Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shame and the Spanish Language

Camilo, a friendly, outgoing security officer in the office building where I work, is a Spanish-speaking immigrant from Costa Rica. Although, he has a fairly good command of the English language, he constantly seeks to improve it by speaking as much English as possible. Because of my ability to speak Spanish, Camilo and I greet and converse in English and Spanish. However, this past Friday I passed his desk and he refused to say anything to me because a non-Spanish speaker was present. This isn't the first time I noticed such reluctance under the same scenario, giving me the impression that he doesn't want to be heard speaking Spanish in front of English-only speakers. Why can't he get a clue that, in a city like San Francisco, over 100 languages are spoken? Why is he so ashamed of his?

Why can't he get a clue that, in a city like San Francisco, over 100 languages are spoken? Why is he so ashamed of his?

When I was in Ecuador, I was laughed at by some Afro-Ecuadorians because they heard me speaking English with a bilingual mestizo. They were so freaked out you'd think they had never heard a black man speak English before. Does this give me a complex about speaking English in a Spanish-speaking country? No! What it does mean is that those people who laughed so hard, reminded me of so many Americans who have a narrow view of the world and don't get much exposure outside of their own communities. Some people may argue, and I heard this from Spanish-speakers, that English is considered higher class. Bull! Who is feeding people this and why are they buying into it? The Spanish language is no less inferior or any more superior than English, Arabic, Mandarin, or Swahili.

Meanwhile, it will be English only with Camilo from now on.


  1. The Cubans in Miami (not all, but a good bit) do not have this problem at all. Some of them go as far as to refuse to speak English. :) In some parts of Miami they think the absolute opposite of how your co-worker feels.

    But to your question... because of the U.S. pop culture and the U.S. & The U.K. global standing, some may knee-jerkingly think it is a superior language. However, the whole of the U.S. could have easily been a Spanish & French colony if it wasn't for certain events in history.

    Additionally, there is also the race issue. Most Americans do not realize that Spanish was originally a "white" language. They believe Spanish has always been spoken by the "brown people" in Central & South America. Due to the widespread colonization of Central & South America by Spain, most people view it as a language of poor minorities and look down upon it. Which is wrong on so many levels. This logic is not only based on the myth of white superiority but also based on an ignorance of History.

    1. That is true, about Miami. I went to a job interview for a pharmaceutical company. Almost all Spanish speakers were talking on their vernacular.
      It shocked me in the airport a kiosk that read "We talk English".

  2. Well said, Andy, well said. By the way, are you in Miami? I'm going to be there while on my way to and from South America on November 15 and on December 6 and 7. Do you know of any venues that play Haitian and other French Caribbean music during the week?

  3. Actually Bill also he may have entered the country illegally and is not trying to draw attention to himself. Most Spanish speakers prefer to speak their native language but if you get especially gringos(White)then he may not want to draw attention to himself. Especially with all the laws and racial tension that has begun to build. I mean are you sure he is in the country legally? Is he documented? Does he have a green card? Is he a citizen. These are worries that many Hispanic/Latino people must deal with now & it is sad because they came to this country for a better life.

    Spanish was the first European languages in the Americas after of course Native languages which were not European and much of the Southwest was founded by conquistadors & many missions were established to convert the Natives to Christianity ordered by the Queen of Spain & the Pope.

    Honestly I doubt he is not speaking Spanish because he doesn't want to but because of the current situation many are facing currently. I doubt he want's ICE stopping by and visiting him because some White English speaker said their was an illegal working at that building who only spoke Spanish.

  4. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for your insights... you really gave me something to consider. However, in Camilo's case (not his real name), he is in the private security industry, where since 911, all security officers must go through background checks before they can be assigned a security post anywhere; especially here in California. I'm going to ASS-ume he is legal.

  5. You would be surprised because remember Corporations love cheap labor and their bottom line. After all the more money the company makes hiring cheap labor the more money the Executives get to take home. Also many security checks are just to check if they have a criminal background or if they are a possible terrorist. Now with SB 1070 & other laws many companies were not really focused on if a person is in the country legally. Now it maybe more of an issue due to the recent attention illegal immigration is getting with all these laws passed to stop companies from hiring illegal workers.

    Also you may want to consider the company itself may have a policy to speak English only while on duty & if a person hears him speaking Spanish he could be reported & lose his job. I am sure he knows you are cool Bill & likes that you are a Spanish speaker who wants to practice his Spanish & I am sure he has no problem with that. However, I think he is just being cautious for other reasons & he is not ashamed of Speaking in his native tongue or wants to be impolite but just overly cautious with today's environment.

  6. Anonymous wrote: “You would be surprised because remember Corporations love cheap labor and their bottom line.”

    Actually, nothing corporations do surprises me anymore. Thanks for all your insightful feedback.

  7. You are welcome Bill and I love the blog that is why I keep coming back. It is very informative & it does shed a lot of light on issues dealing with the Latin issues that many people may not know about & history as well.

  8. Not related to this topic, but I thought you might like this information.

    Bill if you get a chance I am not sure check out this link. It is very interesting and talks about Afro Latinos. I believe they are making a documentary on this but they have a 24 minute clip.

    Here is the link

  9. I'll check it out when I get home this evening. I see that “Afro-Latino” logo everywhere.

  10. Thanks Bill,

    Sorry, I do not know of any such venues. I was only in Miami for a short while. However, I am sure a venue like that exist somewhere in the Miami area. Since I have benefited from your blog greatly, I will ask around and try to find out more information...

  11. Apparently, you just missed the Caribbean Carnival where the Haitian Masquerade Band won first place...

    I was told these places may be able to help you out:

  12. Ha, BlackAndy. I don't even consider Miami part of the States anymore. Going to Miami is like traveling to Latin America without the need of a passport.


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