Does Spanish define Latinos?

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September 19, 2012 by jmunoz4

When I was younger, I was bothered when someone of Hispanic descent said they did not speak Spanish when the circumstances suggested that they did. It infuriated me because I thought that they were not proud of being a Latino and thus denied the fact that they spoke Spanish. Now, as I reflected on this, I began to think deeper and I realized that even though they denied speaking Spanish, these people were still Latinos whether they liked it or not. Speaking Spanish does not necessary define a person as Latino. There is much more that goes with the identification of a Latino such as the rich and empowering culture, traditions, and gastronomy. If a person takes Italian classes and perhaps becomes good in the language, this does not make him/her an Italian. One cannot simply learn a language and identify with that certain group. Now, many Latino children don’t speak Spanish because they are assimilating into the American culture and all that comes with it. However, these children still identify themselves as Latinos and no one can take that away from them. Not knowing Spanish doesn’t make you “less of a Latino.” As the article mentioned, Selena was not fluent in Spanish but she is still considered today as one of the most influential Latinas in music history.

Being a Latino is much more than speaking the language. It is rooted in our blood and in our hearts. Nothing and no one can take our Latin culture and traditions away from us. Latinos, according to the dictionary, are “people from Latin America or of Spanish-speaking descent.” To me, this “definition” is limiting and inaccurate. Latinos are strong, family-oriented, determined, cultured, and hard-working people. They always place family above themselves and they always want to help others. The rich Latino culture helps determine what it means to be a Latino. Whether it is the spices in the posole, the mariachi at a quinceanera, or the fiesta of Cinco de Mayo, this makes up the identity of a Latino, not just the language.

The ability or inability to speak Spanish should not influence the identity of a Latino. Even though most people feel that not speaking Spanish means that they are not “Latino enough,” some still identify themselves as Latinos. My friend Ana was born in the United States from Latino parents. Ana doesn’t speak much Spanish because her parents, as well as her, grew up in Texas in English-dominant households. If you ask Ana if she is a Latina, she will immediately say yes. For Ana, her inability to speak Spanish did not affect her identification as a Latino. On the other hand, there are Latinos who don’t speak Spanish well and they believe that this creates a barrier for them to consider themselves “true” Latinos. Also, some Latino people clearly speak Spanish, but if you ask them, they do not identify themselves as Latinos. Overall, for some the better you speak Spanish, the stronger your Latino identity is and the less you speak Spanish, the weaker your Latino identity is.

Being a Latino is something to be proud of. The Latino culture is rich and full of traditions. To be a Latino, one must feel the Latino blood running through our hearts. It is taking pride of who you are and where you come from, not what language you can or cannot speak.


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