They say that ignorance is bold, but it can also be prejudiced.
Only ignorant people fear differences. Only insecure people see a threat when they hear people speaking different languages. Maybe they think they are being talked about, made fun of. It’s their ignorance that makes them think that here one should only speak English, a language brought by British colonists, despite the fact that long before they came, diverse native American tribes already lived here.
Not to mention the Spaniards who came representing the Crown and then the Mexicans as an independent nation, who in spite of losing half of their territory due to an unjust 19th Century war, still maintained traditions, culture, and yes, their language on this very same land. There is truth to the popular saying: “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.” In fact, there’s nothing more certain.
Spanish was spoken first in these parts, ladies and gentlemen!
It’s a fact that Anglo-Saxon expansion displaced other languages that even today some would like to eradicate, although they couldn’t do so with the Spanish language. For example, many of our nation’s laws, ordinances, important public service announcements about health, education, banking, et cetera have to be presented in this language as well as in English. History, demography, economy, and advancement cannot be isolated to just one group in a multicultural society like ours, with a large Hispanic population whose impact on society has been felt all across the United States.
Christopher Columbus came to what is now called “América” in 1492, and by 1513 the Spanish colonists arrived in Florida. Juan Ponce de León came to what he would baptize as “Florida” on April 2, 1513, and as far as we know he did not arrive speaking the language of Shakespeare (who hadn’t even been born) when, according to legend, he came looking for the fountain of youth… and instead found his own death.
In subsequent years, the Spanish established many signposts in Florida, such as San Agustín (St. Augustine) in 1565, the oldest continuously-occupied colonial town within the United States territory. In fact, the town’s Castillo de San Marcos bears a clear resemblance to the castles of San Felipe del Morro, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Tres Reyes del Morro, in Havana, Cuba.
That is, “Floridians” were first “floridanos.”
The initial Spanish outposts grew throughout the territory we now know as the United States – in places as diverse as Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana – and to the west in what is now known as New Mexico, Texas, California, and Arizona.
This isn’t to bore you with a history lesson, but to make the point that only people who do not know the story of their own country would dare to utter: “This is América. Speak English!”
Take the case of Puerto Ricans. They have always been a colony, first of Spain and then the United States, and while those who want statehood for Puerto Rico would like to say that all Puerto Ricans are bilingual, the reality is another thing. Those 120 years of U.S. colonialism have not killed the Spanish language. Does that make them second-class citizens?
No. Puerto Ricans have given their lives fighting in wars for this country and when they are sent to battle, no one asks if they dream in English or Spanish. We all bleed red.
In our decades of living in the United States, neither of us has been exempt from prejudice here. We’ve felt the looks of contempt when speaking Spanish on the phone in a public place. Every now and then we’ve been the object of a disparaging comment, to which we always respond – in English – which seems to throw off the attacker. We usually tell them that we can speak in their language because we understand both.
The fact is, English is the most common language used in the United States, but it is not the “official” language. In this country, more than 500 languages are spoken and that has not blocked the growth or greatness of this nation. To the contrary.
Only ignorant people would feel threatened by those who speak more than one language. And it has been the presidency of Donald J. Trump, the principal promoter of nativist ideas, the “Ignoramus in Chief,” that has given flight to the racist, prejudiced and ignorant people among us.
The most recent examples we’ve seen are the lawyer in New York who arrogantly accosted a group of people speaking Spanish during lunch, because it offended his nativist ears, and the U.S. Border Patrol agent who detained two American women in Montana because they too were speaking in Spanish and he thought it was “unusual” in that part of the country. Incredible! Can someone please tell this agent that the very name of the state in which he works comes from a Spanish word: “Montaña”?
Just to let all the nativists who think that history started and ended with them, with their language, their way of thinking, and their color know: no one is going to silence the Spanish language. Not the most prejudiced, the most racist, the most “educated,” the most xenophobic, or the most monolingual of neonazis in this or any other country.
Because with every attack against her speakers will come more than 40 million responses, which is the number of people who, in the United States, prefer to communicate in this language. This number grows to more than 570 million people who speak it in the world.
That’s why, trying to obliterate this language by force is ill-advised, particularly for those who, buoyed by this xenophobic government, have tried to intimidate the people who speak it. It simply won’t happen!
By Maribel Hastings and David Torres
Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor and columnist at América’s Voice, and David Torres is a Spanish-language Advisor at America’s Voice. Originally published in Spanish at La Opinión.