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THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Hispanics Not Out To Annoy You
By Maria Padilla
March 21, 2001
The calls are starting to come in. This one from Ken Vogel of Osceola County, who doesn't like to hear Spanish in public.
"It's an uncomfortable feeling," said Vogel, in one of his milder statements.
Since Hispanics are the biggest story coming out of Census 2000, the subject of language needs to be addressed. Where there are large numbers of Hispanics, it's inevitable that you will be hearing more Spanish.
That may mean more Central Floridians are experiencing Vogel's discomfort, and that's understandable. People feel left out when others are speaking another language. However, it's important to clarify a few things.
First off, understand that language is culture. The language you speak is part of your identity. Criticizing Hispanics because they speak Spanish is the same as broadsiding the culture.
If you don't think so, then consider this: Many non-Hispanics react strongly against Spanish because they believe that their English-speaking way of life is threatened. But Americans are not alone in this.
The French have battled Franglais for years. The country perceives the Anglicization of its language also weakens its culture. Coincidentally, France has become increasingly hostile to foreigners.
The United States, however, sets a different example by extending an invitation to all newcomers. Those who have crossed the threshold have generated waves -- first in their own enclaves and languages, and then in the general population. That's why each of us is a little Irish on St. Patrick's Day, a little Asian on the Chinese New Year and a little Mexican on Cinco de Mayo.
So don't take offense because many Hispanics choose to speak Spanish. They do so because they can. If you know more than one language, you will speak it given the opportunity. Bear in mind, Hispanics who aren't fluent in Spanish -- mostly generations born here -- speak English almost exclusively. Their numbers are growing.
It's not personal when Hispanics speak Spanish. It's highly likely the conversation is not about you. As annoying as Spanish may be to you, try to remain polite. Injecting yourself in the conversation may be perceived as arrogant.
And don't assume that Spanish speakers don't understand English. Sentinel research shows that Hispanics in Central Florida are much more bilingual than Hispanics in South Florida.
However, it's fair to say that in certain circumstances speaking Spanish should be discouraged. It's inappropriate to speak Spanish in a group if everyone doesn't understand it. Hispanics have to work harder at this, because it's easy to slip in and out of Spanish. It's the way we think and speak.
It's also our desire for our children to speak Spanish. That doesn't mean we don't stress English. Most parents understand that English is going to make a difference in their children's future. Conversely, more non-Hispanics want their children to speak Spanish.
In addition, be aware that there are big economic forces making Spanish ubiquitous nationwide. Marketers are reaching into our pockets with Spanish-language ads, trying to get a slice of our $400 billion in spending power.
And to Vogel, who said he is of German descent, I say: The concern over Spanish shall pass. Benjamin Franklin railed against the influx of Germans, and today one of every four Americans claims to be of German descent. What a difference a couple of centuries make.
Maria Padilla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5162.