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Latinos in Arkansas see Arkansas’ ‘Latinx’ ban as a distraction from pressing issues.

At a Friday morning meeting of the Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas, director Margarita Solorzano had to steer the conversation away from the new governor’s ban on using the term “Latinx” in government business.

“I requested that they not become distracted because there are other things going on in the state,” Solorzano told NBC News.

Solorzano and other Latinos in the state were taken aback by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ executive order. The ban, she said, was “political noise.”

“In our daily business, we use ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic,'” she said of the terms her organisation employs. “Regarding the [word] Latinx, I understand that it is important to some people, but it is not necessarily representative of the immigrant or Latino population. They have more pressing issues to deal with — people are concerned with surviving each day and providing for their families.”

“It is not the concern of the clientele we serve,” she said of the ban.

Solorzano was more interested in learning about the governor’s plans for issues she believes require more attention, such as education, access to health care, and the justice system.

The ban “just kind of caught me off guard that they would go after something that isn’t a huge deal in our community,” said Irvin Camacho, 30, a community rights organiser.

Concerns in the state, according to Camacho, include a lack of education, low teacher pay, high incarceration rates, homelessness, and a lack of mental health resources.

Camacho, who also serves on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, says he mostly uses the term Latinx in organising and educational settings. “I hardly ever hear Latino in those circles anymore.”

He described the ban as “not just a surprise,” but also a possible foreshadowing of what is to come under the new administration.

“It’s an attack on the trans and nonbinary communities as well as the Latino community,” he said. “But what concerns me is that if this administration decides to sign this executive order on the first day, what does the future hold for us?”

The executive order felt personal to Rumba Yamb, who uses the pronouns they/them.

Yamb, who identifies as trans-Latinx, has worked to create a more inclusive environment through inTRANSitive, a nonprofit they co-founded in 2017 that provides educational and financial resources to trans residents in the state.

Yamb stated that the ban has revived many of the anti-LGBTQ sentiments and “erasure of identity” that arose during the Trump administration, particularly with the government’s ban on trans terms.

“It’s been difficult in this state to find any kind of support for us — for trans Latinx migrants,” Yamb said, frustrated. “By identifying as Latinx, we’re not causing any harm and don’t want to cause any harm, and nobody is forcing more… Latinos, Latinas to identify as Latinx.”

Sanders cited a 2020 Pew Research study that found only 3% of the Hispanic population nationwide uses the term Latinx in her executive order. “Ethnically insensitive and derogatory language has no place in official government documents or government employee titles,” according to the executive order.

As Solorzano pointed out, most Hispanics in the state do not prioritise debates over terminology, as is the case nationally.

In a phone interview Friday, Republican consultant Mike Madrid, who warned Democrats in a column that terms like Latinx may alienate working-class Latinos, said that questioning “the value of a word that is not part of the parlance of the vast majority of Latinos — is legitimate.”

However, Madrid, who is based in California, questioned Huckabee Sanders’ timing — and priorities.

“But does it rise to the level of being one of your first acts?” he asked. “If that’s the biggest Latino problem, then I worry for Latinos in Arkansas. It’s not about Latinos; it’s about gender, and it’s turned into a political football.”

“We’re having this conversation that no one knows or cares about; it’s just inside baseball,” Madrid explained. “It demonstrates how degraded political discourse has become, as well as both parties’ complete lack of understanding of the Latino community.”

“We’re just talking about a word that can be meaningful for Latinos,” Solorzano explained. For us, the terms Latino, Hispanic, and Latinx are interchangeable. Finally, we define ourselves as individuals.”

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