By Alexa Solis
The fluorescent lights of a small, Mexican restaurant flickered as a friend and I ducked in after a long day of classes. Rain tapped on the windows as we waited to order. I stepped forward, clearing my throat.
“Yeah, uh, I’ll have a burrito,” I said, rolling my r’s as I spoke.
My friend, aghast, turned to me and rolled her eyes.
“Why don’t you talk like an American?” she asked.
Needless to say, I was shocked to hear anyone, much less one of my friends, speak to me that way. It was my first experience being shamed for speaking Spanish words in the accent in which the language was intended to be spoken in. How dare I.
As formative as the experience was for me, it is a problem far greater than myself. Latinos across America are constantly hounded for their pronunciation of either their native tongue or the language of their ancestors. On Aug. 31 Vanessa Ruiz, a bilingual anchor for an Arizona news station, defended her pronunciation of Spanish words saying that she, “[pronounces] certain things the way they are supposed to be pronounced.”
This is one of the most recent, public instances of a debate over language discussed on a public stage, but the debate has been fairly common recently, especially with the campaign trail heating up.
In 2008, students in Esmeralda County, Nevada were finally allowed to speak Spanish on the school bus. The change came after the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the school district making clear that students speaking Spanish on the school bus were within their right to free speech.
In a country where the Hispanic population makes up a whopping 17.4 percent of the total population (according to the Pew Research Center) it is astounding to think that speaking our native language and celebrating our culture is actively being stifled. Though the country has a spotted past when it comes to the treatment of its immigrant populations, there is no reason why that kind of behavior should continue into today.
Instead of being vilified for celebrating our culture, Latinos in the United States should be able to exercise the right to speak the language of our ancestors without fear of reprimand. This is especially important as more and more Latinos enter the media. Spanish speaking reporters are becoming the face of people everywhere that have faced discrimination for “talking funny.”
I know many Americans want to preserve the integrity of their culture, but what about the integrity of the culture of those that come to America looking for a better life? Donald Trump likes to toss around the phrase, “Let’s make America great again.” What he really means is, let’s continue putting down the very people that do just that.
Indeed, we can make America great again, and we can do that by shirking our prejudices towards those who are different and choose to accept them instead.
It is the tenacious spirit of the immigrants before us that made America great in the first place. Let’s foster a vibrant community where everyone and every language can coexist peacefully. It’s only legal, and it’s only right.