Latino leaders and immigration reform supporters gather at the University of Colorado to launch “My Country, My Vote,” a 12-month voter registration campaign to mobilize Colorado’s Latino, immigrant and allied voters, October 28, 2015. (Evan Semon/Reuters) Distorting Spanish beyond recognition doesn’t help anyone.
A new controversy about identity, social justice, and minority communities has been bubbling out of academia into the mainstream. Accusations of cultural imperialism abound, foisted on mainly working-class communities from those in positions of power. Yet this battle does not describe some university town’s battle over a statue or a building whose name references a bygone era. Nor are the privileged elites representative of some shadowy right-wing group. In this case the stereotypical villains and heroes are reversed. In the battle over the use of the word “Latinx,” the battle lines are drawn between Latin Americans and progressives in elite spaces.
For progressive Americans looking to stay abreast of the latest trends in decency, using the term “Latinx” to describe those of Latino origin is simply yet another episode in the long battle to rectify ostensible inequities harming marginalized groups. In reality, the truth is far more complicated. Thoroughly rejected by those it purports to describe, the word “Latinx” is a progressive cultural project, imposed from a place of power. In reality, the drive to push the term onto Americans harkens back to an older form of progressivism, which seeks to “civilize” those seen as unenlightened, even barbaric. When we look at the state of Spanish in America, both past and present, it’s clear this project runs into three major problems. It runs afoul of how Spanish linguistically operates, it’s a top-down imposition, and it is resisted by the vast majority of Latinos in the United States.
It may surprise some to see such a defense of Spanish linguistic norms from conservatives, but this should shock no one. Spanish has been part of the cultural fabric of what is now America since before the English arrived in the colonies. While young New Englanders recited quotations from their Geneva Bible, español could be heard
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