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The Complexity of the “x” in Latinx : How Latinx/a/o Students Relate to, Identify With, and Understand the Term Latinx

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Abstract

The usage of term Latinx has gained popularity in higher education settings. This study documents how 34 Latinx/a/o students relate to, identify with, and understand the term Latinx. Participants perceive higher education as a privileged space where they use the term Latinx. Once they return to their communities, they do not use the term. Due to the variations in understandings of the term, the author contends that one should consider using the term Latin*.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1538192719900382
Journal of Hispanic Higher Education
2020, Vol. 19(2) 149 –168
© The Author(s) 2020
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DOI: 10.1177/1538192719900382
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Article
The Complexity of the “x”
in Latinx: How Latinx/a/o
Students Relate to, Identify
With, and Understand the
Term Latinx
Cristobal Salinas Jr.1
Abstract
The usage of term Latinx has gained popularity in higher education settings. This study
documents how 34 Latinx/a/o students relate to, identify with, and understand the
term Latinx. Participants perceive higher education as a privileged space where they
use the term Latinx. Once they return to their communities, they do not use the
term. Due to the variations in understandings of the term, the author contends that
one should consider using the term Latin*.
Resumen
El uso del termino Latinx ha ganado popularidad en ambientes de educación superior.
Este estudio documenta cómo 34 estudiantes Latinx/a/o se relacionan, identifican,
y entienden el término Latinx. Participantes percibían educación superior como un
espacio privilegiado donde ellos usaban el término Latinx. Una vez que regresaban a
sus comunidades, no usaban el término. Debido a las variaciones del entendimiento
del término, el autor recomienda usar el término Latin*.
Keywords
Latinx, Latin American, college students, language, gender
1Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, USA
Corresponding Author:
Cristobal Salinas Jr., PhD, Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership & Research Methodology, Florida
Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road, ED47-242, Boca Raton, FL 33431, USA.
Email: salinasc@fau.edu
900382JHHXXX10.1177/1538192719900382Journal of Hispanic Higher EducationSalinas
research-article2020
150 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
The term Latinx continues to evolve and challenge how academics and activists per-
ceive social identity for people of Latin American origin and descent. Given that the
term Latinx has gained popularity in most academic and activist spaces, the usage of
the term has not explored the myriad complexities of how it has been constructed and
reproduced within higher education spaces when referring to Latin Americans.
Reflected in the literature review of this article, there are various forms of understand-
ing and (mis)using of the term Latinx, and there has been no published research on
how Latinx/a/o students use, identify with, and understand the term. Therefore, the
purpose of this article is to provide an analysis of how the term Latinx has been used
in the literature review and to investigate how Latinx/a/o college students in the United
States relate to, identify with, and understand the term.
As it has evolved, the term Latinx has created (dis)comfort, ambiguity, and disin-
genuous arguments related to language, grammar, phonetics, religion, and identity
politics (Salinas & Lozano, 2019). The term Latinx—rather than Latino, Latina,
Latina/o, Latin@, Latin, or Latin American—allows people to ask questions about
gender, language, and inclusion, and other changes among cultures (Milian, 2017;
Torres, 2018). Despite receiving a considerable amount of attention in academic and
activist spaces, there has been no consistency regarding when the term Latinx was first
used. While writers have highlighted their own perspectives and recognition of the
term Latinx, the literature on the term Latinx fails to provide an overview of how
Latinx/a/o students make meaning of the continuous alteration of the term. Furthermore,
between 2017 to 2019, more blogs and academic scholarship focused on how writers
understand and promote the term Latinx, while others incorporated the term Latinx to
be up-to-date on terminology and often without defining the term. In her work, Patel
(2016) pointed out that “Attention to something does not automatically mean transfor-
mation” (p. 2), and the concept of change often misses the most robust critique. The
term Latinx will continue to evolve and it may become more favorable among higher
education and social activist spaces, but it will also have limited use. With an under-
standing that all forms of change occur frequently and are not consistent with social
patterns, in this article the author provides an analysis through the literature review
section of the ways in which some users of the term Latinx have (mis)used, (mis)inter-
preted, and have not fully examined the term.
Validating that Latinx/a/o students are holders of knowledge (Delgado Bernal,
2002) and are a bridge point between academics and their communities, one must also
understand how they transfer the term Latinx back to their communities and home.
Latinx/a/o students transfer their increased knowledge from academic spaces back to
their homes, and their cultural knowledge back to educational settings. Consequently,
one must consider how Latinx/a/o students’ social identities inform their understand-
ings about the term Latinx and how they engage within their communities when using
and explaining the term. Therefore, the research question guiding this paper is, “How
do Latinx/a/o students relate to, identify with, and understand the term Latinx?”
In an attempt to better understand how Latinx/a/o students relate to, identify with,
and understand the term Latinx, empirical data were collected via 34 interviews. The
author used the terms Latinx, Latina, and Latino (Latinx/a/o) to recognize how
Salinas 151
participants of this study self-identified without attempting to erase their gender
identities and their realities and to shape institutional understandings of intersection-
ality between gender, language, race/ethnicity, and nationality. In the next section,
the author provides an analysis of the literature review of the term Latinx, followed
by the conceptual framework and methods that guided this study. To conclude, he
conceptualizes the term Latinx with voces perdidas and voces de poder (Salinas,
2017), and presents a term Latin* (pronounced Latin) as new perspective for future
research consideration.
Literature Review
The following arguments on the usage of the term Latinx are presented next, all of
which will be described in greater detail in this literature review section. First, the
author brings into dialogue an overview of the origins of the term Latinx in the United
States. Then, a common argument noted in the literature is that the term Latinx is con-
nected to Indigenous languages; however, every time the term is Indigenized, it is also
Mexicanized. Next, the most common argument noted throughout the literature for the
(mis)usage of the term Latinx is grounded in its centricity of the Spanish language.
Finally, the author presents some of the incongruences found in the literature regarding
the term Latinx and its attempt to be inclusive.
