Nov 21, 2014

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Non-Spanish Fluent Latinas: “Don’t Judge Us”

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By 2050, the United States will be home to the most Spanish speakers in the world, according to the general secretary of the Association of Spanish Language Academies – Even so, there are many Latinos born and raised in the U.S. who are either not fluent, or don’t speak Spanish at all.

Historical Reasons for Lack of Fluency in Spanish

A common reason for the lack of fluency is simply due to parents not speaking Spanish to their children. There are various reasons why parents consciously choose not to pass their language onto the next generation. Those raised during the 1930’s and 40’s recall being forbidden from speaking Spanish at school, and being punished if they did. Due to racism during that time, even speaking Spanish in public was cause for being told to leave the area in some cases. Many who experienced this kind of discrimination didn’t teach Spanish to their children. In turn, these second generation Latino Americans were unable to teach it to their own children, even if they wanted to.

Some Latinos born and raised in the U.S. just never picked it up fluently, despite their parents best efforts to teach them, and so being insecure in their own skills, don’t speak it to their own children.

Another common reason given? – Concerns about English fluency. To many immigrants coming to the United States, English is the priority – English, in their eyes,  is what will open doors of opportunity to their children, which were not open to them. It is the nature of most immigrants to look towards the future, but sometimes a piece of the past is lost in the process.

According to one study, “The grandchildren of immigrants are likely to speak only English. By the third generation, only 17% of Hispanics speak Spanish fluently, and by the fourth generation, it drops to 5%.” – (source: hispanic7.com)

Feelings of Insecurity and Judgment from Others

For U.S. Latinos, not speaking Spanish is often a source of insecurity or even shame. Lacking Spanish fluency brings with it judgment from other Latinos in the community as well as a loss of opportunity.

“I wish I was fluent [but] I am only proficient,” said Andria Morales “…Not speaking fluently has made me ineligible for opportunities that call for someone who is bilingual. It has made it difficult to communicate with fluent speakers… I never really fit in well with the Latina crowd because of my language issue. I was once invited for a holiday party to a Rican family’s house…[A woman there] made me feel like I wasn’t really Latina by insisting on unwrapping a pastele for me because she didn’t think I would know how even though I told her I grew up eating them. I remarked at how I was so grateful for the food which I don’t get to eat all the time and she asked me why I didn’t know how to cook. I told her my grandmother died when I was little and my mom was always working and she said “or you didn’t have any interest.”” – Andria Morales (Puerto Rican descent) / AreYouMyOther.com

“I have had other Latinos refer to me as being “fake” and…deliberately speak in Spanish to leave me out of conversations.” – says Gabrielle (Puerto Rican descent) / From-The-Frontline.com

Laura Esquer, a Graphic Designer from Los Angeles and U.S. born Latina of Mexican descent, says that to this day, even though her mother speaks to her in Spanish, she answers in English. “I am very proud of my heritage and I make that known. Even though I can not speak Spanish fluently, I am able to read and understand it fluently…I have sometimes been teased as being “white washed” and “white Mexican.” It didn’t offend me. Other people’s opinions have little effect on me. I know who I am.”

Even Celebrities Are Not Immune to Judgment

Non-Spanish Fluent Latinas

Jennifer Lopez

Many Latina celebrities in the U.S. struggle with not being fluent in Spanish and even the famous are not immune to judgment from the Latino community.

Mexican-American Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla started out singing in both Spanish and English, while not fully understanding the words of the Spanish songs. As her popularity grew beyond Texas and into Latin America, she decided she needed to be able to speak Spanish. It was only after several years that she became fluent enough to handle the press by herself.

Boricua, Jennifer Lopez, who played the part of “Selena” in the movie about her life, has also faced criticism for her lack of Spanish skills. In an interview with Henri Béhar, she’s quoted as saying, “Another controversy came up in the Latin press about the fact that I didn’t speak very good Spanish – which Selena didn’t either! So I felt some of that pressure at the beginning.”

Another Selena, Disney sweetheart Selena Gomez who is of Mexican-descent, has never claimed to be fluent and has always been very honest about her Spanish speaking skills. In an interview with Lee Hernandez of Latina magazine, Gomez said, “I practice it, but I can understand it better than I can speak it…In a lot of my interviews that I did recently, they would speak to me in Spanish and I would answer back in English. They were like ‘You pick it up so easily,’ but I don’t want to say it in Spanish because I’d be embarrassed if I mess something up.”

Selena Gomez also expressed the desire to become fluent, saying, “I really want to get Rosetta Stone, because I really need to learn my language.”

Speaking Spanish is Not A Requirement to Be “Latina”

Some Latinas are a little more defiant when their lack of fluency is brought up. Actress Jessica Alba’s father is second generation Mexican-American but she was never taught to speak Spanish. When Latina magazine’s Monica Herrera asked Alba how she felt about critics who judged her for not speaking the language, Alba responded, “No one gives Cameron Diaz a hard time for not speaking Spanish. Her dad’s Cuban, and I was telling her I feel so bad because everyone is so nasty to me for not speaking Spanish.” Diaz reportedly told Alba, “I don’t speak Spanish! I barely speak English!”

Alba also shared a conversation with Latina magazine that she had with actress Rosario Dawson, an actress of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent. Dawson told Alba that she doesn’t speak Spanish either.

In the end, the voices of those I spoke to, and the quotes from famous Latinas I picked up in interviews seemed to be saying the same thing:

I am proud of my Latino heritage and I have a desire to learn Spanish, but in the meantime, don’t judge me.

“I think being Latina is about having pride in your heritage. Although I am not a fluent Spanish speaker and I can’t make every dish without a recipe, I am 100 percent Boricua and I am proud of that. I know my family history and I have learned the important traditions…I just think people need to stop judging one another, especially within our own community. I have grown up not feeling accepted by the Latina community for not speaking Spanish, but also for being into hard rock and heavy metal, for not dressing ultra feminine, for not following certain trends… basically not “looking” or “sounding” the part…We are not all the same- Latinos vary greatly depending on their class, level of assimilation, and country or countries of origin. I think progress for us lies in our ability to express how varied we are and accept one another for our differences instead of holding each other to certain standards which basically reinforce the concept that we should all look and sound the same way.” – Andria Morales (Puerto Rican descent) / AreYouMyOther.com

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Sources: Hispanic-Culture-Online.com, Latino.FoxNews.Com, FilmScouts.com, Latina.com, Hispanic7.com, ImDiversity.com …and special thanks to Andria, Laura and Gabrielle.  Photos by: kenn!

