Dear Non-Spanish Speaking Latinx Folks: You ARE Enough

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Dear Non-Spanish Speaking Latinx Folks, You ARE Enough

“It’s a shame when Latinos can’t speak Spanish.”

“You’re not Latino if you don’t speak Spanish.”

“How are you Latino but you don’t speak Spanish?”

These are the hurtful words that many Latinx people use towards other non-Spanish speaking Latinx folks to shame them for not knowing Spanish.

I’ve heard this directed toward me and toward other folks in my life many times, and all it has successfully done was make other Latinx folks feel inferior and less than.

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In 2006, 78 percent of Latinx folks spoke Spanish at home. By 2015, that number had dropped to 73 percent. As more Latinx folks assimilate, more are struggling with an identity crisis. 

Many non-Spanish speaking Latinx folks are starting to feel disconnected from their native country because they are unable to communicate with their elders or other people from that country. 

Some Latinx folks are even going as far as shaming other Latinx folks who cannot speak Spanish. 

Making non-Spanish speaking Latinx folks feel inferior to Spanish speaking Latinx folks is not what we need right now.

In the time of racial reckoning in this country, the Latinx community needs to stand together against anti-Black racism, against white supremacy, against misogyny and more. There’s so many horrifying things going on in the world right now — we do not need to shame one another. 

The Latinx community needs to be united for bigger causes, not divided over infinitesimal details. 

For many second- and third-generation Americans, the connection to their country of origin can be pretty difficult to obtain. While the culture and values are upheld growing up, some folks may not be able to obtain the language skills for many different reasons. 

Let’s take a step back and examine a few reasons why Latinx folks may not obtain the Spanish speaking language skill:

1. Not all Latin countries speak Spanish.

First of all, it’s important to understand that there are Latin countries that do not speak Spanish. Brazil does not speak Spanish; they speak Portuguese. 

2. Some Latinx folks are transracial adoptees.

I remember one time I met someone who identified as Mexican-American at my job. Someone had ordered food from a Latin restaurant and went straight up to him looking for directions thinking he spoke Spanish, but he didn’t.

He later explained to me that he was adopted by white parents, so he never actually learned anything outside of English. This is a fact for many people who are adopted. Sometimes you don’t really get to learn the language of your country because you were raised by a different family in a different culture, and that’s okay. 

3. Some Latinx folks are multiracial.

There are many multiracial Latin folks out there who grow up with parents who speak multiple languages. It’s a hard decision to make for parents to decide which language to teach their children, but it’s a personal one. 

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4. The discrimination Spanish speaking people face is absolutely real.

During the Trump administration, discrimination against Spanish speakers heightened. Two American women were arrested by border patrol agents, all for speaking Spanish. Another time, A Spanish speaker was told to “go back to your country!”. There are countless stories of discrmination people have faced all because of their ability to speak Spanish.

While some might say it’s a plus to be bilingual for job searching, the dominant narrative used by the Trump administration toward immigrants has easily “othered” the Latinx community within society.

That being said, some parents make the strategic decision to not teach their children Spanish because they are afraid to see their children be discriminated against after working so hard to create a life for them.      

I would be included in the non-Spanish speaking Latinx community. While I don't feel any less Latinx, there are plenty of times where I have been made to feel that way. As an Asian-American Latina, my personal experience with language was complicated. My parents had three languages to choose from for me to learn but because of the discrimination non-English speakers face, my parents decided to solely teach me English. 

For folks who were taught Spanish as they were growing up, that's great, but shaming people for not speaking Spanish will not accomplish anything. It's very toxic to point at someone and invalidate their identity because they didn't learn Spanish.

And for folks who didn't learn Spanish growing up, it doesn't make you any less Latinx. 

Lastly, it’s never too late to learn Spanish! Picking up a language is not easy but with time and practice, you will learn. Let’s not forget that Selena and Jennifer Lopez had to learn Spanish because they weren’t taught it growing up. If they can learn it, so can you. 

Just remember, you are Latinx, Eres poderoso (you are powerful), you ARE enough. 

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Angelique Beluso is a sex educator and writer who covers feminism, pop culture and relationship topics. Follow her @AngeliqueBeluso.