The Language Question: Bilingual or Not, No One Is a Fake

By Ricky Garza, Communications Department, NCLR

As America’s Latino population grows and diversifies, the question of what unites us becomes more difficult to answer.  For the immigrants and their descendants who hail from Latin America’s 19 Spanish-speaking countries, diverse histories, cultures, cuisines, and national identities all threaten to divide us as a community.  Fortunately, the use of a common language seems the great equalizer, something that all Latinos can unite behind.

But what about Latinos who don’t speak Spanish?

Because a majority of all Hispanics are born in the United States, millions of young Latinos grow up as third- or fourth-generation citizens, owing their roots to a migration from perhaps over a century ago.  Yet they are categorized alongside more recent Spanish-speaking Latinos by either their looks or their last name.  These young people are clearly Latino, but an acute sense of shame and belittlement can come with not knowing Spanish, both from within and from outside the community.

The label of “Hispanic” is often considered as an ethnicity rather than a race, including by the U.S. Census (although this too is subject to change), making it difficult to argue that a permanent and singular Latino identity exists.  As has been seen throughout U.S. history, ethnic identities can quickly be assimilated into the identities of other races.  A mixture of culture, darker skin, and the Spanish language seems to barely hold us together as a group.  For a light-skinned, fourth-generation Mexican American growing up in a monolingual home, a connection to Hispanic identity may seem out of reach.

But is shaming the monolingual members of our community a productive task?  A quick glance at the comments section of the Huffington Post’s coverage of this language issue shows a flood of frustration with “fake Latinos” who are bitterly “refusing to learn” Spanish. Continue reading