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By Makayla R. Quinn

This poem was a product of the knowledge I gained from the Latin* class at the 2022 Lavender Languages Institute. During this course, we discussed the history of the letter x and how it has many different meanings depending on the context. We also asked the question – of whom is the x inclusive? – considering the goal of the term, to uplift non-binary and trans voices, and how it is used. This poem is from my own experience of how I learned what x meant. It also is a reflection on how my knowledge and actions can harm people, and that as a cisgender white person, my job is not to own the term Latinx, but to use my language to respect others.

x Pinned above a kindergarten classroom, in between whale and yo-yo waves [the unknown thing]. When I was a kid, I would stare at that laminated letter with fistfuls of glue. I became all too familiar with xylophone – a complex word, lightly percussive, and always rainbow-colored. The unknown thing is powerful. I was given access to the unknown thing at a young age. I did not think about this gift. I did not seek to appreciate its givers. I hold it now, within my tongue, and I consider how it feels. Not just for me, but for those it impacts when I release it into sound waves.

Makayla's Bio

Makayla Quinn (she/her) is a senior at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN working towards a BA in Psychology with an English minor. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Social Psychology centering around gender and sexuality and community.

Favorite Quote

“A person is a whole person when they are good sometimes but not always, and loved by someone regardless.” – Hanif Abdurraqib

What advice would you tell other students?

My advice to other undergraduate students is not to be afraid of finding your own path, whether personally or professionally. Take classes in subjects you are interested in outside of your major, practice self-care in whatever way is best for you, and gage with the causes you care about. College is a time when you grow as a person and cultivate your own growth.

Other Publication(s)

“A Scientific Quandary” and “my playlists are as follows,” Summit Avenue Review, May 2022.

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Updated: Oct 19, 2022

By Alexandria Román Irizarry

In Dr. Cristóbal Salinas' class on "Latin*: Challenging norms of language, patriarchy and gender", I learned a great deal about the history, use, and misuse of the term Latinx in higher education. As a Ph.D. student interested in studying el lenguaje inclusivo in Spanish, particularly the use of morphemes –e and –x as gender-neutral alternatives in Spanish, this class challenged my initial assumptions about the term Latinx and the use of –x in Spanish.

As someone who was born and raised in Puerto Rico for 24 years of her life, I identify as puertorriqueña and not so much with Latina because it is not a label that we use much in Puerto Rico. Therefore the term Latina feels a bit foreign to me. Nevertheless, the first time I encountered Latinx was when I was doing my undergraduate honors thesis on the –x as a gender-inclusive morpheme in Spanish. I reached out to a gender studies professor at the University of Puerto Rico, and she pointed me to Vidal Ortiz and Martinez's work (2018). It was in their paper that I first encountered the term Latinx. As someone who had been immersed in a linguistic environment, the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, where students and activists would write things with –x instead of the masculine generic –o (e.g., Educación accessible para todxs lxs estudiantes), seeing the term Latinx instead of Latino was not surprising to me. And so, I thought it was cool that the neutral value of the –x was crossing not only languages but also different contexts (mainland US versus colonized Puerto Rico). However, as I presented the results of my undergraduate thesis at conferences in the United States, I noticed that people asked me about my opinion on the term Latinx. At the time (2019-2020), I thought that it was used the same way as the –x was used by Puerto Rican students and activists, as a gender-neutral alternative for people that identify outside the male/female binary. I was unaware that, unlike in my context, where –x was frequently used with different nouns, articles, and adjectives due to Spanish's grammatical gender system, the term was heavily politized in the US as it was confounded with nationality. My initial reaction was to think that the discourse on lenguaje inclusivo and the term Latinx were completely different due to the different contexts in which they were used. However, after taking Dr. Salinas' class, I have realized that the gap between lenguaje inclusivo and the term Latinx is not as comprehensive as I initially thought. I think that what we know today about the term Latinx can be used to understand lenguaje inclusivo in Spanish better. In his research, Dr. Salinas has shown us that originally Latinx was intended to (1) visibilize non-binary and gender non-conforming people in language, and (2) to decenter the use of the masculine generic in Spanish by naming the Latino community Latinx.

Despite this well-intentioned, using Latinx to refer to a whole community of people of Latin American descent brought unexpected challenges. Cis-gender and trans people were referred to as Latinx, which led to the neutralization of gender and the erasure of the struggles that come with identifying with a gender minority. This, in turn, led some trans and gender-nonconforming folks to stop using the term Latinx because it was stolen from them. These speakers have moved to other innovative forms such as Latine, Latini, and Latinu. To correct the misunderstandings caused by Latinx, Dr. Salinas proposes the term Latin*, where the star invites readers to "fill in" the space with their gender marker of choice. This serves as a way in which the reader can choose how to identify themselves instead of having to be misgendered by the researcher. And so, the star represents the potential that Latinx had, without the political connotations associated with the pan-ethnic term.

When I think about the queer community in Puerto Rico that uses non-binary Spanish, I wonder how they would react to the use of the star instead of –x and –e, which are the predominant non-binary forms in language. Even though my experiences with the queer community in Puerto Rico have shown me that these two morphemes are used both in written and oral discourse, there is still much we need to understand and learn. Would they be willing to adopt the star in place of –x and –e? Or would they reject the star because it would exclude people that rely on text-to-speech programs? In regards to the x, how is the –x in lenguaje inclusivo different from the –x and Latinx? How are speakers using the different meanings of –x? In other words, is –x being used as the new epicene instead of –o? If so, will this lead to the same neutralization of gender that the term Latinx caused? Will speakers eventually move to the morpheme –e because it is already present in gender-neutral nouns? What happens to the visibility of cis and trans women when the new generic plural neutralizes them in language? How do gender-conscious Spanish speakers navigate these tensions? All of these questions require further research, which I hope to be able to explore in my work further. I thank the Lavender Languages Institute for challenging me to revise my original assumptions by moving from what I think I know to what I don't know.

