Princeton, NJ - Some bigots ask people not to speak Spanish in public and to speak English. Some say they should go back home, although the vast majority are home. What inspires such attitudes? Fear of the emerging new majority-minority that will become a reality in little more than a generation? Is it today’s version of historic anti-Spanish, anti-Latino sentiment? Who knows?
Reaching these bigots is not easy. As a Spanish-speaker, I feel compelled to write try to reach them. Like Spanish-speaking actor and producer John Leguízamo, author of Latin History for Morons, I offer some nuggets that our history books treat inadequately, diminish or ignore.
· Spanish was the first European language spoken in what is now the United States.
· The first European name for Manhattan was Tierra de Gómez.
· The Bay of Fundy, on the Maine coast, is a corruption of “Bahía Profunda,” or Deep Bay.
· The Gold Rush was made easy by Spanish speakers who pacified Indians and built roads and ports.
· The California constitution provided for English and Spanish to be official languages.
· Spanish was the language of the development of the cattle industry (see below).
· Spanish forces in Louisiana under Gen. Bernardo de Gálvez, routed the British on the Mississippi, denying supplies to the Red Coats in the Ohio River valley (Galveston is named for him).
· Women in Cuba, then a Spanish colony, pawned jewelry to contribute to American independence.
· Vidalia onions were named for a Spanish general, Vidal.
· Civil War Admiral David Farragut was the son of a Spanish mariner who fought for American independence.
· Mexican Texans fought and died at the Alamo against Gen. Santa Anna’s forces.
· Spanish speaking units from Puerto Rico and the mainland fought in WW I and WWII.
· Hispanic Americans have earned more Congressional Medals of Honor per capita than any segment.
· Spanish exploration on the Pacific Coast is evident: Port Angeles, the Straights of Juan de Fuca and Toledo in Washington and Valdez, Alaska among other places.
· Spanish is the “foreign” language most studied in colleges and universities.
· About 53 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish (not all are Hispanics).
Would bigots harass these Spanish-speakers: Christina Aguilera, Jeb Bush, the late Kobe Bryant, Andrew Cuomo, Bill De Blasio, Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Selena Gómez, Salma Hayek, Carolina Herrera, María Hinojosa, Sen. Tim Kaine, Jacqueline Kennedy, María Teresa Kumar, Eva Longoria, Jennifer López, United Airlines CEO Oscar Muñoz, Beto O’Rourke, Geraldo Rivera, Secretary Bill Richardson, Alex Rodriguez, Marco Rubio, Carlos Santana, Martin Sheen, Sonia Sotomayor, Miami Mayor Francis Suárez and many others?
If anti-Spanish language sentiment were carried to its illogical extreme:
o Amarillo, TX would be “Yellow, Texas”
o Boca Ratón, FL would be “Mouse Mouth, Flowery”
o Calaveras County, MO would be “Skull County”Colorado would be “Red-colored”
o El Paso would be “The Pass”
o Florida would be “Flowery”
o Key West, FL would be “Cayo Hueso” (bone key, its original name)
o Las Vegas would be “The Plains”
o Nevada would be “Snow covered”
o Sacramento would be “Sacrament”
o San Antonio would be “Saint Anthony”
o San Diego would be “St. James”
o Sierra Nevada would be “Snow-covered Mountains”
Spanish in the cattle industry, in Western history and folklore:
Bronc, bronco wild or untamed horse
Buckaroo vaquero, cowboy
Calaboose (jail) calabozo (jail)
Desperado desesperado (desperate)
Hackamore jáquima, halter
Hoosegow (jail) juzgado (court)
Lasso lazo (rope)
Mustang musteño or mestengo
Mesa mesa (a flat-topped hill)
Rodeo rodeo (round up)
Ten-gallon hat tan galán (so handsome)
Countless other terms, some from Mexican indigenous languages, have become part of our daily communication and are surely used by the bigots.
Café con leche
Gaudy (Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí)
Mano a mano
Sí, se puede
In 1789, Thomas Jefferson advised his nephew, Peter Carr:
“Pay attention to the Spanish language and strive to acquire an accurate knowledge
of it. Our future relations with Spain and Latin America will convert that language
into a valuable acquisition.”
While many public figures today understand the need to speak Spanish, many others do not get it. On the other hand, banks, hotels, entrepreneurs, communicators, advertisers and elected officials do get it. Language is important. Spanish is important. And it is not a joke. Spanish has been here for centuries, will increase in importance and will be here for centuries ahead. Get used to it.