Tracy López is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family. She can also be reached via Twitter @Latinaish.

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Tracy López

Tracy López

Tracy is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family.

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Comments

  1. I don’t speak spanish that well either. I’m trying to learn, but languages get so much harder to learn as you get older. I can understand most of it though.

    • It does get more difficult as you get older, which is why I wish our public schools would introduce a foreign language at a younger age. My oldest son is in 7th grade and they still haven’t started yet. It’s really too bad.

      I’ve met a lot of people , (usually children of immigrants), who can understand a language perfectly, (Spanish or otherwise), but can’t speak/read/write very well or at all. It’s very interesting that fluency isn’t picked up evenly by the brain – that each thing must be worked on specifically.

    • Gabriella says:

      Well I’m fluent in Spanish, in all aspects, speaking reading and writing because I was a Spanish major and have lived in a Spanish country for some time..but I do side with the non-spanish speaking latinos as I also HATE the judgement and comments these so called “perfect” Latinos make towards those who are not fluent or can’t spanish. I have many cousins and latino friends who can’t speak a word or don’t have much knowledge of the language, but YET I DON”T TREAT THEM AS SHIT and criticize them because they don’t speak Spanish. They are culturally uprooted in several ways and have connections to Spanish culture regardless. So therefore they are not any less of a Hispanic because they don’t speak Spanish. My parents spoke to me in Spanish but I just felt more comfy in English and only replied back in English. But at 16 I gained a desire to start speaking Spanish, took Spanish in high school and majored in Spanish in college and also after living in Spain for sometime, I became fluent in only a couple of years. People think I’m a native Spanish speaker now haha. IT’S DOABLE to learn if you want! TAKE INITIATIVE AND WORK AT IT BIT BY BIT AND IT WILL WORK. And I will also say, IT’S NOT ANYONE’S FAULT (parents nor kids)..it’s just the way it is and sometimes parents make mistakes but that’s because they have fears and concerns..don’t go blaming your parents for EVERYTHING! I understand it’s easier when young, but still it’s not impossible when older too! Lots of adults are learning foreign languages nowadays. My siblings are in their 20’s and they also want to learn to speak too..they are not there yet and not quite fluent, but they are making progress and doing well! So yes don’t judge those who are not fluent in Spanish. To me, it shows arrogance, and arrogance and criticism is not a impressive trait..hmm!

  2. All these non-fluent Latinas need to watch my video, Spanish Tips for Semi-Latinas!

    http://tikitikiblog.com/spanish-tips-for-semi-latinas-video/

    All in good fun.

  3. That video was wonderful!

  4. As a non-fluent Latina, I was so happy someone wrote about this. I’ve been struggling at “picking it back up” later in my adult life, for the sheer fact that I WANT my children to embrace this culture. I WANT my children to know where they came from and I WANT them to know who their Mother was and is and be proud of that, but I stopped speaking it because it seemed I could have more opportunity to be fluent in English while I was in school.

    But you’re right. I am Latina. I don’t speak fluent Spanish. Don’t judge me.

    • Dear Sara, welcome! I am SO glad this article resonated with you! You knew this already — that lack of fluency in Spanish does not make you less “Latina.” But, yes, it is good to talk about this. I hope you come back and visit!

  5. Great article Tracy! I can relate to Selena Gomez’s comment:

    ‘You pick it up so easily,’ but I don’t want to say it in Spanish because I’d be embarrassed if I mess something up.”

    When I was about 15, I was once playing Loteria with family in Mexico and I was calling the cards. Instead of saying “Pera” which is “Pear”, I said “Perra” which translates to “female dog”. Needless to say, they all had a great laugh and I was a mortified teenager. Now looking back, I can laugh at the situation but that feeling of being laughed at really stopped me from trying to speak Spanish more often.

    • Gigi, I can totally relate to your experience. It can be very intimidating when fluent speakers might not be as accepting of us non-fluent speakers. Some people can be down right harsh, but it doesn’t reflect on you. Being Latina should mean adhering to stereotypes.

  6. Great article! I am born and raised in PR and moved to the US when I was 20. I was embarrased to speak English and alway spoke Spanish with my Latino friends. However, I quickly learned that I was speaking “puertorican” and not everyone understood! So, language is so varied and even among latinos there are differences, and you know what? That is pretty cool! Que viva la variedad! :D

    • Hi Vanessa, thanks for your comment!

      Yes, as Latinas/os, we need to embrace our diversity, whether it language, skin-care, physical looks, food, etc. What’s really nice is that, despite we all being different in so many ways, we can still “feel” Latinos. And that’s what truly matters.

  7. I definitely can relate to this! I am bi-cultural, my mother is Dominican and my father is Guyanese. Growing up I always heard ” since you can’t speak Spanish then you’re not Dominican” or my favorite “you’re a fake Dominican”. I would also hear “you are not Guyanese enough” so as a young girl I was always confused, yet proud of both of my heritages. I grew up hearing Spanish, wishing I could jump into my family discussions but I was always embarrassed, so I just sat there and listened.

    I am about to start my career in the medical field, and I have been on a few job interviews and I’ve noticed the first question they seem to ask me while reviewing my resume is if I am fluent in Spanish. I have to hesitate and say no (wishing I could confidently say YES), but that I am capable enough to communicate with my patients. My goal this year is to become fluent in Spanish, or at least a better Spanish speaker!

    Thanks for the post Angelica!!! <3

    • Amanda, I’m with you! I’m also on a journey to fluency. You can be proud that you are bilingual though, even if it does not equal “fluency”! Holding a conversation is the reason for language so you are doing great!

