By Jonathan Gonzalez
With more than 55 million Latinos living in the United States, according to the 2016 U.S. Census estimate, Spanish is becoming a prominent language in the country. While Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States, according to census estimates, English is still spoken by the majority of the country. Although it is beneficial to speak more than one language, it should not be expected that someone is bilingual based solely on their ethnic heritage.
Since English is the de facto official language of the United States that should be enough to get by. It is spoken by the majority of Americans. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 71 percent of Hispanics polled stated speaking Spanish is not a necessary component to be considered a Hispanic.
Assumptions affect millions of Latinos throughout the country. Cynthia Cordova, public relations representative for the Organization of Latin American Student, a center for Latin American students to celebrate their culture, says she believes it is common in the United States for a Latino to not speak Spanish.
“Every day I learn more about my own culture that I didn’t know before,” says Cordova.
Not every Latino living in the United States was born in a Latin country. According to the Pew Research Center for Hispanic Trends as of 2015, 37.1 million Latinos in America were born here, compared to the 19.4 million who were born outside the country and then immigrated. That means more than half of the Latino population was born here. Over half of the Latinos currently residing in the United States grew up in a place where speaking Spanish was secondary to English.
Justin Garcia, a member of the OLAS dance team, says the expectation that all Latinos can speak Spanish comes from strong family bond.
“Other individuals from other cultures see us as very united. They expect us to be more influenced by our families more than other cultures [and], they feel as though Spanish people always have that ability to speak Spanish,” Garcia says.
As far as culture, Garcia says Spanish is what unites Latinos, and speaking the language makes Latinos more connected with the individuals around them.
There are multiple benefits to speaking
Spanish, including being able to communicate with more people when travelling. One factor in the development of someone’s Spanish speaking skills could be the time and place when it is learned.
“Your language is environmentally based,” says Orozco. “The only way you learn [a] language, is by people around you speaking that language.”
In the United States, where everything is English based, this can become difficult.
“The most important years of your life to developmentally learn [a] language is when you’re an infant, around [ages] 0 to 5, you can still learn it but it’s going to be hard as hell,” says Orozco.
Hernandez, who is fluent in both English and Spanish, says the link between speaking Spanish in America and being Latino is all a part of keeping the Latino culture alive and keeping in touch with the Spanish roots that motivated past generations to move to this country.
“I think because we are so close to the U.S., and have been here so long, is that we represent the otherness,” says Hernandez. “We are automatically expected to be different.”
Basing Latin identity on speaking Spanish is not the most important thing, Hernandez says.
“I think it would be kind of silly to base your identity on only one thing,” he says. “I think your identity is based on a multiplicity of things.”
While language is a touchstone of cultural diversity, it is not always the core of a cultural environment.
“If I was a person who didn’t speak Spanish, I would respond by saying, honestly if they didn’t teach me, they didn’t teach me, it’s not my fault,” says Garcia. “I’m still Latino from the bottom of my heart, I’m still going to be Latino at the end of the day even if I speak Spanish or not.”