The day the “racist lawyer” story went viral I was in a foreign land. I had been in Paris for awhile, trying to get by though I didn’t speak French. It was hard to navigate, but I managed to communicate with Parisians not by speaking English with them but by speaking Spanish. I’ve traveled to many cities in Asia and Europe, and it’s still amazing how much better I do speaking Spanish in non-Spanish-speaking countries. So, reading these stories in which Latinos are getting berated and discriminated against for speaking Spanish in the United States is mindboggling.
There’s been an overwhelming response by Latinos about what it’s like being targeted for speaking Spanish — especially when non-Latinos argue “this is America…speak English.” Remezcla launched a discussion on Twitter about this very topic using the hashtag #StillSpeakingSpanishYQue. Without thinking twice, I tweeted my truth: “I speak Spanish every single day to people who understand it and people who don’t. I was raised in a home where Spanish and English coexisted as one. Spanish is a part of my identity, there’s no other way around it, and if you don’t like it, me vale.”
I didn’t think much about it, but I knew Latinos would relate to it. For us, Spanish isn’t our first language, and neither is English. Both languages exist as one. Growing up in a home where multiple languages are spoken equally isn’t a new concept. It’s common for biracial children to function and excel in a multi-language home. My friend’s baby just born in France will grow up speaking Arabic, French, and English interchangeably.
While English is the standard language of the United States, how can someone argue that people who live here must speak English when this country was founded on the principals of freedom. Furthermore, half this country’s foundation was built on Mexican land — there’s a reason cities, streets, and states are named in Spanish.
I recently reported on a news anchor who was criticized for saying El Paso in a Spanish dialect rather than how non-Spanish people say El Paso. I was flabbergasted at the audacity of white people arguing that she said it wrong. To illustrate my point further, here’s the cutest video of a little Latina explaining how we (Spanish speakers) say Spanish things and how white people say them.
This is not to say that Spanish speaking people don’t (or shouldn’t) have accents when pronouncing English words. We all have accents regardless of our background. Meaning, people’s way of speaking is an individual thing.
But how can we get chastised for speaking a language that is as common — if not more than — English? In the U.S., we speak Spanish more than Spain. According to the 2011 Census, out of 60 million people that speak English in the U.S., almost 40 million also speak Spanish.
My tweet, surprisingly, went viral.
My sentiment behind it was an attempt to tell non-Spanish speaking people that my language is as much a part of me as my existence, so you cannot just take that away from me because it would be like death. Someone on Twitter responded to my tweet by saying something like “How can your language be such a part of your identity?” To him, I would say, imagine not having a voice, or an outlet to express yourself, or a way to be heard. You would feel dead.
I know there’s going to be more instances of people spewing hatred and racism toward Latinos, at Spanish speaking people, at minorities, at all non-white people — so my last point, in my tweet was “me vale.” Which is Spanish for “I don’t give AF.” And I mean that with all sincerity.
To those people who hate me and the way I speak, that is your issue. That is your hatred. And your hate has nothing to do with me.