    • Hi Amanda, so nice to see you around here, joining the conversation! Since I know you well (as cousins), allow me to make this suggestion, when asked “Are you fluent in Spanish,” during job interviews — you can say “I understand Spanish and I can communicate enough with my patients.” That should be more than they should expect. Trust me when I tell you that you’ll be speaking Spanish like a pro in no time, especially because you are so passionate about your work and your patients. I still owe you lunch or dinner…let’s schedule that.

    • Lori Nolasco says:

      At a National Society of Hispanic MBAs conference, I began rattling off in Spanish to my new friend Miguel, who said, “I’m a fake Puerto Rican. I don’t speak Spanish.” I looked at him and asked, “You’re a what?” He repeated with a smile, “I’m a fake Puerto Rican.” He would laugh his head off if he knew I was getting so much mileage out of his funny story. I, in turn, would be a “fake Italian” who never learned the language because my father was beaten with a ruler whenever he spoke Italian at school. He had no desire to pass on his language, which is sad. This is why I switched to Spanish.

  8. LOVE this post! Such a great topic and one that really does strike to the heart of a very controversial issue. My husband has also suffered attacks from fellow Latinos and blank stares from non-Latinos when they find out he’s not a fluent Spanish speaker or that he has interests that don’t fit the stereotypes. I think it’s so very important that we don’t put limits on each other or have certain expectations about who can measure up and be considered a “real” Latino. It’s unfair, hurtful and completely unnecessary. We should be supporting each other, not throwing up walls.

    • Completely agree. I hope this article will begin to create conversation around what it means to be Latino, and the stereotypes we have of what it is to be Latino. And yes, comments and questions around language fluency can be very hurtful, and we should all be more mindful about that.

  9. Absolutely right on for the reasons why Latinos might not learn or prefer Spanish. Again…this is a great post! =)

  10. I have always wished my Spanish was better. I envy cooks like Marcela Valladolid and Ingrid Hoffman who turn on and off their Spanish with such ease as they cook or are being interviewed.

    This is a great post…I might just have to borrow this quote because it sounds just like ME. LOL

    Here is MY version:
    “I think being Latina is about having pride in your heritage. Although I am not a fluent Spanish speaker, I am 100 percent Mexicana and I am proud of that.”

    • Yvette, you could not have said it better.

      Let’s redefine “Latina…!”

      • Lori Nolasco says:

        Could we redefine “Latina” to include those who have taken it upon themselves to learn about the culture and to identify with it?

        • Angélica Pérez-Litwin angelica says:

          Absolutely! :)

          • Lori Nolasco says:

            I just read the interview about the “Gringa Bien Latina.” You blogueras are about to save my life. I was beginning to think I came from another planet because I was the “only one” who married a Latino and identified as a “Latina at Heart.” It’s nice to have company!

      • Hola Lori! You have definitely found the right place! You can meet a lot of awesome people here on NewLatina.net — You can also come visit me at Latinaish.com and I’ll introduce you to some other gringa and Latina friends :)

        Abrazos!

  11. Great post…I am definitely in the same boat. I don’t speak, but I am so very proud of my heritage and culture.

  12. Tracy (and Angelica) you’ve done it again! Congrats on such an insightful and much needed article. This is definitely a huge topic of conversation and it can get pretty controversial.

    While I’m completely fluent in both languages and can’t imagine my life any other way, I feel for those Latinos who aren’t and are somehow discriminated by those who are. Qué rídiculo, ¿no?

    Having said that, when I first moved here as a teenager and I met Latinos who didn’t speak Spanish, I found it really hard to understand. It took some years to see the reasons why and now, after two years with SpanglishBaby, I see how detrimental not only the history behind this issue, but also the current state of affairs in our educational system really are to those trying to become bilingual.

    Learning Spanish – or any other language, for that matter — as an adult is no easy task, but if you want to learn it, it’s completely doable.

  13. Lorena Denny says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I didn’t realize there are quite a few that have had similar experiences. I do agree that language is important, but it shouldn’t define you, rather its a combination things from recognizing and understanding one’s culture as many have expressed. I find it ironic that the barrier to an incredible opportunity is not having 100% fluency. I have experienced this, and I am only 1/2 Latina!! Yet I find myself completely comfortable with the “native Latina…Bolivian” culture I was born into and very proud.

  14. There’s gold in the comments…This really is a great topic of conversation…and it inspires everything from passion to shame.

    Wepa you guys.

  15. I just want to thank everyone who took the time to read the article and leave a comment. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that so many were able to see themselves in the women I quoted and identify with their words and experiences. My hope is that Angelica and I have contributed something positive to the community and that the conversation and re-definition of “Latina” continues. Stand up and be proud – you’re all beautiful.

  16. Excellent post! It’s sad that there is so much division between people! I’m one of those pochas and sometimes it’s really frustrating to be excluded by your “own people” while at the same time often excluded from the “mainstream white population”. It stings getting discrimination from all sides. On the other hand though, I can remember how some of my classmates in high school mistreated the spanish speakers and made them feel like crud. So it works both ways. So unfortunate!!

  17. alejandro says:

    Try going to a Spanish music concert and have someone berate you that you don’t speak fluently and cope an attitude about it.

  18. I really enjoyed this article. The most encouraging part is reading quotes from other non-fluent Latinas. It makes me feel like less of an outcast.

    I was born in Caracas, Venezuela but was brought to the states when I was three. I only spoke Spanish but that was gone within the first couple of years. I was raised in a white, English-speaking household and the little bit of Spanish I know now is because of classes I have taken and my own passion for my heritage and culture.

    The greatest barrier in my efforts to speak my native language is the shame I have been made to feel from other Latinos. It is so hurtful that I rarely speak Spanish in public.

    I love being a Venezolana and one day I hope to be fluent but for now I am simply proud to be who I am; broken spanish and all.

    sidenote: I wonder at your choice of Jessica Alba as a celebrity example. Language aside, she has shown repeated disrespect for her culture. We have many other fabulous examples of fluent and non-fluent celebrities. Selena was a great one to highlight ;)

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin angelica says:

      Ana, as you can see, you are not alone in this experience. This article resonated with a lot of Latina women, and many of you had similar thoughts and feelings. Thank you for sharing yours here.

