A Latin American Universe

What Is “Latinx”?

The term “Latinx” is an update of traditional labels such as “Hispanic” or “Latin” which emerged around the mid-twentieth century to describe Latin American migrant communities in the US. Aldeide Delgado looks for Contemporary And América Latina (C&AL) into the implications and opportunities of the new expression.

Yali Romagoza, Monument to the Great Living Artist, 2018. Courtesy the artist.

While the debate about whether or not to build a wall along the Mexican border was keeping the US government occupied for weeks on end, Latin pop surpassed all popularity records among the youngest groups and some even claimed that “the future is Latinx”. What does this word mean?

The publication of the article “America’s Most Expensive Artist Is Latinx – But No One Knows It” (Artsy, June 2017), sparked a reexamination artist biographies such as Carmen Herrera or Jean-Michel Basquiat from a “Latinx” perspective. According to the author of the article, Naiomy Guerrero, Basquiat is known primarily as an Afro-American artist, although his father was born in Haiti and his mother is of Puerto Rican descent. The exclusive positioning of Basquiat as a black artist, Guerrero adds, demonstrates the continuous invisibility of “Latinx” artists on the art market, as well as the historical absence of research on the Latin American experience in the US.

In August 2018, Hyperallergic magazine published an article titled “Latinx Artists Are Highlighted For The First Time In A Group Show at the Whitney”. The article referred to the exhibition Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay: Indigenous Space, Modern Architecture, New Art curated at the Whitney Museum by Marcela Guerrero. For the first time, the museum, dedicated as it is to living artists in the US, presented a show in which contemporary artists of both Latin American and indigenous descent shared the same space.

Guadalupe Maravilla, Motorpsycho, San Antonio, Texas, Luminaria Festival, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

“Latinx” (pronounced la-tin-eks) refers to individuals of Latin American origin living in the US, who don’t identify with the gender binary. According to Google trends, the “x” initially gained popularity in the LGBTQIA+ community and in academic circles around 2004. From 2016 onwards, popularity increased and the expression became widespread throughout the US and appeared among others in the exhibition catalogue for Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960-1985. In their introduction, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta affirm the use of categories such as “Chicana” and “Latina”, instead of “Chicanx” and “Latinx” considering that the discussion was not relevant for the historical period encompassed by the sample.

The term “Latinx” is an update of traditional labels such as “Hispanic” and “Latin”, which emerged around the mid-20th century to describe Latin American migrant communities in the United States. The term “Hispanic” was adopted in the seventies to denominate communities whose language and historical heritage was associated with Spain. The term “Latin” – which met greater acceptance in the Latin American community – transcended the linguistic barrier by including, both from a geographical point of view the Spanish-speaking, but also the Portuguese-speaking groups as well as indigenous dialects. Later, the use of the endings “o”, “a” and “@” sought to create an inclusive space; feminine and masculine.

“Latinx”, like “Latino” and “Hispanic”, is a socially constructed concept and a product of the marginalizing conditions of the designated community. They are problematic notions in that they assume a homogeneous “Latin” identity. Nonetheless, these notions generate very interesting discussions on the means of access and artistic consumption for a community that lives between two, three or more cultural environments in the United States.

Fundamentally, the arguments against the term “Latinx” focus on the linguistic construction of the word which is not constricted by the obligatory gender rules in Castilian Spanish. However, “Latinx” is a concept that does not pertain to Latin America, nor does it pretend to define the artistic or social processes in the region. It does however facilitate the inclusion of these debates in the discourse on Latin America and the Latin American diaspora. “Latinx” includes people who have been born, educated or naturalized in the United States; hence, their speech reflects the cross-over between Spanish and English, among other possible combinations. During his years of exile in New York, Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica invented his own language between English and Portuguese. His notebooks, Newyorkaises – meanwhile relatively forgotten in comparison to his previous stage – reveal influences from Gertrude Stein, Brazilian concrete poetry, Vito Acconci and Yoko Ono.

Lucía Hierro, Mercado series, 2017. Photo: Etienne Frossard. Courtesy of Elizabeth Dee Gallery.

“Latinx” is a flexible terminology that does not require a definition as such, but rather opens another category of (self)identification for people who do identify with the male-female binary. In the artistic context, the term includes a heterogeneous group of artists marked by migration, multilingualism and creolization, whose work illustrates mixed identities of diverse origin. In the Mercado series, artist Lucía Hierro, explores her bicultural Dominican-American identity in the form of large shopping bags filled with coupons, objects and everyday products, usually consumed by Latino communities in American supermarket chains. For Hierro, the bags portray her mother’s trips to the Dominican Republic carrying supplies for her grandmother and the return of the same bags to New York now filled with local products.

Puerto Rican artist Miguel Luciano appropriates elements from popular culture such as Schwinn bicycles to commemorate the traditions of the Puerto Rican clubs in New York. In Pimp my Piragua, Luciano celebrates the innovations of Latino street vendors by transforming a standard crushed ice cart into a hyper-modified tricycle with a built-in hi-fi sound and video recording system. After immigrating to the United States from Cuba in 2011, the artist Yali Romagoza focused her work on the exploration of identity, power and feminism in an intercultural space. In the installation Monument To The Great Living Artist (2018) Romagoza plays Cuquita, “the Cuban doll”, while she dances “Se acabó” (“It’s over”) by La Lupe and recites the essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”. At the end of her performance, Cuquita leaves the following message: “American Feminism as it stands is a white middle-class movement” (Ana Mendieta) and “The Choice is yours. Say it but with an accent” (Cuquita, the Cuban Doll).

Miguel Luciano, Pimp My Piragua, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.

Latinx artists recover shared cultural experiences to reflect on class, migration and identity issues. Latinx art does not define a monolithic identity, nor is it about single story or experience. Rather, this art is marked by various factors of gender, mobility, migratory status, skin color and access to cultural and economic capital. Studying Latinx art involves recognizing the influence of these artists on the history of American art, as well as generating a space for dialogue and discussion about the politics of access and participation of the Latino communities in US society.

On January 24 and 25, 2019, the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) organized the symposium Latinx Art Sessions with conversations about the interpretation of “Latinx” and how to develop a platform of visibility and solidarity within the field.

 

Aldeide Delgado is an independent historian and curator. She has been awarded with the Investigative Grant and Production of Critic Essay 2017 issued by Teor/ethics. Her interests include gender, racial identity, photography and abstraction in the visual arts. She has been a speaker at the California Institute of Arts, the Spanish Cultural Center Miami, the University of Havana, Casa de las Américas, the National Library of Cuba and the 12th Havana Biennial. Se studied art history at the University of Havana (2011-2016). Her articles have been published in Art OnCuba, Cuban Art News, Arte Al Límite and Artishock. She is a current collaborator of Artishock in Miami.

 

Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen.

 

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