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'Latinx' is an unpopular term but Democrats shouldn't panic

Use of "Latinx" joins "critical race theory" as a made-up crisis.

Once again, the term “Latinx” is trending — and once again, it is all for the wrong reasons.

Like a modern-day Hydra, a term based on a Spanish gender-inclusive “x” with origins both in Latin America and the U.S. Latino community continues to be dissected and devalued only to return to the fore once again. All this scrutiny is piled on because it both challenges the status quo of Latino identity that some say started as a government invention and freaks out political operatives who have done very little to effectively outreach the country’s largest ethnic voting bloc.

Democrats would be wise to stop pushing the conversation to ban Latinx because, once again, they are playing right into a Republican trap.

The latest example, first reported by Politico on Monday, is a new poll of 800 U.S. Latino registered voters that stated the obvious. Just like other polls before it, it found Latinx is not a popular term — like "2 percent support" levels of unpopular. In addition, the poll from a Democratic polling firm noted that 30 percent of respondents would be less likely to support a political candidate who uses the term.

Even though the same poll concluded that a combined 64 percent said their support for a candidate would actually increase (15 percent) or not change at all (49 percent), the political conversation regarding the new findings is now all about how Democrats should stop using the term.

“To be clear my office is not allowed to use ‘Latinx’ in official communications,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., tweeted Monday. “When Latino politicos use the term, it is largely to appease white rich progressives who think that is the term we use. It is a vicious circle of confirmation bias.”

Democrats would be wise to stop pushing the conversation to ban Latinx because, once again, they are playing right into a Republican trap. Although not on the same level as the one baited with "critical race theory," the Latinx debate has been politically weaponized ever since a 2019 opinion piece by future Trump campaign staffer Giancarlo Sopo lamented that “the last thing we need are progressives ‘wokesplaining’ how to speak Spanish.”

Soon after that piece was published, I interviewed Sopo for my radio show, and in the end, he didn’t deny the political motives behind his writing. Months later, Sopo began helping then-President Donald Trump’s campaign with Latino voter outreach, and it wasn't a surprise that one of the campaign’s most effective pitches was that the socialist Democrats were now insulting patriotic Latino Americans with the use of Latinx.

It’s no wonder that Republican Virginia Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares, a Cuban American and the state’s first Latino elected to higher office, told Politico on Monday that using Latinx is a form of “cultural Marxism, a recast of societal norms.”

Of course, Republicans are smart enough to understand that if 30 percent of overall respondents in the new poll would not support a candidate who uses Latinx (and 43 percent of Latino Republican respondents), it aligns with the historical support Republicans have received from U.S. Latinos in national elections.

What Democrats should do — if they really cared about winning over the vast majority of U.S. Latino voters for generations — is not care at all about how Latinos identify but instead understand that identity is messy and complex.

Yes, Latinx is an unpopular term, but it has greater awareness with younger Latina voters. What Democrats should be asking themselves is whether understanding this nuance when communicating to certain sectors of the electorate in specific parts of the country would show a better understanding of how real outreach works. It’s too easy to simply dismiss it, just like it was too easy to think a term like Mexican American was once considered absurd close to 100 years ago.

Any Democratic campaign moving forward must always adopt a true “swing state” mentality. There is no one label that accurately paints U.S. Latino voters, and there will never be one. Latinx might greatly offend 20 percent of Latino voters in the new poll or offend 11 percent of them just a little, but polling still shows that the majority of Latino voters aren’t bothered at all. Earlier this year, Gallup found that 57 percent of its Latino respondents noted that “it does not matter to them which term is used.”

So if it doesn’t really matter, why is this manufactured Latinx debate still happening? Perhaps it is easier to focus on a manufactured debate and not ask Democrats the harder questions, like why President Joe Biden’s approval with Latinos has fallen the most of any group. Even with Latino unemployment at low levels, questions are arising as to whether the Biden administration is delivering on campaign promises. While Trump's policies on immigration still continue and close to 14,000 migrant kids are being detained by the federal government, having a conversation about the political benefits or mistakes of Latinx is just a distraction.

Latinx is not going away because some Democratic pollsters and politicians don’t like the term. Maybe they should take a page from the book of Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., who told anti-Latinxer Bill Maher earlier this year that the term “comes across in different ways to different people in different parts of the country. Latinx, look, for the younger generation especially, it is purposeful. It is more than just symbolic.”

Identity evolves. It changes. It can offend. It can be celebrated. If we are going to continue to have this endless debate about Latinx, at least give it some more respect than just some quick takes from a poll.