Origins of the “x” in the Term Latinx
It is challenging to trace the lineage of the “x” in the term Latinx (Salinas & Lozano,
2019). Some people have embraced the “x” in the term Latinx as a trend in academic
and activist spaces, while others go simply without acknowledging people’s lives,
genders, histories, cultures, languages, and bodies (Rodríguez, 2017). In contrast,
other people expressed that the “x” in the term Latinx has aimed to “[ungender]
Spanish and the relationship among language, subjectivity, and inclusion” (Milian,
2017, p. 122). While there was no consistency when the term Latinx was first used, the
examination of scholarship conveys that the “x” was first introduced in a Puerto Rican
psychological periodical to challenge the gender binaries encoded in the Spanish lan-
guage (Logue, 2015). In the published literature about the term Latinx, scholars have
stated that the “x” was first used at the front of Chicano written in the form of “Xicano”
as part of the civil rights movement for the empowerment of Mexican origin people in
the United States (Guidotti-Hernández, 2017; Milian, 2017), while other scholars in
the field of linguistic anthropology and archeology have made the argument that
Chicano was changed to Xicano to emphasize how the letter X and the word origins
are related to the Nahuatl language and to peoples of Mexican descent (Pharao Hansen
& Tlapoyawa, 2018). The first noticeable usage of the term Latinx was at a university
with the purpose to be more reflective of a gender-inclusive student organization
(Armus, 2015). First, students at Columbia University changed their student group
name from Chicano Caucus to Chicanx Caucus, followed by changing the name of the
Latino Heritage Month to Latinx Hispanic Heritage Month (Armus, 2015).
152 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
In 2014, in a special issue entitled, “Las Américas Quarterly,” Gómez-Barris and
Fiol-Matta (2014) used the term Latinx to emphasize the possibilities of progress
and its potential usage in Latin America and the United States. In 2017, the first
special issue of “Theorizing LatinX” edited by Milian (2017) highlighted the politi-
cal and cultural dissemination of the term Latinx. This special issue focused on the
contributors’ in-depth reflections and intellectual thoughts on the usage of term
Latinx. In the same year, Salinas and Lozano (2019) wrote the first article that
tracked the usage of the term Latinx within higher education and student affairs
academic journals, dissertations, and theses, and academic conferences. They found
that the term Latinx was used often in titles of papers and presentations and as a
demographic categorization, but the term was not defined by those who used it
(Salinas & Lozano, 2019). In 2018, the editor of the journal Latino Studies stated
that there are various iterations of terminology circulating—Latinx, Latino, Latina,
Latina/o, Latin@, Latin, Latin American, and Hispanic—and encouraged writers to
use any of the terms, to be consistent throughout their writing, and to provide a
definition in a footnote for the readers that might not be familiar with the terminol-
ogy used (Torres, 2018).
When Latinx Is Indigenized, It Is Also Mexicanized
Similar to Chicano spelled like Xicano/a or Xicanx, the “x” has been connected to
Indigenous languages (Rodríguez, 2017; Vidal-Ortiz & Martínez, 2018). The “x” also
confronts the namelessness violence of colonization, slavery, and systematic margin-
alization of Indigenous peoples throughout the American continent (Engel, 2017;
Milian, 2017; Santos, 2017). Guidotti-Hernández (2017) noted that the “x” marks the
Indigenous mythical homeland of Aztlán in the United States Southwest, including
“claims to land during the Mexican period, even though those lands were occupied by
native peoples before the Spanish arrived and established the colonial empire that
would eventually produce the Mexican nation-state” (p. 142). Rossini (2018) asserted
that using the term Latinx can be perceived as providing visibility to Indigenous com-
munities. For example, Engel (2017) argued that the term Latinx is fundamentally
connected to the Nahuatl language (mostly spoken by Nahua people who live in cen-
tral México), and Salinas and Lozano (2019) maintained that it is rooted in the Zapotec
languages (mostly spoken by Zapotec people who live in southwestern-central
México). As various arguments have been made that the term is grounded in Indigenous
languages, a critique of this connection between the term Latinx and Indigenous lan-
guages is that the term has been Mexicanized within Indigenous communities and
languages. In addition, the connection of the term Latinx to Indigenous populations by
scholars and students has been made without much evidence—in this sense it is an
ideological term—since it emerged out of higher education, where Latinx/a/o identi-
ties among Latinx/a/o students and scholars often do not identify with a race (Garcia
& Mayorga, 2018; Parker et al., 2015). In a search on major statistical databases in
higher education such as National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Integrated
Salinas 153
Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and the U.S. Census, it was difficult
to identify what percentage of Latinx/a/o students identify as Indigenous.
Thompson (2013) revealed that “South America is one of the most linguistically
diverse areas in the world with 37 language families, 448 languages, of which over 70
are unclassified. Indigenous languages are used throughout the entire continent” (para.
1). Given that there are various languages spoken in countries across Latin America
(Santos, 2017) and how scholars have associated the term Latinx to Indigenous com-
munities and languages, there is no enough evidence to explain how the term Latinx is
related to others Indigenous communities outside of México. For example, the
Quechua language—primarily spoken in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and
Colombia—does not have the “x” in their alphabet. Therefore, it is important to con-
sider how the term Latinx might be unpronounceable for some people of Latin
American descent as the “x” does not exist in the Quechua language. While the term
Latinx aims to be geographically inclusive of Latin American countries, it might not
be gender or linguistically inclusive of all people of Latin American origin and descent.
Latinx Is Grounded in the Spanish Language, and It Works in English
The term Latinx has been used within the context of higher education and activist set-
tings with the attempt to provide a new perspective that disrupts traditional binary
notions of gender. Gender is “culturally constructed” and a socially created concept
that consists of expectations, characteristics, and behaviors that members of a culture
consider appropriate (Butler, 2008, p. 8). In the establishment of colonized North,
Central, and South America, settler-colonialism led to the ontological erasure of gen-
der identities beyond the binary of men/women. Historically transgender people have
always existed. For example, in the Zapotec communities in México a third gender
identity has been known as Muxes (see Cobelo, 2016; Stephen, 2002). Yet, main-
stream discourse on gender identity has been limited to the binary, and most of society
has adopted gender identity as a two-gender system (Salinas & Lozano, 2019; Stephen,
2002). In this sense, language can be viewed as a tool of colonialism that has erased
other forms of culture existence. In the United States, arguments to promote the usage
of the term Latinx have only been grounded in the binary notions of the colonial
Spanish language (deOnís, 2017). In Spanish, all nouns have a gender wherein those
ending in “o” tend to be masculine, and those ending in “a” tend to be feminine
(Rodríguez, 2017; Salinas & Lozano, 2019; Vidal-Ortiz & Martínez, 2018). Contrarily,
other “romance languages are gendered through standard language conventions, par-
ticularly nouns, articles, indirect objects, and groups of people” (deOnís, 2017, p. 81).
