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Sandy was trying to communicate with a colleague. Although her presence was unusual as a Latinx lawyer at a top southern California non-profit, she was used to talking to people in any language she wanted to. After all, she’d graduated from a top law school and worked near her Los Angeles-area, Latin-centric hometown.

But this time was different. She was speaking to a member of the custodian staff in Spanish about a trivial matter when an older white female executive forcefully told her to stop. That she should not socialize in another language because “other people” might think they were talking trash about them.

“I thought, wait a second. I’m a lawyer, I wouldn’t speak badly about people [in any language] in a professional setting. I’m working, these are my peers, and yet this conversation was on my spare time,” she said. “At the same time, they were happy to ask me to speak to Spanish-speaking clients when they needed to. I felt abused.”

Nevertheless, she apologized and to this day deeply regrets doing so. That was two years ago, before the thirtysomething Mexican American lawyer left the firm in the wake of further HR incompetence and around the time Donald Trump began his ascent to the GOP. In the time since, Sandy has seen a rise in hateful rhetoric across the country and her family have personally experienced the brunt of it. But she hasn’t felt physically at risk yet, a common feeling among people I spoke with for this piece.

It appears more anti-Spanish mobs are willing to test the resolve of people like Sandy. In the last few months, a constant stream of race-related attacks, physical and verbal, have peppered the North American landscape like a feral pest. Last January, a woman was kicked out of a Florida UPS for speaking Spanish, the month prior an adult physically attacked legal South American immigrants – including a child – at a Canadian mall, and a few days ago a border agent in Montana arrested two women for the same thing, leaving them shaking with anger and crying at the unfairness of it all. Then there’s the case of the rich Manhattan lawyer who berated young workers at a deli for daring to communicate in the second most spoken language in the world in his presence.

The cause of these attacks has been attributed to the greater social presence, if not acceptance, of political parties around the world mining racial fears and resentment against minorities. It’s the same or similar reasons why white communities have bought guns en masse across the land: they feel insecure about their place in the job marketplace and won’t or can’t understand trending demographic change towards “the other”. In a country like the US, with a huge Hispanic population, a greater number of people seem to be projecting their own sense of personal risk on to others and lashing out.

While it’s unlikely these people have sincerely seen a personal change in demographics that was truly overwhelming, and none that would allow for their behaviour, it’s true more US residents speak a foreign language at home than at any other time. The US Census Bureau released data last year from the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS) that found 65.5 million US residents spoke a foreign language and about 40.5 million spoke Spanish. However, a Pew Research study also found the “share of Latinos who speak the language has declined over the past decade”.

Even if we know the cause, the effect has been less easy to understand. In communities of color with long Spanish-speaking histories like California, there are few signs of “linguistic insecurity”. That negative self-image of speech, first used by linguist William Labov in the 1970s to describe social stratification in speech patterns, doesn’t seem a big part of the west coast or urban areas in the east. The Mexican-born wife of a friend, Lorena, a US resident and Bay Area local, told me she happily speaks to her young child in public.

Lorena recognizes that, in her words, she’s privileged to live in an area of the country where people actually want to learn more about her heritage instead of rejecting it. She does say she’s heard of non-US residents who are less likely to speak and be out in public for fear they’ll be mistaken for illegals and be deported.

Additionally, he says one of the main things non-native speakers need to know is the near impossibility of any workplace or public place imposing “speak-English-only” policies. The policy is presumed unlawful unless the employer can show a business necessity – something Flores says is very tough to prove.

“What is the purpose of limiting a person’s ability to talk if they can do their job because of it? Think of food prep in a kitchen: if they can talk to each other and understand and figure out how to make food, there’s no business necessity,” he told me. And even if the employer shows they have a business necessity, they also have to let their employees know about the policy, and it has to be limited in scope.

When the 65-year old matriarch got off their truck with a $100 bill to pay for gas, the attendant refused to take her money. The older white lady with an ashen face said, with an obvious dismissal, that Sandy’s mom couldn’t speak English well enough. Sandy took the money and told her they’d take their business elsewhere.

In her childhood, Sandy had felt self-conscious about helping to translate for her mom. But the circumstances – Trump et al – had changed. She was proud of who she was, what she had accomplished, and most of all, of the work her mother had put in to help her family. Her parents worked every day of their life and should not apologize for not being able to speak perfect English. Her mom was a good, useful, and resourceful American resident.