      Also, after reading your thoughts on the choice of the photograph we used, we decided to replace the photo. You made a good point there.

      If you ever want to share more of your thoughts on anything relevant to Latina living, feel free to guest post here.

  19. AnaYelsi,

    I support Angelica’s decision to change the photo and I understand why some people have objected to using her as an example, but I don’t have strong feelings either way for Jessica Alba. I quoted her because she is part Latina and does not speak Spanish. I used her as an appropriate example – not necessarily a role model – know what I mean?

    I’m aware of Alba’s controversial quotes back and forth with the media regarding being Latina. In the end I see her as someone who has struggled with identity and has faced discrimination from both camps. It seems she didn’t want to be labeled or boxed in as an actress, and I can hardly blame her for that. Maybe she isn’t necessarily ashamed of her roots, but went through periods when she didn’t feel particularly connected to them. That’s her own personal struggle that, unfortunately as a celebrity, she has had to live out in public.

    Anyway – I respect your opinion but just wanted to clarify why I included her quotes in my article.

    PS – I love Selena, too.

    (For those interested in the controversy:

    http://www.latingossip.com/jessica-alba/jessica-not-proud-to-be-latina.html

    http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20177207,00.html )

    • I’m inclined toward Alba’s statements, because I think they show just how deep and controversial the problem really is. I can’t say her intent, but her words definitely demonstrate the mixed feelings that many Latina(o)s have about being trapped between cultures and at the same time failing to be accepted by either. Thanks for including the links Tracy…I miss out on a lot without TV. ;)

    • Hi Tracy,

      I am sorry that I’m just now replying. I hope it didn’t seem like I blew off your reply. I simply haven’t been back to this page until today.

      Thank you for the reply. I can certainly see what motivated you to use Jessica Alba; concerning language.

      Blessings,
      Ana

  20. Such a great post! Kudos to the writer for articulating what so many of us Latinas have felt.

    I’m third generation Mexican-American and I can totally relate to the above comments. And while I’m not really a fan of Jessica Alba, I can totally empathize with her and understand where she’s coming from – literally and figuratively. We’re from the same L.A. suburb, where it seems that over half of the population is Latino. Those of us who didn’t grow up speaking Spanish are teased and alienated by a lot of our Latino peers as being white and “not Mexican.” Because of this, I lost complete interest in learning Spanish or anything about my culture and rejected everything remotely “Mexican”.

    Flash forward years later and I found myself moving to Chile and later to Argentina for a period of three years in order to learn “castellano.” I think it was easier for me to learn Spanish in South America because I felt less pressure from others. The funny thing is that now I have a deeper understanding of the language, its history, and a wider vocabulary than the people who made fun of me when I was young.

    Thank you for writing/posting this. It’s nice to know that there are others just like me.

  21. Until recently, as in the last few weeks, this is a topic that I treated as taboo. No freaking way I’d talk about it, because to talk about it would mean admitting I’d done something wrong. When in reality, what I am, is exactly what you say: the product of immigrant parents who had their own set of goals. They wanted us to fully assimilate.

    Unfortunately, I can relate to being made to feel the size of an ormiga-ant because of my imperfect Spanish. I had one incident happen to me at around ten-years-old, that shamed me so much, that after that, I was never the same with my first language. I stopped talking. Whenever people spoke to me in Spanish outside of the family, I replied in English. Horrible how these types of incidents at such a young age can completely skew self-image and torpedo confidence. Why try, if the result is going to be criticism and intolerance within a group that should be supporting each other?

    Thank you for writing this article. No estoy sola.

    • Ezzy – I hope that your comment is the first step in a process of healing for you. You are definitely not alone, and you have done nothing to feel ashamed of.

      It is tragic how such seemingly small incidents that occur during childhood end up shaping us and causing hurt that we carry with us long into adulthood. I wish you happiness.

      (And thank you for leaving this brave comment. It makes me feel good to know that my writing has helped people in even a small way.)

  22. I agree with everything on this article. Speaking Spanish has nothing to do with being Latino. It’s about being in your heritage and how you embrace it. I’m Salvadorian descent and I don’t speak Spanish that good. I just never pick it up fluently when I was a kid. I admit I understand some Spanish but when it comes to speaking back to it, I really can’t do it. I was afraid if I tell some people that I don’t speak Spanish, I will faced with the same criticism like the other people on this article had suffered. I remembered when I was taking a class called History of Latinos, my Professor asked this question “Do you have to be a fully Latino to speak Spanish?” One of my classmates raised her hand and she said not really. She said her boyfriend is Salvadorian but he doesn’t speak Spanish. I just wish people shouldn’t judge other people because the language that they don’t speak whether they’re Latinos, Asians, Italians, or any person with a different nationality. But you’ right. I am a Latino. Don’t judge me because I don’t speak Spanish. I’m proud of my heritage and I will forever embrace it.

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin angelica says:

      Hi Mito, welcome to New Latina and thank you for comment. When we decided to address this issue here on New Latina, we knew it would resonate with many, many readers. As you can see, you are not alone. And, of course, you are as Latino as anyone else!

      • Thank you Angelica. I felt so relieved reading this article. I just don’t understand why some people think it’s not okay for a Latino person who doesn’t speak Spanish. When I was in Chicago with my family spending time with my older brother, my sister was talking to our older brother and she told him that she has a friend of hers who’s Brazilian and Colombian, they were joking each other one day, and she said to him, “Say something in Portuguese,” and her friend said to her “Say something in Spanish.” My older brother said to me and my sister that we were both Americanized. He told us that we understand Spanish but we don’t really speak it. I wish that me and my sister were fluent in Spanish though, but like I said before, speaking Spanish has nothing to do with being Latino. I’m proud of my heritage.

  23. I would also like to post another comment I didn’t get to say. Maybe one day I will take a Spanish class in the college so that I might be a better Spanish speaker in my life. I just hope I won’t struggle with it though.