DeGuzmán (2017) stated “The ‘x’ works both in Spanish and English” (p. 218);
however, scholars have not considered how the “x” works for people from Latin
American countries that are not mostly Spanish- or English-speaking including Brazil
(Portuguese), French Guiana (French), and Suriname (Dutch). While the term Latinx
is geographically inclusive of these countries, it is not necessarily phonetically inclu-
sive. Within this context, the usage of the “x” in the term Latinx is not phonetically
inclusive of all Portuguese speakers, as the “x” can be pronounced in various ways and
154 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
is the most challenging sound (Mestieri, 2016; Santos, 2017). The term Latinx, mostly
referred to as Latino in literature, can be inclusive of all Latin American countries, as
it refers to people from the Caribbean, México, and the countries that comprise Central
and South America including the not Spanish speaking (Rodríguez, 2014; Salinas,
2015). Another U.S.-based term in the government and published literature, which is
used to categorize subpopulations in order to count them, is Hispanic. The term
Hispanic was first adapted by the U.S. government and was implemented in the U.S.
Census in 1980 (Delgado-Romero et al., 2006). The U.S. Census Bureau (2012) indi-
cated that Hispanic origin
can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person
or the person’s ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify
their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race. (para. 1)
The term Hispanic originates from the word Hispania, which later became España
(Spain) (Salinas & Lozano, 2019). In contrast to the U.S. Census, scholars in educa-
tion have made the argument that the term Hispanic blends language and national
origin to represent people from primarily Spanish language speaking countries, includ-
ing Spain, Cuba, Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, México, Argentina, Dominican Republic,
among other countries, but excludes Belize, Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, and
Suriname (De Luca & Escoto, 2012; Salinas & Lozano, 2019).
In the Spanish and English languages, the pronunciation of the term Latinx has also
been listed as a form of confusion in the literature. As Engel (2017) affirmed, the term
Latinx can be pronounced phonetically in English as “Latin-X, La-teen-X, and
La-tinks” and in Spanish as “Latin-equis or Latin-sh” (p. 198). Trujillo-Pagán (2018)
discussed that the term Latinx is pronounced in Spanish as “La-ten-ex, La-teen-ex,
La-tinks, or even Latin-equis” (p. 396). Guidotti-Hernández (2017) asserted that
Latinx is pronounced in Spanish as “Lat-een-ecks” (p. 147), while Galvan (2017),
asked “What does LatinKs mean?” (p. 187). Adding to the confusion of the term, some
scholars have argued that the term “Latinx is virtually unpronounceable in Spanish”
(Engel, 2017, p. 198). Pronunciation around the term Latinx has created tension around
the usage of the letter “x.” The “x” has numerous meanings to people and has been
presented in various ways. Milian (2017) described that one might capitalize the “X”
at the end the term to demonstrate that the “capitalization of the ‘x’ might help ward
off the pronunciation issue, though the ‘x’ writ large introduces other nuances pertain-
ing to size, degree, exponentialism, and cultural associations, among other factors”
(DeGuzmán, 2017, p. 217).
Latinx, an Attempt to be Inclusive
Another argument made by scholars is that the term Latinx is inclusive of all Latin
American people. For example, the term Latinx is “inclusive of identities that go
beyond the everyday gender and racial norms that are rapidly shifting and being rede-
fined in today’s culture” (Ramirez & Blay, 2017, para. 8). Similarly, Salinas and
Salinas 155
Lozano (2019) defined “Latinx as an inclusive term that recognizes the intersection-
ality of sexuality, language, immigration, ethnicity, culture, and phenotype” (p. 310).
Torres (2018) further stated that the term Latinx can be inclusive of all people of Latin
American descent, and it “represents the variety of possible genders as well as those
who may identify as non-gender binary or transgender” (p. 284). Most recently,
Cardemil et al. (2019) introduced the new name of the Journal of Latinx Psychology
(previously known as the Journal of Latino Psychology) with the intention to be more
inclusive of gender. The “x” has been added in Latinx to gender neutralize, ungender
Spanish language (Milian, 2017), and it “is an attempt to create more inclusive and
accepting language particularly for transgender and queer folks” (deOnís, 2017, p.
81). Some scholars attempt to be inclusive of all Latin American people by using the
term Latinx, yet various terms are often used interchangeably when attempting to
define and explain the term Latinx. Some of those terms include: gender neutrality,
gender inclusivity (deOnís, 2017), genderqueer, nonnormative gender (Blackwell
et al., 2017), nonconforming gender (Salinas & Lozano, 2019), gender-nonspecific,
and gender-free (Finkel, 2017), all of which can mean similar and different things to
people. Even in journalism, it has been assumed that the term Latinx aims to be inclu-
sive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) people (Contreras, 2017). In
this sense, arguments in support of the usage of the term Latinx as a form of being
inclusive has created confusion between gender and sexual identity. Furthermore,
Contreras (2017) argued that the term Latinx has been used in mainstream media to
“neutralize gender as a form of inclusion and could result in ignoring the oppression
around gender identity and sexuality” (p. 185), as there are transgender people who
do identify with a gender (i.e., Latina transgender woman or Latino transgender
man). Therefore, one must continue to question, “How is Latinx (mis)gendering
people?”
Throughout the review of the literature, there are inconsistencies in how the term
Latinx is meant to be inclusive. Usage of the term Latinx in scholarship seeks to be
inclusive of all people from Latin American origin and descent, yet it is important to
acknowledge that the term Latinx is also exclusive. Moreover, the review of the litera-
ture has failed to include Latinx/a/o students’ perspectives of the term Latinx.
