By Maria Martinez
Blog Content Contributor
I speak English and Spanish and I am American.
Speaking another language is not a threat to the United States. Despite the commonly accepted notion that multilingualism has many benefits, we are now being discouraged from speaking our native language, or other language, in favor of becoming monolingual in English.
The POTUS stated, “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish,” when Jeb Bush spoke in Spanish during his campaign trail; ignoring the huge fact that Spanish is, by far, the most spoken non-English language in the U.S. And this is not because everyone living here is an immigrant, in fact, more Hispanics in the U.S. today, were born here (the number of newly arrived immigrants from Latin America has been in decline for a decade).
According to the Pew Research, in 2014, 88% of Latinos ages 5 to 17 said they either speak only English at home or speak English “very well,” which is up from 73% who said the same in 2000. The anti-immigrant movement wants us to apologize for our heritage and leave our roots behind because we live here. Many kids are abandoning Spanish along the way because of the hard work they put in to become proficient in English.
We see videos all over Facebook of people getting in fights because one of them was speaking in another language. However, I want to be clear that this is not only happening with Spanish-speakers, but with other languages as well. Many U.S. citizens have this idea that it is “un-American” to know a language other than English. But if we think about it, this country has always been a multilingual country. From the hundreds of Native American languages spoken to the French and Spanish who colonized our shores.
Around the world, more than half of people living right now (estimates vary from 60 to 75 per cent) speak at least two languages. Several countries, even have more than one official national language, for example, South Africa has 11! So to be monolingual, as many native English speakers are, is to be in the minority and behind the world average.
I shouldn’t feel ashamed or scared of knowing and speaking another language. I was raised in a border town, so these two languages are a big part of who I am. I have always seen it as a privilege because I am able to communicate with more people, and it has given me the opportunity of having friends from many parts of the world. So I don’t understand how now I need to see it as an offense rather than a blessing.
As I was talking to my friends about this issue, we all agreed that with this presidency, our concern or fear of speaking another language, around campus or the city, has increased. Some of my friends even shared anecdotes, of how people stare at them while being on the phone. A friend of mine who lives in California, and said a man told her, “hey you, stop talking” while she was speaking in Spanish with her father in a mall, three days after Trump had been elected. This is not acceptable.
The United States needs to grow up, doing things like taking down The White House website in Spanish, is foolish and immature. The last time I checked, this supposedly is a free country and one of my rights is having freedom of speech. While I may not have blonde hair or blue eyes, I am an American Latina. I will not give up who I am just because others are blinded by the stubborn bias against being multilingual! We just need to respect one another.
Featured illustration by Joseph Bonney.