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin angelica says:

      I have a feeling you’ll do just fine! :)

      • Thank you Angelica. I really appreciate it. I wish that we could tell some people who are non-Latinos that speaking Spanish has nothing to do with our Latino culture. I also want to thank Tracy Lopez for writing the article “Non-Spanish fluent Latinas: Don’t Judge Us” because it made me feel better that I don’t feel shame for not speaking Spanish.

        • Thank you, Mito. It makes me so happy to hear you say that. I wish you the best of luck, my friend. Always be proud of who you are and don’t let anyone tell you any different!

          • You’re welcome Tracy. I just hope that all Latinos and especially non-Latinos will read this article and learn that speaking Spanish is not a requirement to be Latino or Latina. It’s about being in your heritage and knowing who you are. I also decided to take a Spanish class in the college for the fall semester so I can learn to speak it better. One of my classmates who’s Salvadorian and he’s taking a Spanish class this semester. He said it’s a little hard for him but he’s getting the hang of it. Once again, Thank you Tracy and I also wish you the best!

        • I am so happy and rejoiceful that i found this article. It has touched me to the core and made me feel that i dont have to be ashamed and that by not speaking spanish, it defines my latina hood. i am proud of being puerto rican and i know the struggles that latinos have and have overcome. i am not a historian but i value the plight that latinos had to journey through. However, i am an advocate of all people and the sense of community no matter what the race, gender or creed. i put God first and hope that ppl dont hold others to their own standards but to accept their differences even if they are the same race. To respect one another as their brother and sister, hermano y hermana because it IS the same and not different because language says it differently. We are first human and children of God. He doesnt like us hurting each other by making one feel like outcasts.

          • Well said, Jennifer. Even if one is not religious, I don’t see how any human can feel it’s okay to treat others as outcasts. Love is free and should be given as much as possible. We’re all brothers, as you say.

  24. Also thank you Angelica. I wish you the best too.

  25. Lori Nolasco says:

    I have been following this discussion attentively. Now a question: is there such a thing as too much Spanish? I understand that pride in one’s heritage and not language proficiency should be the determining factor in any culture. No one should be judged for not speaking Spanish (or Italian, or German) fluently. But what happens when a person takes it upon herself to learn Spanish and use it with members of the Latino community who are fluent, and still a brick wall goes up? I have been struggling with this issue for years, and it seems that the more fluent I become, the less I am accepted by some. Is there such a thing as “too much Spanish?” When Latinos in my hometown address me in English and I know they are bilingual, I feel they are creating an unnecessary distance. Fortunately, I have the unconditional support of my in-laws and extended family. Any ideas?

  26. Lori – the important thing is not to take it personal. Overwhelmingly I find that people love when you’ve made the effort to learn the language – but there will always be a person here or there who will reject you for the very same reason. Maybe they are insecure in themselves and don’t like the idea of an “outsider” trying to run in their social circle.

    Another thing to be careful of – just as you don’t like when a native Spanish speaker stubbornly speaks to you in English even though they know you know the language — Some native Spanish speakers feel insulted when you refuse to acknowledge their efforts to speak to you in English – after all, they’re just as proud of their fluency in a second language, too. It’s a very difficult dance until you get to know someone well enough to fall into a natural rhythm!

    If someone seems threatened or insulted by the fact that you’re speaking Spanish, maybe explain yourself – make it about YOU instead of them. Tell them how much you love the language and culture and that you appreciate the chance to practice with them.

    This was actually a topic I covered on my blog, if you want to come by and join the conversation. A lot of different opinions in the comments!

    http://latinaish.com/2010/12/03/hablar-o-no-hablar/

  27. Thanks. Just thanks, peace, and continued good things for you in creativity and in life.

    Sincerely,
    Diane

  28. Since i do understand spanish but don’t speak it well, any thoughts or ideas on the best way to learn to speak it fluently?
    Thanks,
    Aileen

    • Aileen, as much as I love language, I’m not a language expert so I’m going to refer you to Ana and Roxana over at SpanglishBaby.com – their website is dedicated to raising children bilingual and even though you’re an adult, you will find a lot of resources and ideas you can apply to your own situation – not to mention, a great support in the community they’ve built there. Go check it out – they have forums, too.

      Good luck!

  29. Not sure how I missed this article when it came out. I was raised to speak, read, and write Spanish. However, my parents thought it was “cute” when I spoke incorrectly so I didn’t learn the proper way. I decided the only way to get better (embarrassment and all) was to move back to Argentina. I was fortunate in that I had a job before moving. Everyone was wonderful in helping me get on track and speaking better. Still not perfect.

    Our culture is defined by so many things – in my mind, language is a small part of it.

  30. I am also a non-fluent speaker! I am “proficient”. I work at an international adult education center where 74% of the students (and most likely staff) are bilingual. Everyone always says, “You’re Puerto Rican – why don’t you speak Spanish?” Even the CEO will judge me (who is also Puerto Rican). But I just try my hardest and now I don’t get embarrassed when I make a mistake. I am happy how fluent I am in English and how well I know my traditions. That’s good enough for me!

  31. I am a 21 year old Mexican student who’s currently University senior in KS, and I grew up with this issue for the longest time now. Both my parents are native in Spanish, but have never taught me the language and instead wanted me to learn English.

    As I grew up, they became irritated at the fact that I never learned Spanish (remember: they never taught me), and would often blame me for it. This also doesn’t help when the rest of your extended family only knows Spanish — as I got older, I started to pick up bits and pieces of the language, and as my parents realized this, they admitted that it was mostly their fault for not having taught me while I was a kid, though I like to think some of the blame should fall on me also.

    Fast forward to 2011 and I’m gotten proficient at the language. The reason why I never became fluent in Spanish yet after so many years was that, along the way, I started learning French and Brazilian Portuguese and I had often spent time honing on those speaking skills instead. By no means am I fluent in those languages, but I like to think I’m at the same level of proficiency with them as I am with my Spanish.