Therefore, the author makes the argument that it is critical to investigate how Latinx/
a/o students relate to, identify with, and understand the term Latinx.
Conceptual Framework
In the author’s previous work entitled “Transforming academia and theorizing spaces
for Latinx in higher education: voces perdidas and voces de poder” (Salinas, 2017), he
used the term Latinx and did not define the term. At the time of writing the article (see
Salinas, 2017), it was suggested by the guest editors that the term Latinx is used to
promote the inclusion of gender nonbinary people with Latin American descent.
Without providing a definition of the term Latinx in the article, the author now seeks
to analyze the term Latinx in this study by using the concepts of voces perdidas and
156 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
voces de poder. The metaphor of voces perdidas and voces de poder is defined as
follows:
Voces perdidas characterizes the unheard and lost voices, the narratives that have been
forgotten and rejected by a system that often only recognizes voces de poder, or powerful
voices that overshadow those with little to no political, social, economic, and academic
capital. Voces de poder dominate academia and silence non-English speakers,
communities of color, and those who do not have access to higher education and
scholarship. (Salinas, 2017, p. 747)
By using voces perdidas, it implies that people’s stories and lived experiences have not
always been recognized by the law, education, and society. The literal English transla-
tion of voces perdidas is “lost voices.” Yet, culturally and contextually voces perdidas
can also be interpreted as repressed voices. Furthermore, Salinas (2017) argued that
Voces perdidas are seeking to heal and be liberated from . . . oppression” (p. 247).
Voces (voices) represent one of the most important rights and democratic principles
for people and it is also a process from which one can create and share knowledge
(Salinas, 2017). The metaphor of voces does not have to be verbal nor audible. People
can show their resistance, or voces, in various manners. For example, some students
might not show up to educational programming, and others might develop new terms
as a form of liberating practice. The construction of the term Latinx can be viewed as
voces perdidas as some individuals’ genders have been made invisible and are not
recognized in some linguistic practices. The usage of voces perdidas and voces de
poder in this article also has limitations as they are only used in Spanish and translated
to English. Because the term Latinx has gained visibility and is mostly professed in
academic and activist spaces, the term can be perceived as voces de poder. To further
conceptualized voces perdidas and voces de poder, one must also understand how the
term Latinx has been used in the literature review and how Latinx/a/o students relate
to, identify with, and understand the term.
Method
Denzin and Lincoln (2011) defined qualitative research as “a situated activity that
locates the observer in the world. Qualitative research consists of a set of interpretive,
material practices that make the world visible. These practices transform the world”
(p. 3). Therefore, this qualitative research investigates how 34 Latinx/a/o students
relate to, identify with, and understand the term Latinx. The ultimate purpose of quali-
tative research is to learn; and the researcher is the learner, repeatedly and consistently
making decisions that affect the questions and the direction of the study (Rossman &
Rallis, 2012).
Data Collection
To replicate the high visibility and popularity of the usage of the term Latinx on social
media, participants were recruited for this study via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Salinas 157
A recruitment flyer was posted in all three social media platforms of the principal
investigator (PI), with the goal that the PI’s network would “like,” share, and engage
in the post. The post was shared by professional organizations, offices, and depart-
ments from various universities, scholars, and activists. Latina Rebels, an online
empowerment social media platform for Latinas, shared the recruitment flyer on their
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. After the recruitment flyer was shared by
the PI and Latina Rebels, it received over 150,000 impressions from people in social
media; in other words, the call for participants went viral. Therefore, the author used
viral networking sampling (VNS) as a form of sharing a call for participants to partici-
pate in a study through social media. VNS is when the PI shares a call for participants
and the call is re-shared by others, resulting in a sample outside the PI’s network.
Connected via a third party this process creates the VNS that mitigates the degrees of
separation. The advantage of VNS is that it reaches a network of people beyond the
PI’s network, location, educational level, social, economic, and cultural capital.
The recruitment flyer stated the purpose of the study, criteria to participate in the
study, and instructed prospective participants to e-mail the PI if interested in partici-
pating in the study. The author received over 90 emails from people with additional
questions or interest to participate in the study. All participants received a response
from the author, and if they were interested in participating in the study, they sched-
uled a time for a 60-min interview. To participate in the study, participants must have
been 18 years old, be an undergraduate or graduate student, and self-identified as
Latinx/a/o, and completed a consent form approved by the Institutional Review Board.
Out of the 90 emails originally received from prospective participants in various insti-
tutions across the United States, only 34 students qualified and agreed to participate in
this study.
Participants
In this study, three participants self-identified as Latina/x, 13 self-identified as Latinos,
and 18 as Latinas (n = 34). With regard to gender, 20 participants self-identified as
women, 13 self-identified as men, and one self-identified as Queer. In terms of sexual
orientation, one Latina/x student self-identified as queer and two identified as hetero-
sexual. Two Latinas self-identified as bisexual, one as pansexual, and one did not
disclose her sexual orientation. Similar to Latinas, two Latinos self-identified as gay,
one as pansexual, and one did not disclose his sexual orientation. In relationship to
their student status and field of study, at the time the interviews took place, 24 of them
were graduate students, earning degrees in higher education (13), sociology (3), ethnic
studies (2), arts (2), English (1), computer sciences (1), and women studies (1). The
other 10 of the participants were undergraduate students, majoring in business (2), arts
(2), education (1), ethnic studies (1), psychology (1), social work (1), nursing (1), and
anthropology (1). Participants were geographically located across the United States,
but they all had a strong connection with their country of origin, including Colombia,
Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, México, Panama, Puerto Rico, Peru, and Venezuela.
Pseudonyms were used in this study to protect the identity of all participants.
158 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
Data Analysis
All 34 Latinx/a/o student participants of this study were asked demographic ques-
tions about their class standing, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and country
of origin. Then, the students participated in an approximately 60-min face-to-face or
via a conference call interview and were asked questions regarding how they learned,
related to, identified with, and understood the term Latinx. For example, questions
included the following: Please describe when you first learned about the term Latinx.
