How the Spanish Language Affects the Latinx Community

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Language is the tool people use to connect, it’s a beacon of sorts that assists in finding the community one belongs to. A community in which language, culture, and experiences are related. Language is meaningful to almost every cultural identity. For Hispanics, language reaches far beyond borders. Language plays a huge role in the determination of who is a “real” Latinx. When a Latinx individual believes they don’t qualify as a “real” Latinx they end up feeling rejected by one of the communities they’re supposed to belong to. Currently many believe to be a “real Latinx” one needs to speak Spanish and have fought assimilation, but the requirements to be a Latinx are too strict and restrictive, and not knowing a language cannot be enough to erase one’s culture.

The feeling of being a fraud is an emotion that is familiar to Latinxs who don’t speak spanish but are Hispanic. In the article, “I don’t speak Spanish. Does that make me less Latinx?”, the author Justin Agrelo, a Puerto Rican, wrote about how he went to brunch with a colleague in Buenos Aires. He experienced the emotion of being an impostor when he made his order in broken Spanish. The feeling of being a fake was a result of Agrelo being raised in a Puerto Rican household yet only being able to speak English. He delves into how Latinxs who don’t speak Spanish are viewed as less Latinx solely because they speak “a different colonizer’s language” (Agrelo). Latinxs who are subjected to this type of treatment are confined into a kind of thinking that causes them to feel isolated from their community. He compares these feelings to being oscillated between being American or Latinx but never reaching either side completely.

Latinxs are under the constant pressure of having to know how to speak Spanish to be able to belong to their Hispanic community. According to Pew, 71 percent of self-identified Hispanic adults said that one doesn’t need to speak Spanish to be considered Latinx. However, at the same time, 90 percent claim it's important for future generations of Latinx Americans to speak Spanish. In an article on NPR, “Can You Lose A Language You Never Knew?”, the author Kevin Garcia writes about how he was pressured into believing that speaking Spanish was the most important thing for his identity as a Latinx. Language is important for countless reasons. One of those reasons, according to Amelia Tseng, a source in the NPR article, is that language is “how we experience the world”. Amelia Tseng is a professor of linguistics, a research associate and a scholar who studies multilingualism and identity. Tseng uses the example of how people absentmindedly connect American identity to speaking English. The two are linked as a result of the perpetuation that only Americans speak English. The same thing applies to Latinxs and Latinidad. Latinidad is an understanding that Latin American communities are varied and complex but connected by a shared language. For one to be labeled as Hispanic they feel like they must be able to speak Spanish, and this causes “Language insecurity”. 'Language insecurity' is very common with second-generation Latinxs in the U.S. Typically Latinxs experience language insecurity because they are of Hispanic origin but don’t speak Spanish.

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There is always an amount of shame Latinxs feel when they experience the judgment of others over their struggle to speak Spanish. Agrelo writes about how he constantly feels like he needs to prove himself to others, to those from his community and even worse to those who are not. People who aren’t Latinx and have no stake in Hispanic culture have felt authorized enough to police the fluency of Latinxs. Tseng explained that Latinxs who experience language insecurity feel like they can never win, 'They're just very aware that any moment they could be told, 'You're not doing it right,' and there's sort of a challenge to that part of their identity.' This connects back to when Agrelo felt like he was an impostor pretending to be Latinx. The rules of Latinidad and the requirements to be viewed as Latinx are too rigid and confining. Latinxs struggle with feeling like their Latinidad is inauthentic. Agrelo compares his Latinidad to a garment he can wear when he wants “to feel connectedness (Latin American) or unique (U.S.) and take off whenever I no longer want to be otherized, oppressed, invisible.” Agrelo struggles with his identity as a Latinx because of the strict requirements that are put in place by the Latinx community.

Some believe that to be a “real Latinx” one must speak Spanish. They disregard factors that go into learning and maintaining a language. Society and its racist tendencies are responsible for the loss of culture and language. Latinxs have just been trying to survive the oppressive clamp society has had them under. Plenty of young Latinxs were raised as ‘American’ and then later attempted to connect with their culture. When an immigrant from Latin America emigrates to the U.S., personal survival is their primary concern. As an unfortunate result, their culture is likely sacrificed in the relentless pursuit of acceptance and happiness.

The Pew Research Center conducted a study that suggested lower immigration levels and high interracial marriage rates among Hispanics cause their identification as Hispanic to lessen over the generations. The study showed that, regardless of how recent immigrants do identify as Hispanic at a rate of almost 90 percent, that number lowers to around 50 percent after the fourth generation. Currently, 11 percent of adults with Hispanic ancestry do not identify as Latinx. It is more likely for Latinxs to “lose” their identification than African Americans. On surerys and census, most Latinxs prefer not to identify as either black or white, and 97 percent of those who check the “some other race” category are Hispanic. The slow growth in immigration is a factor in decreasing Hispanic identification. Current political trends could also be a reason for the decrease. The slowdown in the U.S. economy has considerably lowered the immigration rate. The anti-immigrant attitudes that have been stirred up again in America in recent years, especially with the overwhelming amount of white nativism and the election of Donald Trump, are also at fault. Such a climate can allow racism to take place and can also allow more serious concerns like the rising rates in hate crime. All these reasons are a strong motivation for avoiding identification as Latinx. Why would someone want to identify as Latinx and learn Spanish if they are to be subjected to racism? All these factors have gone into the loss of a language and therefore the loss of Latinx identity.

However, if a Latinx individual decided to identify as only American because they only spoke English, the act itself would serve as a type of erasure. Claiming the American side erases the turbulent and painful history of Latin America entirely. It erases the riots and movements Latinxs have suffered through. All the forced migration and horrible treatment under anti-Mexican Juan Crow laws are erased. It erases all the reasons one shouldn’t have to list in order to prove their Latinidad.

In conclusion, it is time that the Latinx community rid itself of these beliefs that to be a “real Latinx” you must have resisted assimilation and be fluent in Spanish. Latinx and non-Latinx people, let go of the high expectations that go into who can identify as a Latinx. The meaning for “real Latinx” needs to be more fluid and lax.

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