Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders Bans the Term ‘Latinx’ on Her First Day in Office

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Within hours of being sworn in as the new governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a executive order Tuesday’s ban on official use of the term «Latinx» in state government.

It is one of the first, if not the first, executive order of its kind, Tabitha Bonilla, an associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, told NBC News.

It was one of seven orders signed by Sanders, a Republican, right after he was sworn in. The others focused on banning Arkansas schools from teaching critical racial theory, budgeting and spending, and other government issues.

Most of these executive orders are consistent with the rhetoric Sanders campaigned on, except for the ban on Latinx, a gender-neutral alternative to Hispanic or Latino.

«That was nothing I had seen of her before then. So, I was shocked,» Bonilla said.

For Ed Morales, author of the book “Latinx: The New Force in American Politics and Culture”, The governor’s seemingly sudden interest in banning the term Latinx, which is often ridiculed by conservatives and debated among some Latinos, speaks to «this anti-wake-up agenda» that the GOP has increasingly embraced.

“It’s something that seems to be tied to things that they object to, which is really anything that prioritizes marginalized people and marginalized viewpoints,” Morales said.

Bonilla said that what is even more unexpected is that Sanders signed such an executive order on his first day in office.

“That sets the tone for the type of government you want to enact, what you think is the priority, and the types of decision-making you will be doing in an office,” Bonilla said.

Sanders cited a Pew Research Report 2020 which found that only 3% of the Hispanic population nationwide uses the term. He also cited the Royal Spanish Academy, a Madrid-based cultural institution dedicated to the linguistic regularization of the Spanish language, which rejects the use of «x» as an alternative to «o» and «a.»

It used the findings from both institutions to remove what it considers «ethnically insensitive» and «pejorative language,» according to the executive order.

Morales said Sanders appears to have tried to use «the Pew Hispanic report as evidence that people find it offensive or reject it» without considering that there has been later studies that point to a small increase in the use of the term and the rise of other gender-neutral alternatives like «Latino.»

Citing the Pew report in the executive order, Sanders did not say that the study also found that 76% of Hispanics had never even heard of the term «Latinx» before, Bonilla said.

“She is offering these justifications, and it seems to me that she has been trying to portray data and information in a way that is really about complacency,” Bonilla said.

Nearly 4% of the eligible voting population in Arkansas is Hispanic, according to Pew. But «pleasing» Latino voters on cultural issues that may be considered divisive among some Hispanics could be on Sanders’s radar if she aspires to venture as vice president or a presidential candidate in the future, Bonilla added.

The executive order also calls for all state offices, departments and agencies to submit written revisions to the current use of the term «Latinx» and revert to using «Latino,» «Latina» or «Hispanic.»

“I can’t think it would show up very often in most government documents,” Bonilla said. “My biggest question is: Who does this affect the most?”

Sanders’ new executive order appears to be part of a growing number of anti-LGBTQ bills being introduced in state legislatures across the country, as «Latinx» is often seen as a more LGBTQ-inclusive term. The vast majority of these bills have been introduced by Republicans.

“It really is about transgender people and non-binary people,” Bonilla said. «And in the language, it’s also described as something about the Latino community.»

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