What does Latinx mean to you? How do you explain the term Latinx to your family,
community, and peers? And, are there any spaces where you intentionally choose to
use the term Latinx or not? All data were analyzed, and any self-identifications were
removed and replaced with pseudonyms to protect the identities of all student par-
ticipants. All interviews were transcribed verbatim. Once completed, transcripts
were read and the data were organized into codes using “categorical aggregation to
establish themes of patterns” and then themed to make meaning of the data (Saldaña,
2016, p. 190).
Findings
All data collected were used to analyze how participants relate to, identify with, and
understand the term Latinx. The findings of this qualitative study are presented in three
parts: first, a summary of how participants described learning about the term Latinx;
second, how they understand and define the term Latinx; and last, how they use the
term Latinx.
Learning About the Term Latinx
Twenty-one of the participants stated that they first saw the term Latinx via social
media, and 13 of them first learned it in higher education settings (e.g., in class or from
peers). In 2014, when the Chicano Caucus student organization at Columbia University
changed their group name to Chicanx Caucus, some participants started to see that the
term Latinx was used in social media. A majority of the participants who first learned
the term Latinx via social media stated that they were confused. Amanda said that she
was “really confused” and that she “didn’t know what it meant. It was used for the
Latinx community, and I was like, what does that mean? So, I googled it and I didn’t
understand it at the moment.” Yolanda described that the first time she saw the term
Latinx on Facebook was unclear. She said,
I grew up in Los Angeles. So, I still have friends there and my friend went to a Latinx
convention and I actually thought that the x stood for Los Angeles because of the LAX
airport. The “x” is there. . . I just assumed the x stood for LA, because of LAX.
Similar to Amanda and Yolanda, most participants that first saw the term Latinx on
social media—Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram—were confused. For some of the
Salinas 159
participants, it took them time to understand the term Latinx. They came to learn about
the term Latinx from their peers in higher education settings. Edgar stated,
I really didn’t understand it at first. I saw a post of what it was and what it is essentially
describing. It took me awhile before to understand it. . . I learned about the term Latinx
from my girlfriend, she is a theater major, and her friend who is an English and sociology
major.
Peer interaction was important for students to gain a better understanding of the
term Latinx. Similar to Edgar, Trace learned about the term Latinx in a Facebook
group for student affairs professionals but recognized that the term was mainly used
by his peers who were in graduate school. Nick also stated that he learned about the
term from his peers in 2018 during a meeting for the Latino Graduate Association.
Nick said that he did not know what the term meant, “I wasn’t sure what the term
was about. Maybe the X meant something for millennials or with generation X,
generation Y.”
Two undergraduate students, Gerardo and Citlali, noted that they learned about
the term Latinx in one of their Chicano studies courses when discussing the differ-
ences between Latino and Hispanic. Moreover, only three of the participants, PhD
students, stated that they learned about the term Latinx in their classes from their
professors. For example, Elvia stated that she learned about the term Latinx when
asking the difference between “Latino or Latina, and Hispanic and we were in the
process of discussing that distinction” and at that point the faculty introduced her to
the term Latinx “to be more inclusive of genders that are not binary.” Cortez and
Judith also learned about the term Latinx when speaking about their doctoral studies
research interests. All participants from this study stated that their peers and some
administrators used the term Latinx, yet their institutions and Chicano and Latino
Studies programs have not institutionalized the term Latinx, and only some of the
student organizations have changed their organizational names to reflect inclusivity
for what the term Latinx aims to do.
Defining and Understandings of the Term Latinx
Participants of this study learned about the term Latinx in various ways, via social
media or interactions with others. The findings of this study parallel what the literature
highlighted. Participants of this study defined Latinx in two ways: a term for people
who do not identify along the European settler-colonial gender binary, and inclusive
for all people of Latin American origin and descent. Elizabeth indicated that for her,
the term Latinx is “a way of making our [Spanish] language catch up with the people.
. .” and it is “a way to put it into words and include people.” Marco said that the term
Latinx to him “is an inclusive way of describing our community” because he finds it
“very interesting when we think about the Spanish language. When we have a group
of 10 women and one guy joins the group, then they became Latinos instead of
Latinas.” Similarly, Edgar uses Latinx to substitute Latina and Latino, because in
160 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
“Spanish language [. . .] there is no other word that I can think [of]” to challenge the
gender binary.
While the term Latinx aims to be more comprehensive of people who do not iden-
tify with the gender binary, some of the participants defined the term as a form of
inclusivity for all. Jaime came to understand the term Latinx “for anyone who identi-
fies with the Latin background.” In addition, Jeannette stated that to her the term
Latinx “encompasses Latinidad but also shows the ability to be inclusive.” Alike,
Trace described that Latinx as:
It’s supposed to be an all-inclusive term for all individuals regardless of ethnicity. So,
I’ve come to understand it as an all-inclusive term that would include potentially ethnicity,
religion, sexual orientation. All that stuff that encompasses this idea of multiculturalism
or diversity in its most traditional sense.
Cortez stated that the term Latinx is to be inclusive “of everyone” including “transgen-
der folks,” “gender nonconforming,” and undocumented students like himself, he
stated: “I’m undocumented, so there is a lot that has happened in my life. My goal is
to document and make things visible. That is why it is so important to me to use
Latinx. We need to be inclusive.” Yolanda had similar thoughts and stated, “The term
Latinx means inclusivity for the LGBT community.” As Elizabeth, Marco, Edgar,
Jaime, Jeannette, and Trace indicated, a majority of the participants have challenged
the terms Latino and Latina and the assumptions of inclusion in order to adapt the term
Latinx.
According to most participants of this study, the term Latinx aims to be inclusive of
all people of Latin American origin and descent and it is a term with the intention to
include people who do not identify as Latina or Latino. In contrast to the majority of
the participants of the study, a participant, Keven, finds the term to be “a very imprac-
tical word. . . it is trying to be inclusive, but I think it has taken us a step in the wrong
direction. I think just taking out the O makes more sense.” As he pointed out, the term
Latinx cannot be inclusive of all, especially if the term is only supported in the English
language. Jeannette stated that the term Latinx is a very “United States-centric term”
that aims to eliminate the experiences of Latin American people because Latin
American people are as American as people from the United States. Other participants
also felt that the term Latinx is only used in the United States. Paty stated,
People who live in the U.S. use Latinx, just because it’s like Spanglish. So many people
in the U.S. identify and inspired by that, but when you look back at our home country,
people don’t know what it is. I think is has become this very U.S. thing.
