Friday, May 13, 2011

What Do Spanish-Speakers Look Like?

Nearly 1,400 readers visited this site, and no one has yet been able to give an intelligent answer to my question—what do Spanish speakers look like? Can you? Don't let me grow old waiting!

Former Miss Ecuador - Mónica Chalá

One morning, I stopped in a Walgreens store in San Francisco to buy a Latin-American phone card. The woman at the checkout counter, without bothering to ask if I speak Spanish, suggested that I buy a calling card for English speakers. This is far from the first time someone ASS-umed that I did not speak Spanish. Annoyed, I told her (in Spanish) that I have friends in Latin-America who speak Spanish only and I need this particular card! She acknowledged what I said by mumbling something about San Francisco being a multicultural city. Yeah, whatever!

I pointed this experience out to some friends, and humbly asked for some enlightenment; how do you look at someone and determine what language they can or cannot speak? A former college classmate answered,“ just ignore them Bill. She was just plain stereotyping. I'm sure when you responded in Spanish she felt silly.” 

Another friend, who unlike I, happens to be a black native Spanish-speaker (half Cuban and half Dominican) says she has pity on people like that; she slams them with her Spanish, and the near look of cardiac arrest gives her great satisfaction.

From my growing up near Spanish Harlem in New York City, and working in Latino communities in Oakland and San Francisco, I know plenty of people, white, brown, and black who are of Latin-American ancestry who know little or no Spanish. Yet, I've met people of Chinese, Lebanese, and Jewish ancestries who are “native Spanish-speakers.” The same paradox goes for other languages. 

When are people going to wake up and understand that you cannot simply look at people and discern their first, second, or third language?


  1. Cool blog entry. As someone whose maternal family is from Panama via Barbados, I know how common it is for assumptions to be made.

    P.S. Clicking on the link to your Facebook page only leads me to the Facebook home page. How exactly to find you?

  2. Hello, and thank you. When you click on my Facebook link, make sure you are already logged on yourself before clicking.

  3. How do Spanish speakers look like? I would say many have the image of a typical Spanish looking person, however anyone can learn a new language. I mean many races speak English however it is a language that has its origin in Europe just like Spanish did. it is just like a white person speaking Chinese it can take you by surprise.

    Many people don't realize that Spain was the Super power in the 15th, 16th & 17th century & it actually controlled most of North, Central & South America. It also had Hispaniola now modern day Dominican Republic the hub of the Slave trade to the Americas. In fact Mexico was actually called Nueva Espana or New Spain. New Spain actually went in to modern day United States and included California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, & Texas. The Spanish also had control of Florida. Well that all for now.

  4. Mr or Ms Anonymous, I agree that anyone can learn a new language. I'm talking about people who speak Spanish as a “first” and whose nationality or cultural heritage is that of a Spanish-speaking country. Just like English, native Spanish-speakers come in “all” colors and from all ethnic backgrounds.

  5. Perhaps, you want read my post comments of what is (supposedly) "an Afo Latin/Latino(a)>' Then, maybe afterwards, you will cease with identifying black folks that speak Spansih as Afro Latin/Latino(a) and our other African descendants folks from the archipelago of the Caribbean that speak other European languages such as; British Englsih accent, French, Dutch, satop identifying them as West Indians. We have a tendency to "want" to be like somebody else or it's proxmity, not to be identified as "black" or least, "African descendant."

  6. Hi Mr or Ms Anonymous:
    Would you mind posting a link to your blog. I would love to become a subscriber so I can be enlightened and culturally sharp ike you.

  7. I have been enlighten by all the comments.I'm a young women who has no true sense of her identity culturally. I haven't seen my dad since i was two years old so i do not remember how he looks. what I do know of my dad is that he spoke Spanish but claimed to be Native America or (Indian). My mom who is Irish and black told me when you look in the mirror you are seeing your dad. I have been so lost about who I am. It breaks my heart that people can hate and hold grudges for years spilling over in the lives of others! I guess my purpose for writing is to describe my dad a bit and maybe someone can help me identify with his culture. My dad is from Chicago IL. he spoke Spanish,had lose curly hair, pointy nose, thin small muscular frame his mom was thin as well about 100 pounds myself and my daughter are both thin like this with beautiful caramel skin. My 15 year old is an honor student in Spanish and History; she cried her eyes out because of an assignment due on her heritage because I could tell her very little about my dad.I phoned my mom who told me, "well your dad spoke Spanish and his mom looked Hispanic but your dad said she was Native America." The phone called ended and I felt even the more perplexed could anyone help?

    1. Hi Keenyah,
      My heart goes out to you in prayer. First let me just say, that a lot of indigenous people in the Western world speak Spanish because of the Spanish invasion beginning with Columbus in 1492. So, to say that your father is Native American (indigenous) is very broad. I'm surprised that your mother doesn't know the nationality of your father; in other words, is his family from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central/South Americs, where exactly.

      You might want to check with your local Morman church. They can give you good leads into tracing your genealogy.


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