Latinx is a cultural race-category that makes sense on paper, but it simply feels awkward to me. In addition, I very much agree with Kerry James Marshall's very clear minded assessment of race categories and how a person can choose to navigate them, and I choose to do the same, both as a person and with my work.
"So you can take the position that racism shouldn't exist and that puts you in a position where your struggle is a Manichean struggle between good and evil. And if you accept this, then your ability to engage in activities that benefit you and allow for a certain sense of self-respect and self-determination is compromised because it requires somebody else to modify their behavior in order for you to fulfil your desires and objectives. For me, that's a fundamentally weak position to occupy. It is not self-empowering." - Kerry James Marshall, from Kerry James Marshall Interviews, Phaidon, p.32.
As a racial category Latinx is often chosen for me by those around me. Are my family origins from Latin America? Yes, they are, on both my mother's and father's side. I could not fit more squarely into this category, and yet the simple fact that I feel compelled to answer this question belies a deeper truth about my experience: it is always asked; it always comes up; it is always addressed, in every discussion about my work in every context, from every person, without fail, as it has my entire life and to which I hold no grudge or problem, except to simply point out that when asked "Do you consider yourself Latinx", at times, I want to laugh and respond: "You just did." or "Do you ask everybody that question?" And thus, I explain my ethnicity, as is required by the American "othering" machine, the one that says it does not object, does not demean, does not record such differences for ill purpose, and yet somehow always must ask, and so I will answer:
My personal history is especially complex when it comes to identity. My father's family came to the US from Guatemala and also Sicily Italy. My father was half Italian and half Central American. My mother's family is Puerto Rican. My mother's family lives in Puerto Rico to this day and though my father's family has distant relatives in Guatemala, they mostly immigrated to the US in the mid-20th century. My mother was born in Buenos Aires Argentina and moved to the US with her parents when she was eight years old as a native Spanish speaker and unable to speak English. She grew up in San Leandro California in the San Francisco East Bay Area. My father was born in Oakland California where he was raised. Both of my parents had a distinctly Latino experience and spent much of their lives avoiding and trying to get away from this truth, as people do when they are pushed into a category at a time when being "other" was not welcome. My father, for example, would never use his full name: Ricardo José Gutiérrez and refer to himself as simply "Dick Gutierrez". Myself and my siblings were all given Anglicized first names, which is why I have intentionally reverted my first name "Matthew" back to what my grandfather used to call me "Mateo". Their parents worked hard and realized the "American dream" producing stable homes and getting both of their children - my parents - into esteemed colleges, namely UC Berkeley, where they met and were married. My father ended up becoming a businessman and worked for Caterpillar Tractor Company as an executive. He travelled all over the world, predominantly in Africa, Europe and Asia and we travelled with him. I was born in Geneva Switzerland and grew up in Tokyo Japan.
So, this is my complex so-called "third culture" along with "Latinx" experience. When we moved back to the US I was sixteen years old and this is when I became Latinx, or as it was called then "Latino" or "Hispanic". This is when I realized that I was different from the norm, and no matter what I thought of myself, I would be treated as such. That is why I say: the Latinx identity was not something I chose; it chose me. I think this experience of being in the US as someone who's family originates in Latin America and the Caribbean is a very distinct American experience and is incredibly varied and complex, from skin colors, to languages, to cultural traditions, political views, and religious beliefs. It is not one-size fits all, and as social constructs like Latinx and other race identifiers tend to be, they run this fine line of "solving" and answering questions that seem to serve those outside of the label more than those within; and yet, at the same time, the experiences I have had in U.S. culture with my name and my background are distinct and I think they do merit distinction in certain situations for all within this label, and the art world needs to listen and take this into consideration if we are to be an inclusive and historically accurate society. So, I acknowledge the term "Latinx" as a valuable intellectual category for understanding a more complete breadth of uniquely American experiences and histories, but I do not wear the label as part of who I am and how I both comport myself in the world nor how I envision myself, for as Kerry James Marshall said, if I do that then I feel that I am often waiting for someone else to modify their behavior in order for me to move freely in the world, and I reject that limitation.