Marco, Fey, and Paty, among other participants with strong roots to their countries of
origin, stated that Latin American countries are more likely to use the terms “Latiné
and “Latinu” as a new way to eliminate the “x” from Latinx, and to reject another term
imposed in Latin American people. Judith supported her friend outside the United
States who uses the term Latiné instead of Latinx, she discussed: “I’ve also seen it with
Salinas 161
the ‘é.’ So, my best friend lives in México and she always says ‘Latiné.’” The partici-
pants had different ways of defining the term and using it, but Keven furthered stated
that he struggled with the term Latinx specifically when ‘white people trying to use it.’
These findings illustrate that the definitions and understandings of the term Latinx
vary from academic space to students’ home and vary based on level of education
when students first learned about the term.
Transferring and Using the Term Latinx
Given that the participants of this study had various levels of understanding on the
term Latinx, and knowing that Latinx/a/o students transfer knowledge to their com-
munities, the author asked: “How do they transfer and explain the term Latinx to their
family members and their communities?” Many participants stated that they had not
introduced or defined the term Latinx at their homes, as their parents might not speak
English, do not hold a formalized education, and some parents are still trying to make
a differentiation between Latino and Hispanic.
As stated earlier, the development of the term Latinx has been grounded in argu-
ments of Spanish language only. When the author asked participants of this study how
they informed their parents about the new term Latinx, a majority of them stated that
they had not discussed the term Latinx at home. Jaime shared,
It’s been a little difficult to translate that back home. At least in my home setting, because
some of the things I’ve learned especially in regard to Latinx culture, or just anything in
general, [Latinx] it doesn’t seem to translate. To give you a quick example, my mom to
this day will still always say that she is Hispanic, and she will never identify as Latina/o.
Based on Jaime’s comments, the term Latinx had not been introduced at home. Similar
to Jaime, many participants of this study stated that they had not introduced the term
Latinx to their parents. Trace said that he does not attempt to introduce the term Latinx
to his family, friends from high school, and other members from his community
because they are still making sense if they are Latino or Hispanic. Trace called this
process “the battle of the terms.”
Citlali, Fey, and Lucia were the only three participants that self-identified as Latinx.
However, when referring to themselves within their home and families, they were
identified as Latinas. When the students are in higher education and spaces that tend
to be more inclusive, they self-identified as Latinx, to allow all individuals to feel
comfortable with regard to their identities. It was throughout her education that Citlali
was able to learn how to self-identify in various spaces:
I consider myself Latinx or Latina. I prefer to use anything but Hispanic. . . Consciously
I don’t use the word [Latinx] in political science classes because they don’t understand
you at all. If you say you’re Latinx, they won’t know what you are talking about at all.
Similar to Citlaly, Lucia said,
162 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
I use queer woman because of the way I identify in certain spaces. For example,
sometimes I use Latina and not Latinx. So, it depends on the spaces that I am at and
identify. It also has to do a lot with my family, because they are like, “eres mujer” [you
are a woman]. They do that labeling thing. I hate to categorize, but sometimes we have to
use them to fit somewhere.
Something important to note is that Fey was the only participant who self-identified as
genderqueer, while everyone else self-identified as men or women. Fey identified as a
queer feminist or Latinx because “It’s daring to language. It’s rebel.” Fey did not fully
disclose to their family and friends their Latinx identity because their family and
friends might perceive Fey and other feminists as being “mad at the world and that
they are cannibals.”
Based on the spaces they encountered, Citlali, Fey, and Lucia chose how they self-
identify, while all other participants self-identified as Latino or Latina. When the
author asked them how they used the term Latinx, all participants affirmed that they
were Latino or Latina, but their community as a whole was Latinx. For example, Jaime
affirmed, “I say I am Latino, but when I speak to a group with an audience or anyone
in general, I always referred to them Latinx.” Marco also said, “I still do not use the
term Latinx for myself, but I used it for the general community.” For Latino men, the
term Latinx was not threating to their identity, while most of the Latina participants
stated that they did use the term Latinx as they did not want to lose their identity as
women of color, independency, and/or erase their accomplishments as Latinas. Jenifer
said, “I am Latina, while the community as a whole is Latinx. I do not self-identify as
a Latinx because yo soy mujer [I am a woman].”
Conceptualizing the Term Latinx With Voces Perdidas and
Voces De Poder
The term Latinx cannot be understood with just one meaning. The critiques of other
scholars and activists have erupted in various ways that regardless of how the term is
analyzed and used, it can empower a group of people, but it can also oppress people.
The term Latinx can be conceptualized as both voces perdidas and voces de poder. A
majority of the participants from this study perceived the term to be used in inclusive
spaces only. Cortez believed that the term Latinx is only used in “Elitist circles, like
highly educated folks.” Similarly, Alondra expressed “that it is privileged to say the ‘x’
is gender inclusive. From my understanding it comes from these very privileged of
academics, sometimes social justice people. A lot of the terminology that is being
thrown around.” Lucia also reflected on this and stated, “higher education is obviously
a privilege space, elite space, and sexiest space. . .” and those educational “spaces are
known for being liberal, or more open-minded spaces. And it depends who you are
with, and how those individuals identify. If they are in the margin of gender or not.”
Similar to Cortez, Alondra, and Lucia, a majority of the participants perceived higher
education as a privileged space where they only used the term Latinx to be inclusive.
Once they returned to their communities, they did not use the term, as they did not
Salinas 163
want to be the voces de poder overshadowing the voces perdidas. Even Denise and
Franco, both former student affairs practitioners, recognized that they used the term
Latinx often without providing a definition. To this extent, the ways in which they used
the term Latinx can be seen as an imposed agenda on students to adopt the term.
Assigning new terminology without understanding the implications is another form of
how voces de poder continue to exert dominance over voces perdidas. Some of the
participants expressed they only use the term Latinx because they felt they were being
policed by the university staff. Isaac stated that he adopted the term Latinx because the
staff of the multicultural center told him to use it. Other participants stated that they
only used the term Latinx in higher education settings, such as diversity, social justice,
and multicultural centers.
