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Se Habla Español- Like it or Not

Yelena Bivian

“In this country, we speak American!”

“Soldiers are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish.”

“Go back to your country”

And in the most recent case a LAWYER, a man in a profession that is highly regarded as one of the best professions in the Latinx community, threatened the livelihood of workers because they were speaking Spanish to customers. He assumed the people speaking Spanish were undocumented and enraged threatened to call ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This encounter was captured on video and spread like wildfire throughout social media. People were enraged by the man’s behavior, to say the least.

However, this got me thinking about the hundreds of Latinx people that don’t know or speak Spanish. Many of which have mentioned that their parents refused to teach them their native tongue because of fear; that their children would be looked down upon for speaking a different language. The fear that these parents had is becoming a horrible reality. But the question is why? The United States has no official language. “American” as many have been quick to pronounce as the language is NOT even a language but a nationality. English is a common and dominant language, no one is disputing that. The issue arises when individuals try to demonetize or associate a language with a specific group of people. In this case, Spanish carries a connotation with immigration and the Latinx community.

The United States Census Bureau has an estimated 40 million people that speak Spanish with a57.5% of those individuals speaking English “very well” reported on the census. The New York Post reports that there are 41 million individuals who speak Spanish in the United States with 11.6 million of those individuals being bilingual. Advertisements are displayed proudly stating Se Habla Español.

Some might wonder why? What does this all mean?

It all comes down to the fact that there are more Spanish speakers in the United States than in countries like Spain. People shouldn’t be scared of hearing others speak Spanish or any other language. But for some reason, story after story comes out where individuals are threatened with ICE, many have their immigration status questioned or have been insulted because they are simply speaking Spanish.

Teachers have gone as far as to tell students to stop speaking Spanish because U.S soldiers are not fighting for their right to speak Spanish. However, with 1.2 million Spanish speaking soldiers who have served in the U.S armed forces as stated by the U.S Census, I beg to differ. For years, men and women from the Latinx community have bravely fought for the United States, many joined with the false pretense that their immigration status would change upon serving, veterans have been deported after serving for years. They might not be explicitly fighting for the right to speak Spanish, but they are fighting for a country they love and for a country whose first amendment is freedom of speech. My right to speak Spanish does not fall under the limitations that were placed upon the first amendment, ex. hate speech.

In the words of Ana Navarro who tweeted on May 21, 2018,

“Let me get this straight. Just a few months ago, everybody in America-and the rest of the world- was going around singing every word of “Despacito”. But now, they want to berate us and detain us when they hear us say a few words in Spanish?”

On Cinco de Mayo, everyone was out throwing back drinks having a good time, no remarks were made then for speaking Spanish. To simplify it all, the food, music, and culture is adored by many and are even used for profit. However, when it comes to the individuals, no regard is given to them. I am a native Spanish speaker and I am proud to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish. The ability to speak Spanish has not only helped me in my personal life but in professional settings as well. A foreign language, one of which is Spanish, is made part of the A-G requirements that are advertised to get into college. The ability to speak more than one language is said to be a profitable skill when applying for a job, so why is it okay for others to be praised for something I have been doing for years.

I can and I will speak and defend myself in whichever language I see fit. I can write this article defending my right to speak Spanish, just as I can tell anyone in person that mis derechos y los de la gente que me formaron a ser la persona que soy hoy no van a ser ignorados o hechos a un lado porque a ciertas personas les da miedo o no les gusta oír el Español. In this country, there is an obsession with protecting the 2nd amendment despite tragedies that have occurred throughout this nation. Just like there are hundreds of people fighting tooth and nail to keep the right to bear arms I as well as others will continue to advocate for our right to speak Spanish as covered by the First Amendment.

To anyone out there that says that because you or I or any other Spanish speaker should “go back to our country” or “get out of this country”, this is just as much our country as it ours. Many of us have taken on labels like Mexican- American, Salvadorian- American, Cuban-American, etc, our identity might be hyphened but don’t forget the second part of the hyphened name American.

Y mi gente there is nothing more American than fighting for our rights!


Samantha Acuña a Grad Student in Political Science helped in the creation of the following outline which demonstrates that speaking Spanish does not fall under the restrictions of the First Amendment.

The First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Schenck v. United States: was a case that dealt with a man handing out pamphlets telling people not to enlist in the army; he was obstructing the draft and was considered a danger because his actions could interfere with the draft. Justice Holmes used a test, Clear and Present Danger Test, that determines what limits can be placed on speech.

Two Tier Theory: there are well defined and narrowly limited categories of speech that fall outside the bounds of constitutional protection this leads to the idea of fighting words which are by the way super hard to define but basically they are lewd and obscene words designed to hurt and incite issues

 Cohen v. California: a man wears an outfit that says “fuck the draft” and it’s decided that this is fine because although offensive to some he is minding his own business.

Spanish does NOT fall under any of the restrictions placed on the First Amendment.

Read up on laws and cases although ignorance blinds people, we as a community should know our rights to be able to stand up not only for ourselves but for others!

¡Aquí estamos y no nos vamos! Do you agree? Let’s talk about it!

Author: Yelena Bivian

Yelena, most commonly known as Yeli is a proud first-generation Mexican-American student currently enrolled at the University of Redlands as a junior. Her bilingual upbringing motivated her to pursue a double major in English Literature and Spanish as well as a minor in Philosophy. Influenced by her community, Yelena aspires to go into publishing and pursue writing.

When she isn’t drowning in essays or partaking in philosophical debates, she enjoys reading, listening to music too loud for her ears, running and working out.


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