I don’t speak Spanish, does that make me less Latino?

David Matos, Arts & Life Editor

Whenever I find myself in a room full of Latinos, I often get bombarded with the question, “You’re Puerto Rican, why don’t you speak Spanish?”

My parents grew up in the United States in the 1960s with my grandparents, who were born and raised in Puerto Rico, so they speak perfect Spanish and English. My sister was a 1990s baby and grew up around my Spanish-speaking grandmother, so she was able to learn the language pretty early on. Everyone in my immediate family speaks Spanish fluently — my mom, my dad and my sister. But not me.

I was too busy watching Miley Stewart choose between Jesse or Jake on “Hannah Montana” than to learn Spanish. In 2006, only 22% of Hispanics ages 5 and older lived in a household where only English was spoken, according to a Pew Research Center survey. I guess I wasn’t the only one.

Now, whenever I go visit or call my grandmother I often have to have my mom translate for me. I currently intern for the Latino section of a local newspaper. The question of my identity often comes up in conversation when many of my sources find out I don’t speak the language. Having to tell employers that I don’t speak Spanish despite my Latino identity can be quite shameful at times too. How am I Latino and I can’t even speak Spanish?

Not knowing Spanish is an insecurity for many Latinos who have never been taught the language. They’re constantly surrounded

by family members at gatherings that may question their identity with condescending comments like “you’re white-washed,” questioning their own bloodline’s credibility as a Latino. Because of comments like these, English-speaking Latinos often feel the need to prove their identity because they don’t speak Spanish.

Spanish is the most common non-English language spoken in the U.S., with 62% of the non-English population speaking the language in their homes, per the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau report.

The Census Bureau also reported that 78% of the population only speak English, meaning Latinos in that demographic could face multiple challenges, due to the majority of non-English speakers falling under the Spanish-speaking umbrella.

In a 2012 Pew Research study, researchers found that 95% of Latinos say it’s important for future generations to speak Spanish, therefore, many Latinos believe speaking Spanish is an essential component of the Latino identity.

However, despite my lack of experience speaking the language, I, and any other Latino that doesn’t, am still overwhelmingly Latino. I grew up in a Latino household with Puerto Rican parents, had rice and beans every night for dinner and was constantly surrounded by salsa music. Anyone can say they speak Spanish, but not everyone can say they’re Latino.

“Latino” refers to anyone born in or has ancestors from Latin America, according to Britannica. Though most Latin American

countries, like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, are Spanish-speaking due to Spain’s colonization of them, it is not required to speak the language to be considered Latino by definition.

Though many Latinos wish they could speak to their Spanish-speaking immigrant relatives, 58% of Latino immigrants said speaking Spanish is not an essential component of the Latino identity in a 2015 Pew Research survey. Additionally, 87% of Latinos born in the U.S. feel the same way. The survey states that 81% of Latino registered voters believe speaking Spanish is not essential to be considered Latino.

While communicating in Spanish unites

Latino communities, as three-quarters of Latinos speak Spanish at home, per a 2015 Pew Research survey, language differs among many Latino households. Some households only speak Spanish, some only speak English and others fall in the bilingual category.

Nobody is less Latino because they don’t speak Spanish. Many Latinos in the U.S. share common-lived experiences, even if we don’t all speak the same language. I often struggle with feeling included when I’m in a room of Spanish-speaking Latinos because I grew up in an English-speaking household, but one thing nobody can take away from me is my Latino identity.

I am Puerto Rican, and I am proud.