Jeannette felt privileged to analyze the term Latinx, while recognizing that her fam-
ily and community do not have opportunities to take courses on queer theory. Also,
Jeannette stated that she used Latinx to refer to the general population, but she did not
identify as Latinx because she was already privileged to have a gender with which she
can identify. She felt that by using the term Latinx as her gender, she was taking it
away from the self-identified Latinx community. The initial usage of the term Latinx
can be viewed as form of voces perdidas that was developed as a form of liberatory
practice or social movement based on an identity that aims to empower and recognize
to become voces de poder. Self-identified Latinxs have not been included in language,
education, research, and law. Therefore, the term Latinx can be understood as voces
perdidas, and these voces, “when heard, have the power to create social transforma-
tion” (Salinas, 2017, p. 247).
The author clarifies that Latinx is a term that disrupts binary notions of gender and
is a noun for individuals who do not identify with the men/women binary. Terms such
as Latinx and others are attempts and opportunities not to ignore but amplify raced-
gendered terminologies as a form of decolonizing an intersectional linguistic, racial,
and gender reality. Moving forward, future research should explore the diffusion of
and intersectionality of the term Latinx to understand the significance of the various
ways that gender, sexuality, language, race, ethnicity, disabilities, culture, immigra-
tion, geography, and phenotype influences knowing in all realms of life, not just higher
education. Due to the (mis)understandings and (mis)using of the term Latinx, the
author contends that the academic community should consider the use of the term
Latin* (pronounced Latin).
Latin* as a New Perspective
Strauss and Corbin (1998) maintained that “a researcher does not begin a project
with a preconceived theory [term] in mind. . . Rather the researcher begins with an
area of study and allows the theory [term] to emerge from the [analysis of the] data”
(p. 12). The purpose of this study was to provide an analysis of how the term Latinx
has been used in the literature review and to investigate how Latinx/a/o college stu-
dents in the United States relate to, identify with, and understand the term. As dem-
onstrated by the data, the majority of participants in this study did not identify with
164 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
the term Latinx and others identified with a variety of terms such as Latiné, Latinu,
Latino, and Latina. The author did not start the study with a preconceived term/label
in mind, rather the author began the study on how the term Latinx has been used in
the literature review and how Latinx/a/o college students use the term. In this study,
patterns emerged from the data that suggested to the author the need for an alterna-
tive term that is encompassing the fluidity of social identities. Therefore, the author
presents the term Latin* (pronounced Latin).
As stated earlier, the term Latinx can be exclusive and there are various inconsis-
tencies with the usage noted throughout the analysis of the literature. Thus, this
study contributes a new perspective and an ideological case for the use of the term
Latin*. Similar to Nicolazzo’s (2017) work in Trans* In College: Transgender stu-
dents’ strategies for navigating campus life and the institutional politics of inclu-
sion, the asterisk in Latin* could be used to “refer to the way computer search
functions allow one to search for any words attached to the prefix” (p. 8). In other
words, Latin* can consider Latinx, Latiné, Latinu, Latino, Latina, Latina/o, Latin@,
Latin, or Latin American. Introducing the * (asterisk) in Latin* is intended to serve
as a deliberate intervention—a pause for readers to consider the various ways in
which people from Latin American origin and diaspora in the United States may
identify. In addition, Latin* presents future opportunities for people of Latin
American origin to communicate and to name their raced-gendered ethnic identities
and experiences. The purpose of introducing Latin* is not to homogenize Latinidad
into one culture but rather to seek new understandings of the identification of and by
people of Latin American origin through a new term. On the same token, one cannot
ignore the interconnectedness of the social (re)productions of race, gender, sexual-
ity, and ethnicity common across Latin American nationalities, products of settler-
colonialism. The term Latin* challenges us to think more critically about intersecting
identities and their social, psychological, and material impact on people of Latin
American origin and descent.
Many terms have been created to homogenize Latinidad and in doing so these
terms have inadvertently diluted the uniqueness of some social identifiers. Thus, the
author proposes Latin* as an all-inclusive term that considers the fluidity of social
identities. Latin* is not a gender identity in itself, but rather creates a space that encom-
passes gender fluidity and identity labels that already exist, as well as those that have
yet to be included in the mainstream vocabulary. In parallel with the findings of this
study, some participants with strong connections to their countries of origin stated that
they are more likely to use terms like Latiné or Latinu as a form of resistance of the
“x” in Latinx. The findings of this study validate that Latin* can go beyond a word; it
can be used as a space holder for people to reclaim their identities in the complexity of
layers of Latin American origin and descent.
Latin* invites people to self-identify any way they desire and serves as a place-
holder for new emerging terms that gives voice to Latin American people. In lieu of
the fact that culture, society, language, law, and policy have oppressed Latinx people,
the author does not want to decenter the “x” from its original purpose, which was to
acknowledge the experiences of gender-nonconforming people. The usage of Latinx
Salinas 165
as an all-encompassing term for Latinidad dilutes and recenters cisgender normativity.
The “x” in Latinx is a gender identifier and should be used only for people who do not
identify with the gender binary of men and women. Latin* is a response to the (mis)
usage of the term Latinx as an all-encompassing proxy for Latinidad. Another take is
that some people might not identify with the terms/labels Latinx or Latin*—just like
any other identity term/label. Pan-ethnic terms can be perceived as a form of retroac-
tively assigning an identity to people who might never want to adopt it in the first
place. For example, some people of Latin American origin and descent choose to iden-
tify with their family’s country of origin over any pan-ethnic term or label. Similarly
to choosing a pan-ethnic term, other people might choose to only identify with their
regionally or socially constructed identities that do not group them under an ambigu-
ous label (e.g., Muxes, for example, may choose to identify as Muxes and not with a
colonially imposed label).
Conclusion
Most commonly, the term Latinx was first used in academic and activist spaces to
pluralize Latin American communities into a gender-inclusive, pan-ethnic group.
