Let’s Stop Shaming Latinx Who Don’t Speak Spanish

I am a Latina who speaks Spanish, mostly because I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, and lived there for 21 years. In my case, not knowing Spanish would've probably meant failing in every single aspect of life. When I moved to the US — New York, specifically — I was told that I had to be careful about what I said in Spanish because everyone could understand me. So, I assumed all Latinx here spoke the language.

Boy, was I wrong. While yes, more Latinx than we realize can understand some of it, that doesn't mean they can speak it back, or that they should. I hadn't necessarily realized this, because I just assumed every other Latinx who lived here had moved after living in their countries of origin for a significant amount of time.

It wasn't until I started having conversations with other Spanish-speaking Latinx that I realized there was a lot of criticism towards the only English-speaking ones. I'd hear comments such as, "I think they're pretending because they feel superior" or "Their parents should be ashamed for not teaching them the language."

Then I remembered something. My uncle, his wife, and their three children moved to Canada when the littlest one was around 3 years old. My uncle worked the whole day, and my oldest cousins went to school. My aunt and my youngest cousin spent the most time together during the day, and because my aunt didn't speak English at the time, she spent the majority of her time learning the language, immersing herself in it. She'd watch TV in English, listen to English music, try to imitate how people pronounced certain words that seemed funny to her.

She asked everyone in the house to speak English to her so she could practice and learn, and everyone obliged. My aunt just wanted to better herself, to be able to be fluent enough that she could go out there and start making money to bring to the house. She's always been an entrepreneur, and she wanted to be productive. She couldn't do it not knowing the language.

As a result, my little cousin grew up in a mostly English-speaking household. And English became her first language. She's in her twenties now, and struggles when she goes to visit our abuelos in the DR. While she grew up listening to some Spanish (after all, her mom did speak it around the house when talking to her relatives, and even cursing here and there), she doesn't speak it. She can understand some of it, but wouldn't know the best way to phrase a sentence.

So, whenever I hear other Latinx talking BS because one of our own doesn't speak Spanish, it boils my blood, because a lot of times parents are just trying to do what's best for their children when they move to a foreign country, and they're doing the best they can to provide them with a dignified life.

I remember the long-distance phone calls where you could hear the desperation in my aunt's voice, the tears, the doubts, wondering if moving had been the best decision for the family. I remember going to visit my cousins and bringing everything we could that would remind them of DR, so they could feel a little closer to home. I also saw how the hard work paid off after many years, and how my little cousin has now become a wonderful woman. Who cares if she doesn't speak Spanish?

I've also met grandchildren of immigrants who have told me that their grandparents couldn't even speak Spanish when they moved to the US, and were forced to speak English however they could or they would face major retaliations.

Before judging another Latinx because they can't speak Spanish, let's think of all the sacrifices their parents and/or grandparents and relatives had to make to come to this country in order to find a better life. Not speaking Spanish doesn't make you less Latinx, but being judgmental and not supporting your community does.