 23, 2022
By Eduardo Morales, Ph.D.
A unique aspect of the Spanish language is that all words have a binary gender and are either masculine or feminine. Unlike the English language where word have no gender references, the Spanish language has a binary gender reference for all words. Hence, words used to refer to inanimate objects like chair, table, water, and air all have a reference to a binary notion of gender. Over time the concept of gender has evolved to be understood as a spectrum or a broad dimension rather than a binary notion. Consequently, in attempting to be inclusive of persons who prefer to be in some range of identifying their gender, the challenge is arriving at a word most persons of Latin American descent feel comfortable while respecting their preference of gender.
It was during the Nixon administration in 1970s that the U.S. government determined a need of selecting word to categorize and identify persons from Latin America was created. When various groups were asked how they would be referred the word Hispanic was the consensus of the time. The difficulty in the use of this term today is the reference of being related to the country of Spain and being conquered. Hence, the term Latino was a term that became preferred however Latino refers to a masculine gender. Interestingly some persons mostly from the east coast of the U.S. still use the term Hispanic today. Latino/a was then used by many to be inclusive of women however this retained a binary notion of gender. The recent challenge has been finding some agreement in the use of a term to broadly identify persons that have Latin American origins. For some communities and organizations, the end result was to use the term Latinx in order to be inclusive of the spectrum of gender identities. One can expect the nomenclature or what words ethnic groups prefer will change over time as this is an evolving and developmental process. It will take much dialogue with the general Latinx community to understand the need to use the Latinx term at this point in time until other options for nomenclature develop through those discussions.
Nevertheless, most persons of Latin American origins when asked how they identify, they tend to prefer to use the country of origin of themselves or of their family rather than use a broader generic term. There are 33 countries in a Latin America and the Caribbean today. However, U.S. governmental entities prefer the use of one term to identify persons who identify with origins or families of these 33 Latin American countries.
There are numerous studies that examined the social norms and customs of persons from these 33 nations and found some similarities. Most scientists have agreed that there are a few similar social concepts across these countries. These include familismo (importance of family) simpatía (sense of empathy), personalismo (valuing personal relationships), respeto (respect), machismo and caballerismo (responsibility of the man to family and community), and marianismo (importance of women to ensure a healthy home and community environment as well as the emotional well-being of family members).
When it comes to those who identify as LGBTI+, many participants in our program at AGUILAS in San Francisco have identified that coming out to family members is hard for them because they do not want to hurt their family members. Hence this difficulty relates to the concept of protecting their family from being hurt by sharing their sexual identity. The coming out process has some differences especially when they live in the U.S. The cultural stressors they feel is needing to priorities their allegiances while navigating the various cultural groups they interact while living in the U.S. In the western region of the U.S. the majority of those who identify as Latinx have Mexican origins. However, in San Francisco City and County the majority of Latinx persons are from Central and South America. This presents to a variety of customs and traditions from various Latin American Nations.