Alexandra's Bio 

Alexandra “Alex” Román Irizarry was born and raised in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. She grew up in a bilingual household where she spoke Spanish and English with her parents and older brother, often mixing the two languages. Her early life experience as a Spanish-English bilingual led her to discover her passion for studying languages. Alex has a BA in Modern Languages (i.e., French, Mandarin, and Japanese) and Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus (UPRRP). At UPRRP, Alex experienced firsthand what it was like to be in a community of students that used lenguaje inclusivo “Non-Binary Spanish.” As a linguistics, and someone who recently discovered her cuir [queer] identity, Alex decided to study lenguaje inclusivo by combining psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic methods. Alex is a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of California Irvine’s School of Education. She works with Dr. Judith Kroll at the Bilingualism, Mind, and Brain Lab, and with Dr. Julio Torres at El Areyto Lab. As a graduate student, Alex is studying the cognitive and social factors involved in the linguistic processing of lenguaje inclusivo. Alex is also a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) Alumni and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) Fellow.


UCI Portfolio: Alexadnra Román Irizarry

Bilingualism, Mind, and Brain Lab: Alexandra Roman Irizarry

Favorite Quote

“Be a Fruit Loop in a world full of Cheerios”

What advice would you tell other graduate students?

The best advice I can give to graduate students or aspiring graduate students is to find your voice and never let it go. It is crucial for you to believe in yourself and the potential that your ideas have, even if a renowned scholar tells you they are not worth pursuing. I once had someone I looked up to in academia tell me researching lenguaje inclusivo was not worth it because it was such a small thing in the cosmos it wasn’t even worth doing. That message almost made me not apply to graduate school and give up on my dream of becoming an academic, but I was lucky enough to have the support of my partner and my undergraduate advisors at UPRRP. The bottom-line message here is to find a place where your ideas will be respected and validated, even if that means turning to Faculty that are outside your field of study. I found my place at UCI with Dr. Kroll and Dr. Torres, I hope many of you can find your own place as well! And remember “Be a Fruit Loop in a world full of Cheerios”!

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by Guadalupe Ortega

The following reflection piece, “Escondido”, came as a reflection after partaking in the 2022 Lavender Languages Institute as a part of Professor Salinas’ Latin* class. I self-identify as Latinx and throughout the week of classes, I reflected on what Latinx meant to me. My initial understanding of Latinx was that the term would allow me to express my non-binary gender identity and be more inclusive of gender divergence. The Latin* class unsettled that superficial understanding as I realized the X meant more than showcasing gender inclusivity. To me, the X meant embracing my hometown in the San Diego-Tijuana borderlands. Escondido translates to “hidden” in Spanish, and my hometown is often called the Hidden Valley. The X meant embracing the hidden quality of my home and embracing the borderlands community, as well as empowering me to no longer hide.


Lost in the center, lost at the edge. How can someone find a home in nowhere? Somehow, I can. I can find a home in this space that pulls me in different directions, towards two ends of a rope that I do not want to meet. Towards two different countries, two different cultures that ask you to belong to them -- but somehow, you are never enough to be fully part of either one. Towards a space on the map that doesn’t seem to exist past the mark of an “X.” And yet, even from within this X, nobody seems to notice. In reality, we all notice, but we don’t say anything because even if we do, what good would it do? There’s nothing to discuss; after all, this is the reality we live in, so why fight it? With this X, you learn to hide, to not look for answers elsewhere. After all, the answers seem to be hidden within this contradictory space.
My home is in a shallow valley hidden behind rocky hills. All the signs and people proudly call us the Hidden Valley, but sometimes we take being hidden too seriously. We are proud to be nothing more than an X, a space on the map that most people don’t look twice upon. No one wants to stay here for long, even though it is the perfect destination. Forty minutes away from everything: the beach, the actual city, the border, the mountains. Forty minutes away from escape, from existence anywhere but here. People say a space like this is a wound. But to many of us, it’s a home, a space where we can hide- because no one wants to look at this X for too long. When you successfully hide in the X, you realize you can’t leave. Somehow, we fall into the trance of believing that this place holds all the answers. Everyone always asks, why leave? But why stay in a space that everyone wants to leave? Maybe it’s about feeling bad for the valley, for letting it be alone, or maybe it’s because we too want to hide from everyone else.

Guadalupe's Bio

Guadalupe Ortega is a rising senior at Dartmouth College studying Linguistics and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. They are interested in pursuing a career in academia and plan on applying to Ph.D. programs this fall. Their research interests involve queer creations of home, diasporic world making, borderlands studies, nonbinary language, affect theory, and sociolinguistics/raciolinguistics.

Twitter: @guadalupe_o_26

Favorite word

serendipity (n): phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for

What advice would you tell other undergraduate students?:

I wish someone had told me early on in college that everyone is struggling or has struggled at some point, even if they don’t show it. It’s okay to struggle during college since progress and healing are not always linear.

On the News

Giving Voice to People Who Have Been Left Out” from Dartmouth College News Website.

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