    I still intend on working on my Spanish, but I am thinking of using other various resources, though I cannot think of any, does anyone have any suggestions? My parents and my entire family have all accepted the fact that I did not grow up speaking Spanish, and in fact envied the fact that I instead learned perfect English, and apparently it inspired some of them enough that they have begun learning it, and I am happy for them.

    I am proficient in Spanish, French, and Brazilian Portuguese. Am I fluent? Not yet, and I do mess up frequently, but I do plan on learning Spanish and the other two languages fluently, and move on to Italian and Catalan and Romanian (though that will be a while from now).

    Non-Spanish speaking Latinos have been stigmatized unjustly and for far too long. It’s perfectly normal to not know the language of your race — and this fact needs to be cemented.

    By the way, what other ways can I use to learn Spanish better? I am currently living on my own at the University, away from the family, so immersion with them is not possible…, plus I only seem to know how to speak it, I cannot write it, and with my other two languages, I can read, speak and write proficiently…

    • We are in a similar situation. My parent also blamed me for not learning as a child, yet refused to teach me. I think the blaming stemmed from embarrassment. People were always asking my mother why I didn’t speak Spanish, as I grew up.

      What was truly ironic is that my English suffered because I would mimic my mother’s poor English. I had to work with Speech Therapists as a child to correct my pronunciation. My mother wanted me to learn perfect English, so she didn’t want to use Spanish with me. Yet the exact opposite happened because she had poor English speaking skills, which I copied.

      • Yeah man… SAME EXACT THING HAPPENED TO ME.

        My mom would say I was an embarrassment when I struggled to learn Spanish in school and I would say “WTF HEY GUESS WHO NEVER TAUGHT ME A WORD OF SPANISH?! YOU!”

        It really is the worst thing a Latin parent can do to their kid. It is basically like making them handicapped. Especially in the job market… In many cases I have 2x the qualifications of other Latinos but because I lack the language ability I get passed over for jobs.

  32. This is a great article. I am Latin American, but I am not fluent in Spanish. I think more should be said about the Latin parents who do not teach their children Spanish. That’s an awful decision that can cause harm.

    I am an adult and I have family in Latin American that I still have trouble communicating with. It makes no sense that my mother did not teach me Spanish as a child. She was afraid that my English would suffer if I learned Spanish at home. (I grew up in New York.) My relatives in Cuba cried about my poor Spanish skills, but my mother “looked to the future” and wanted me to have perfect English. It was a dumb mistake on her part.

    Now I have to turn to Rosetta Stone/books/language partners for help in becoming fluent.

    Hispanic parents need to be encouraged to teach their children Spanish. It’s incredible that some refuse to do so, even when they have family in Latin America that their children are related to.

    What’s more, the children can struggle with issues of identity as they grow older. Speaking Spanish is a big part of the Latin American identity. It’s not the only part, but it is still a big part.

  33. I have a question for Latinos who don’t speak Spanish. Do you think it’s the parents fault for not teaching their kids to speak Spanish or is the child’s fault for not speaking Spanish at a young age?

    • How can children speak Spanish if the parent doesn’t teach them?

      • It’s neither the parent’s or the child’s fault. Reason is because due to a lot of the environment and structural changes. One cannot enforce too many things to make them perfect. It’s not a perfect world and so forth, and plus there are plenty of opportunities to learn Spanish if desired.

        • Thank you Albert for answering the question that I asked about whether is the parents’ fault for not teaching Spanish to their kids or is the child’s fault for not learning Spanish. I used to thought about that a lot all the time. But you’re right. It’s not a perfect world to have an Hispanic person to speak Spanish. I have a younger cousin named Eddy who’s Irish and Salvadorian, but he doesn’t speak Spanish. We don’t blame him or being angry at him for not speaking Spanish. We loved him because he’s family. No one of any nationality should be judged or blamed because the language they don’t speak. We’re all human beings, we are not the same.

          • My thoughts exactly. Just came back to review this and glad you can see this. I’m a full Latino born and brought up in Argentina, but my kids are raised here in Australia and they can’t speak a word of Spanish, but they do understand it very well. However they have tremendous respect for Hispanic culture and are very knowledgeable and embrace it to the max. We have relatives who can only speak Spanish and a little English, however it doesn’t have to be a problem if you don’t let it. We have English speakers who are available and most of the time they find a way to get a point across. And my kids sent cards and lots of gifts to them over holidays and such. They are showing the most important thing, and that is LOVE. Even if they can’t speak Spanish, it doesn’t have to exclude them from anything, they are equal as anyone else. I get angry when Latinos judge and mock ppl who can’t speak Spanish or speak it fluently. Not necessary, and like one said, we are all brothers and sisters, we ALL will be different from each other, and will not be perfect in many things (language included). I find not being perfect as a good thing as it keeps one civilized and respectful towards others. So yes, don’t judge other people. This world is not perfect and we are all weak in many aspects. But that’s not important, what’s important is we treat each other and respect each other like we are the children of God.

  34. Thank you it ment alot to me to read your blog… I felt and STILL feel the frustrated with people who judge me… My Entire family is allll from Argentina and I too was 1st gen. born in the US…. Im born and raised Calif and Many latinos in my area add more frustration by say Argentina is concidered as WHITE SPANISH!! SORRY BUT when I 1st heard that it was said by my spanish TEACHER!!! All I thought was W.T.F.and in my head thinking Ur my teacher!!! “FU you stupid ignit jack-off ” Sorry but It’s been frustrating and I envy my sister and cousins.. I did speak fluanly unti I was 6year old,but when my father die suddley at 46, my beautiful amazing mother didnt have the extra energy to speak to me daily. Therfor I spoke in english and she spoke to me in spanish and it’s been that way ever since… great blog thank you … Keep writn!!! and God bless xoxox

  35. It’s kind of refreshing to hear that there are people in the boat as I am. I’m Puerto Rican 2nd Gen., my grandparents moved here and my parents were born here. I’m not fluent I can understand a little but not much. I’ve never felt like I really fit in to the Latino groups, because I’ve always gotten ridiculed. I even get judgmental comments from non-latinos. Even as a kid adults would say some pretty mean things. For a long time I simply figured “Hey, if they don’t want to accept me, then why should I make an effort to be accepted?” It’s only now that I want to learn, not to be “closer” to the culture, because I already am without the language, but because my in-laws are not fluent in English and I am so dying to communicate with them.

