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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Subtle Racism of Certain Latin Immigrants

Last week, Antolin Aguirre (above) was giving testimony in a hearing before the Texas state senate concerning immigration reform. Barbara Simpson relates for us what transpired when Aguirre began to speak..

"Aguirre, a pleasant looking middle-aged man, was seated before the committee at a table with a couple of supporters and another man.

He began his presentation – in Spanish. Sentence by sentence, pausing and then the other man at the table translated his words into English.

A minute or so into the statement, one of the committee members interrupted the interpreter, asking for clarification.

"Did I understand him correctly that he has been here since 1988?

That was acknowledged – which meant the man had been in this country for 23 years.

"Why aren't you speaking English then?"

Hallelujah for State Sen. Chris Harris, a man of real courage in this day and age!

Aguirre started to speak in English but then reverted to Spanish, saying through the translator that "Spanish is his first language, and since it is his first time giving testimony he would rather do it in Spanish."

Sen. Harris didn't give in to that – saying firmly, "It is insulting to us. It is very insulting. And if he knows English, he needs to be speaking in English."

I would be willing to concede that Aguirre's decision not to speak English during the proceedings mights not actually be deemed "insulting". Perhaps "highly ignorant" would have been a better description. In any case, this exchange between Sen. Harris and Aguirre reminds me of numerous exchanges that I have had with the Latino community here in sunny Florida.

Usually, I give them the benefit of the doubt and first try to communicate in English. Many fine immigrants here actually do have the ability to speak English. However a VERY large percentage do not and upon hearing English, they give me a sort of confused look and don't reply.

Then I speak I speak Spanish with them. One would automatically think that this would be helpful, but in countless cases, this only exacerbates the situation and makes them even more confused. Why? This is important because this is where their (apparent) latent racism kicks in. It would seem that when a blue-eyed, light-complected gringo with an Anglo last name begins communicating with them in their own language, it just doesnt register and it flies completely over their heads. There seems to be this prevailing attitude that los Norte Americanos just don't speak Spanish, period. Thus they are puzzled over what I am saying because their own set of prejudices right away eliminates the possibility that I might have the ability to speak to them in their native language.

I would only add that when I have been in environments that are 100% Spanish speaking such as Bogota (6X), Caracas (6X) or Lima (3X), where almost nobody speaks English, I don't have these types of problems being understood at all.

Of course one of the biggest enablers of immigrants that don't wish to learn English are politicians that cater to distinct groups and lobby to allow them to vote in their own language. This only leads to the further balkanization of the United States of America.


The Maryland Crustacean said...

There are two, maybe three types of immigrant families.

a. Those who totally repudiate their native culture and don't even permit their children to speak the mother tongue of their former homeland. Only English is spoken in their households. This was quite common of people who came over in the forties and fifties.

b. Those who are kind of like the people described in this post, who absolutely refuse to assimilate and speak only their mother tongue.

c. Those who appreciate being in the United States, learn English and make sure their children learn and speak English, but also insist on preserving their culture and languge, including having their children speak both languages.

I feel blessed and enriched that my family fell into category c. I would venture to guess that most Latino families (at least those here legally) also fall into that category. Unfortunately, because of pandering politicians and a pandering press, you hear mostly about those in category b.

JD Curtis said...


The truly sad part here is that I've had Latinos here confirm that certain immigrants do have a preconcieved notion that los gringos simply don't speak Spanish. They just don't expect to be communicated with in their own language.