Latino, Latina, Latin@

The oldest and most conventional of this keyword’s variants, “Latino,” is commonly used as an ethnic designation that distinguishes Latin Americans living in the United States from those living in their countries of origin. Even this seemingly straightforward variant sustains a hefty set of internal contradictions and has a decidedly blurry genealogy. While commonly used as an adjective modifying everything from voting blocs to musical categories, neighborhoods, and foodways, the exact referent of the term remains indeterminate even as it seems to imply specific populations, geographies, histories, colonialisms, languages, and cultural practices. The problem is that each of these potential referents carries significant contradictions and erasures. The gendered nature of the Spanish language presents its own stylistic challenges. In Spanish, latino (masculine) or latina (feminine) as a noun or adjective is gendered in relation to specific objects. In English, the masculine form is usually applied universally, or else a slash is used to register two possible gendered possibilities: Latino/a. More recently, a linguistic convention emerging from queer online communities has taken up the arroba to create terms such as Latin@ or amig@s, marking instead where someone is “at” in terms of gender (J. Rodríguez 2003).

This essay may be found on page 154 of the printed volume.

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