  36. I’m Hispanic but I do not speak Spanish. I understand it pretty well but when it comes to speaking it, I just can’t. My parents always speak to me in spanish but I always reply in English. I grew up like this and have always been afraid to speak it because I was scared I would get made fun of because I can’t speak well. But up to this point in my life, I choose not to speak it because I’m more angry than afraid. This is because of the many hispanics who looked down on me because I couldn’t speak well. For example… At work the other day… A Hispanic came in and asked me if I spoke Spanish and I said no. He gave me a dirty look asking “why don’t you speak it? Aren’t you Hispanic?” this really pissed me off. That wasn’t the first time that happened either. It happened so many times that now I even sometimes dislike my own ethnicity because of these people who would criticize and judge me. I don’t understand why Hispanics expect other Hispanics to know how to speak Spanish. People don’t expect black people to speak zulu or white people to speak German or French or what have you. So why do they expect Spanish from Hispanics?? I was born and live in the US, so why is it expected me to know Spanish if this is an English speaking country? Part of me regrets not speaking spanish as a child but most of me is just really pissed. I don’t want this hatred in my heart but I can’t help it after all that judgement from other people.

  37. I am so late with this post. lol. I find it annoying how some “Latinas” choose to put their standards on people. I do not speak fluent Spanish, but I am not less Hispanic than the next. These stereotypes can be daunting sometimes. Arrgh :(

  38. It is so hard to be a Latino that doesn’t speak Spanish. I have gotten into violent confrontations with other Latinos over it. I would give my right arm to be able to speak Spanish! I have had other Latin people spit on me and put me down. I even had a teacher insult me in Spanish to other Latin kids in the class. And now as an adult all of a sudden I get denied jobs because if they are going to hire a Hispanic they want the language with it. IT REALLY IS DISGUSTING. It makes me want to change my name.

  39. This is an old thread that has been going on for a while and I’m glad I came across the subject. I have been in the same boat as many of you and I can’t believe there are so many of us that feel the same. My heritage is California Mexican-American, great grandparents Californios. I was not brought up speaking the language and I also do not have the cultural background. I have never felt as though I belong anywhere. My upbringing was within the white society, but being brown I still am not fully accepted and among Latinos I am also not a part of this community either. I have tried to learn Spanish, but I had a bastard Mexican American teacher that made me feel like crap and humiliated me in class. He was so nice to the white kids that tried to speak Spanish, but if you were brown forget it. This has been a struggle for me all of my life and I am now in my forties and still find myself getting very emotional about this issue. I just recently decided that since this has bothered me for so long I really have to take control of the situation and deal with it or it will just eat me up until the day I die. Now as an older adult I am taking Spanish classes at a local college and I have two trips to Mexico planned where I will take Spanish immersion classes. I’m very determined to learn Spanish not because it will magically make me a part of the Latino community, but because I have to claim a heritage that I feel I was denied. My feelings of inadequacy come from me allowing myself to accept judements from both Latino and white society and I think it’s time to finally put this conflict to rest. Thanks to everyone that has shared their stories it has really been a tremendous help to know that I am not alone.

  40. Lori Nolasco says:

    I think I owe an apology to any Latinas who were not completely comfortable speaking Spanish and thought I was trying to show off. I learned Spanish as an adult, and quite late, at age 39. Both my parents are Italian American, so I have no Spanish speaking/Latino background at all. In my excitement to practice Spanish with as many people as possible, I might have overlooked some sensitive issues. Many have been judged harshly and unjustly for lack of fluency, and then I came barreling in, rattling off in Spanish as if it were the magic key to the kingdom.

    I like to use the comparison to the convert who tries to be “more Catholic than the Pope.” I had no trouble with those who came directly from Mexico or the Dominican Republic for a visit but wondered why I was getting the cold shoulder from those who had been living in my hometown for several years.

    Now is the time for my mea culpas.

    There are women who, having married Italians and having lived in Italy, are more fluent in Italian than I ever hope to be. I gladly say that they deserve a place of honor in my culture. However, I am fourth-generation and never felt a strong tie to this culture in the first place.

  41. I am fluent, but my children are not. When they were learning how to speak, I was learning English so that’s all I spoke. Now, I can’t speak Spanish to them ’cause they won’t understand me. If I could go back in time, I would change that. Speaking Spanish does not define you as a Latino, but it is very important. I keep stressing to them the importance of knowing both languages.

  42. I was born in Ciudad Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, but was raised in the US. My parents never taught me Spanish as I was growing up, due to the fact that English does open many doors to many opportunities (such as teaching English abroad, which I will be doing after college), my parents never had the time to teach me Spanish, and I was young and stubborn that I didn’t want to learn it at the time (although I regretted that decision later on). As a result, I knew little to no Spanish, and I would often be discriminated by my own people at school, both kids and adults alike, simply because I was taught English first. It was even harder not even being able to community with my own family, both here and in Mexico. That followed me all the way until the start of high school, where I made friends with a foreign exchange student from Spain (who is now my best friend). She inspired and helped me learn the language.

    Through media, books and constant practicing with her, I was able to learn a substantial amount that I was able to have a casual conversation with her and my family, but I wasn’t fluent, but it was a good start. We still maintained contact even after she went back home to Spain through e-mail and Skype (which helped improve my writing as well, and we still keep in contact to this day).

    Fast forward to my 3rd year in college, I’ve become fluent in Spanish, though I still need to practice. I also managed to pick up two other languages, French and Portuguese (a language I’ve become fluent in as well). I’ve also made friends with South American Latinos who come from countries like Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and so on, and what’s funny was that they complete accept that my Spanish is only fluent, and not perfect, and will go out of their way to help me whenever I needed it.

