In the past couple of years, I’ve had a growing interest in reading more nonfiction about identity, especially related to racial diversity and immigration. This may be partially because of the obvious tensions present in the United States and around the world. It’s also inspired by my husband, a Peruvian immigrant who just recently earned his U.S. citizenship. Since last fall, I’ve been excited to read Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity, the debut book by Paola Ramos. I listened to the audiobook version throughout the past month, alongside several novels by and about Latinx people.
|Finding Latinx by Paola Ramos|
|Book Length||336 pages, or 7.5 hours|
|Publication Date||October 20, 2020|
Debut author and journalist Paola Ramos travels to near and far corners of the country in search of Latino voices that illustrate a growing movement and represent a community of young Latinos that hold more political, social and cultural relevance today than ever before.
Finding Latinx will take millions of young Latinos –including the author herself– on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, shedding light on the voices that have been brewing yet overlooked for years. From Afro-Latinos to Trans-Latinos, border town Latinos to the young Cuban-Americans in Miami–this book will give life to the cryptic term ‘Latinx.’
Beyond immersing the reader in the subcultures and hybrids that are carrying this movement, the book will also serve as a manifesto to the 2020 presidential candidates–pointing to the voices that are not being captured by polls, statistics and stump speeches. To this day, the majority of companies, organizations and political campaigns attribute the power of young Latinos to the numbers and statistic that surround them. Latinos are the youngest demographic in the country, with an estimated 32.5 million millennials and Gen Zers across the country. Six out of ten Latinos are millennials or younger and, every single year, one million Latinos turn 18 years old. Not only do Latino millennials have incredible political power, making up half of all Latino eligible voters, they are also one of the most valuable consumers. They are more active online than non-Latino millennials and are also the most religious TV watchers among the millennial generation.
Part of why I wanted to read Finding Latinx was to learn more about the term “Latinx.” The word has come into common use in the past few years, replacing “Latino” in identifying people of Mexican and Central and South American descent. When I considered the term Latinx, I’d assumed it was meant to be less gendered, specifically less masculine. Indeed, as Spanish is a gendered language, Latinos would generally refer to men; women would be called Latinas. My assumption was that Latinx would be more gender-neutral, inclusive of not just men, but also women and people who are nonbinary or gender-nonconforming.
However, as Finding Latinx illuminates, Latinx means so much more than just that. In addition to being a gender inclusive term, Latinx is meant to capture all the groups that are underrepresented and forgotten. Latinx is for all within the LGBTQ+ community, indigenous people, people who don’t speak Spanish as their native language or at all, people facing addiction, people of different faiths, people with mental illness, people of different political identities, and more.
Paola Ramos organizes Finding Latinx geographically, working her way around the United States from the West Coast through the South, up the East Coast, and eventually to the Midwest. In addition to providing research and her own personal anecdotes, she includes accounts from the many Latinx people she met around the country.
Early on, we get to know people who are transgender and Latinx. Latino culture is traditionally quite strict with its gender roles, as seen in the concept of machismo. While transgender people face discrimination across cultures, it can be especially difficult within the Latino culture. For many who aren’t cisgender or don’t fit within the gender binary, Latinx can be a term that is a better descriptor.
Later, when we reach New York, we get to know more within the LGBTQ+ community, this time focusing on those with queer sexualities. The author herself is a queer woman living in NYC, as she states at the beginning of the book, and talks about how “Latina” doesn’t feel as accurate in describing her as “Latinx” does. She also includes descriptions of and stories from other queer Latinx people, particularly in the New York area, and how they’re becoming more accepted as we progress forward.
When in the southern U.S., Finding Latinx introduces readers to immigrants who are from Mexico or Central America but don’t speak Spanish. Surprising as this may sound to some people, it shouldn’t be a shock at all. There are numerous indigenous communities across the Americas, and many of them have held onto their languages. Many Latinx don’t speak Spanish (thereby making another common term, “Hispanic,” inaccurate itself). When these immigrants enter the U.S., often to seek asylum, it can be difficult for them to communicate their needs, let alone proceed with their cases. Translators for these lesser known languages are few and far between, but necessary in helping indigenous immigrants. Latino, of course, is a Spanish word. Latinx, on the other hand, represents the evolving nature of language and makes for a more inclusive descriptor.
In Florida – the author’s original home state – we get into politics. Although Latinx people generally lean left (as do all racial groups except whites), there are a high number of Latinx Republicans. This is perhaps most obvious in Florida. Paola Ramos describes the thought process (and cognitive dissonance, I’d say) that goes into being both Latinx and a Trump supporter.
Moving to the Northeast, we also get to know Latinx people who have different faiths. Most Latinx peoples who are religious tend to be Catholic, having inherited the religion from the Spanish. However, other faith groups are growing in prominence, including an emerging Muslim Latinx community. What does it mean to combine two seemingly incompatible identities?
At the end of Finding Latinx, Paola Ramos explores another Latinx group that is often ignored: those who live in rural communities and in the Midwest. In an area that is predominantly white, how do Latinx residents create a space that’s inclusive of them?
Overall, Finding Latinx is both expansive and intriguing. I love that it shines a light on so many underrepresented Latinx people, including many groups I’d never considered much, if it all. While I appreciated the diversity Paola Ramos highlights within the Latinx community across the United States, I felt like it was missing a final piece. I’m not sure what I wanted from it, but I wish the book had gone a bit further in explaining why “Latinx” really is a better term for all these groups of people.
Finding Latinx is an illuminating and thought-provoking book that offers insights into numerous groups within the Latinx community, including many who are too often forgotten. It’s candid and timely, drawing attention to the diversity among Latinx people, yet also the commonalities they share. It’s a great book, whether you fit into the Latinx community yourself or want to get to know this community better.
About the Author
Photo Credit: Samantha Bloom
Paola Ramos was the deputy director of Hispanic media for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and a political appointee during the Barack Obama administration, and she also served in President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Ramos received her MA in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and her BA from Barnard College, Columbia University. She lives in Brooklyn. She’s Mexican, Cuban and American.
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