However, in that process, without an in-depth examination of its usage and its
implications, the term has rather neutralized gender versus achieving its original
goals of inclusivity. Due to the fast visibility and growing usage of the term Latinx,
this term may be considered more of a fad that has created (dis)comfort among
some Latin American people. It is essential to recognize that the term Latinx is not
commonly used among people of Latin American origin and diaspora, and that the
term Latinx is caught between gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, and Spanish and
English languages. Therefore, the term Latinx has now become ambiguous and
convoluted in academic and activist spaces, subsuming various forms of social
identities.
The term Latinx as a form of identity is central to subjectivity—the reality and truth
of the individual who identifies with the term. The term Latinx, just like any other
label, can mean anything and nothing (DeGuzmán, 2017; Galvan, 2017). It is all con-
nected with how the individual uses and understands the term. The more one studies
the term Latinx, the more philosophical meaning and critical consciousness one might
develop. The terms Latinx and Latin* must continue to be analyzed with humility and
hope—although this may sting—it is necessary for healing to occur among Latin*
individuals. Considering that language has history and history should not be deleted,
we must remember that terms/labels exist for us, and we do not exist for them. People
create terms/labels to express their own realities, and we should not let terms/labels
create ours.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
166 Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 19(2)
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
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Author Biography
Cristobal Salinas Jr. is an assistant professor in higher education program at Florida Atlantic
University. His research explores the economic, social, and political context of educational
opportunities for historically marginalized communities of people. In particular, he explores the
three levels of oppression: institutional, cultural, and individual levels.
... The precise moment that the term Latinx made its way into the U.S. lexicon is unknown (Salinas 2020;Salinas and Lozano 2019). Salinas and Lozano (2019) posited that the term first emerged on the Internet and on social media sites in 2014 (302). ...
... As Salinas and Lozano (2019) noted, Latinx is a term that 'recognizes the intersectionality of sexuality, language, immigration, ethnicity, culture, and phenotype' (310). Nevertheless, in a review of the literature, Salinas (2020) found that 'there are inconsistencies in how the term Latinx is meant to be inclusive ' (155). ...
... Indeed, prior research has noted that college campuses represent critical sites for raising awareness of panethnic identity labels as well as their meanings and histories (Padilla 1997;Reyes 2018). In fact, while Salinas (2020) found that just over 60% college students interviewed first heard of the term Latinx on social media, nearly 40% first learned of the term in class or from peers on campus. ...
Article
‘Latinx’ – a gender neutral variation of ‘Latino’, is increasingly used to describe individuals of Latin American origin in the United States. Drawing on data from the 2019 National Survey of Latinos, we assess familiarity, use, and attitudes towards the term Latinx among Hispanic-Latinos. We find that linked fate, discrimination experiences, being a Democrat, being younger, and higher levels of education predict greater awareness of the term. Having ever used Latinx to identify oneself is only associated with discrimination experiences, identifying as Afro-Latino, and being female. However, the effects of discrimination experiences on having ever used the term are moderated by immigrant generation and age. Meanwhile, believing the term should be used as a panethnic label is associated with the same factors as those that explain awareness of the term, with the exception of greater education. Lastly, we find that the factors associated with preferences for ‘Latinx’ over both ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’ are similar, suggesting that those who prefer the term represent a distinct subgroup of Hispanic-Latinos. Collectively, our findings suggest that, while college campuses represent critical sites for raising awareness of the term, this knowledge is not necessarily leading to its active use among Hispanic-Latinos themselves.
... A monolithic approach to assessing LatinXs carries over to higher education research (Dache et al., 2019;García-Louis, 2016;Jiménez Román & Flores, 2010;Salinas, 2020) where most of the scholarship on LatinXs in higher education centers the experiences of mestizXs-individuals of Spanish and American Indian descent (Blackwell et al., 2017;García-Louis & Cortes, 2020;Salas Pujols, 2022). The push to develop a one-size-fits-all model to serving LatinXs in education has produced the opposite effect: the one-size-fits-few dilemma. ...
... One such practice is the incessant will of nations to box humans into racial and/or ethnic categories. For LatinXs in the United States, this means that regardless of the neologism utilized to describe their existence, none will ever successfully encompass their complex intersecting identities (Alcoff, 2006;Milian, 2013;Salinas, 2020). In fact, even Latinidad "should be defined and challenged by recognizing the subalternized histories. . ...
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The author provided a brief exploration into the origins of racial/ethnic categories and facilitated a linkage between a colonial past and the present. She encouraged educational researchers and practitioners to adopt an understanding of Latinidad beyond a pan-ethnic model of identity by making critical colonial connections. She underscored how coloniality permeates educational structures, pedagogical practices, and the foundations of scholarship development that subjugate LatinX students to view themselves through the eyes of the colonizer.
... Latin* is a term that encompasses fluidity of social identities. The asterisk considers variation in selfidentification among people of the Latin American diaspora and origin(Salinas, 2020). Latin* responds to (mis)use of Latinx, a term reserved for gender-nonconforming peoples of Latin American origin and descent(Salinas & Lozano, 2019). ...
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This case study discusses how conceptions of mathematics instruction as race- and gender- neutral impede inclusive teaching in undergraduate pre-calculus and calculus. Drawing on a larger study that explores instructors’ and students’ perceptions of instructional events, which white women and racially minoritized students identified as discouraging, we present a case study centered on an event that exhibits the well-documented gatekeeping function of calculus. This event, titled course drop, features an instructor’s class-wide message that students who cannot complete steps for a problem quickly should consider dropping a course level or not taking Calculus 2. Instructors’ and students’ contrasting perceptions of this event reveal how instructors’ views of pre-calculus and calculus teaching as socially neutral can erase underrepresented students’ racialized and/or gendered experiences of instruction. These insights are leveraged to advocate for mathematics faculty professional development that promote race- and gender-conscious teaching practices rooted in critical self-awareness to foster more equitable learning opportunities in entry-level mathematics.
... This is clearly evident in some indigenous languages of the Zapotec region in Mexico and other indigenous languages whose linguistic systems do not conform with grammatical gender as codified in Spanish and which include much wider uses of this consonant (cf. discussion and critique of this point in Salinas, 2020;Salinas & Lozano, 2021). ...
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