    I forgave myself for not wanting to learn Spanish when I was a kid, and I stand tall in the fact that I am still 100% Latino, even if I didn’t learn Spanish. Being Latino is what I was born as, and it will never be taken away, but at the same time, learning the language of your country creates an understanding of yourself and your culture, but being bilingual and multilingual opens even more doors for job opportunities here or abroad. My girlfriend is also multilingual (she speaks English, Spanish, Italian and German) and we’ve talked about having a multilingual family, simply because learning languages opens so many opportunities, and helps one become much more open-minded about different cultures and languages. These are opportunities I don’t want our future children to miss out on; I want them to learn Spanish and possibly even more languages and be granted opportunities for a brighter future.

    Overall, whether you decide to learn Spanish or not, it will not make you any less Latino. It is something to be very proud of, and it’s something that no one will EVER take away.

  43. Prisclla says:

    It was really great to find this site and this conversation.
    I am 64 year old 3rd and 4th generation Mexican American and have had to deal with hurtful and shaming comments since I was a child because my parents did not teach me Spanish. They grew up in East LA and knew well the difficulty and prejudice that could arise from speaking their language. It was challenging as a child because I could not speak to my grandparents, who knew how to speak some English, but refused. But we managed and all of my cousins, aunts and uncles spoke English.
    Yes, I have studied Spanish and speak a little now. (No thanks to the teachers I had in college who made me feel terrible.)
    It is a sad comment on peoples own sense of self worth that they would treat others with disrespect because of ones language or lack of. I believe that shaming someone does not usually make one want to go toward something, but rather move away from it. That’s what it did to me. Many of my friends over the years have been Jewish or African American. They have accepted and loved me for who I am and we have enriched each others lives with our differences and similarities.
    As Latinos/as we are a very diverse group and need to honor each others humanity with curiosity and compassion rather than judgement.
    I still sometimes encounter comments from Latinos and Whites in the US, something I never encounter in Mexico where I go every year. I had a Spanish teacher in Puerto Vallarta that understood the dynamic that happens with languages in a dominate culture. She shared that the white children that move to Mexico don’t want to speak English anymore because all their friends and the culture speaks Spanish.
    Many years ago my husband suggested that I start a group for Latino/as that don’t speak Spanish.
    An idea I am still considering. Right now I’m in the process of writing a book about growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles and The San Francisco Bay Area.

    • “It is a sad comment on peoples own sense of self worth that they would treat others with disrespect because of ones language or lack of. I believe that shaming someone does not usually make one want to go toward something”

      THIS. It applies to me too and though I’m indian, I have a love/hate relationship with Indian culture because of how arrogant and unwanted pride people have. I’m not fluent in my parents’ native tongue but can speak ok and know a smattering bit of Hindi, and I’ve been hounded on this issue wrongfully that I just keep distance from it. Funny enough I still feel close to my grandparents in India even if I talk the language in a broken manner or expressed something incorrectly, and if I can’t express something, there’s someone always there to help. The language doesn’t have to be the exclusive connector to bond with your relatives though it is the best choice to have. There are several options you can take. I send cards and letters (in English) to my family in India to let them know how I”m doing, and even though I can’t speak the language well, they still know how much I love them and that is what counts the most. And they are the same and thank god at least they understand that everyone is different and may not be like others.

      It’s sounds wrong but you know, if people are going to be judgemental and pity you for this and basically on your interests and overall personality, it’s not even worth engaging in your culture if they can’t have the patience and understanding to welcome you into it in a loving and good manner. Had they respect and understand the differences of other people, I could assure it would be 1000 times better and probably then we all would have a desire to connect with our cultures. The arrogancy, hypocrisy, judging and being a piss off by showing off is not going to get people to become interested in learning about their culture and would rather chase them away from it. If that’s how these fuck offs treat others, that’s what they get.

  44. Sorry, but being able to speak Spanish is a requirement to be Latino, Hispanic, Mexico. Why? First, being Hispanic or Latino is not a racial category. There are no genes or haplogroups that can be identified as Latino or Hispanic. In other words, then, being Latino or Hispanic or Mexican, etc. is all based on culture. Second, the most fundamental part of a culture is the language. Without access to the language of the culture you claim to be a part of, you cannot understand the culture and what’s important in it and how it changes.
    Third is that “taking pride in your heritage” doesn’t make you what your parent, grandparents or great-grandparents were. Your grandparents may have been Mexicans born in Mexico but that doesn’t make you a Mexican. If you were born in the US and your education has been in English so that you are essentially an English-native speaker, you’re an American–not a Mexican. If you don’t believe me, just try living in Mexico on the spur of the moment. You’ll see how even though some things may seem familiar to you, you’re not a Mexican. This example holds true for all of those Americans who call themselves “Hispanics” and who claim to be Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, etc. just because some ancestor was from a Spanish-speaking country, but who now in the present can’t speak Spanish to save their life. Get over it. You’re not Hispanic, Latino or anything else. You’re an American. That’s it and that’s enough.

  45. Another thought: If you are an American who had some relatives in the past (grandparents, etc.) who were from a Spanish-speaking country, you have no responsibility to speak Spanish. None. You are an American who was born in the US and who had an English only education. There’s nothing wrong with that. You have no responsibility to feel guilty for not speaking Spanish. But at the same time you should not lay claim to something that you are not. Don’t call yourself Hispanic or Latina just because your last name is Hispanic. An Hispanic last name doesn’t make you Latina. What makes you Latina is speaking Spanish and participating everyday in a Hispanic culture whether it be Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, etc. And it goes way beyond just making ethnic foods. It’s about understanding the differences in values that govern interpersonal relationships, gender roles, aesthetics, ideas of right and wrong and being able to communicate those concepts in Spanish. If you can’t do those things, you aren’t Latina. So on the one hand don’t feel guilty about not being Latina if you can’t do those things, but at the same don’t try to score benefits by claiming to be something you are not.

  46. One more thing. When people try to shame you or make you feel guilty because you don’t speak Spanish, tell them that you have no responsibility to speak Spanish because you are an American and your education has been in English. If they counter that you are obviously an Hispanic, ask them what they mean. It will become clear that the person engaging in prejudice is the person requiring you to speak Spanish because of how you look or what your last name is. They are the ones denying that you are an American–not you.

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