John or Juan? Aren’t they the same?

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September 18, 2012 by mramirez2

                It usually infuriates me when I hear journalists address celebrities who cannot speak Spanish fluently as “Latino.” Then I step back and realize there’s more to the Latino culture than the language. Speaking Spanish is a great deal, yet it can also be seen as a complement to the heritage. Just because I took five years of French doesn´t mean I am French for example. I am far from being identified as French. I believe being a “Latina” is more about other cultural aspects such as traditions, gastronomy, and background.  Spanish is the largest characteristic of the Latino culture, yet many people do not speak Spanish today. Younger generations are letting the language disappear as generation to generation, English becomes dominant in Latino households. Obviously this is not a big deal in Latin American countries, but since so many Latinos are migrating to the U.S., there is fear of losing the essence. You can be a Latino even if your parents didn’t teach you Spanish. Besides, younger generations are not at fault when learning English as their first language. It’s up to the parents, the grandparents, and all those people who go before the younger generations to keep the language alive in Latino children who grow up in America. Regardless, Spanish is an important characteristic of the Latino culture, but doesn’t necessarily take the heritage away from those who cannot speak the language. If it clarifies, a person who is not Latino will not suddenly become one just by learning Spanish and speaking fluently. There is more to it than just words. Being Latino is in your blood. It’s the spark in your personality, the spices in your food, or the flow of the dances. It’s the traditions, the importance to family, the desire to move forward, the perseverance, or the hard work in everything. You cannot simply define “Latino” using a dictionary as the culture encompasses much more than “a person of Latin-American or Spanish-speaking descent.” Being Latino has an indescribable essence too broad to be placed in words or to be determined just by the ability to speak a specific language. It may be hard to fully grasp the Latino identity without speaking and understanding Spanish, but that doesn’t take away your ancestry, your background, and your identity. Even if you only speak Spanish, you still “have it in you,” which is why although it is a challenge, for example, for Jennifer Lopez to fully communicate in Spanish, she is still a well-known Latina celebrity. Julian Castro and Ted Cruz are just as hispanic as Gloria Estefan or Vicente Fernadez. The only difference is the ability to speak Spanish, not the Latino heritage.

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