“He (Jeb Bush) is a nice man. But he should really set the example by speaking English while in the United States.” (Donald Trump)
Phoenix’s Channel 12 newscaster Vanessa Ruiz, who was born in Miami and grew up in Colombia, ruffled some (probably mostly white) feathers because of the way she pronounces Spanish on the air: like a native speaker.
Ms. Ruiz, who was raised in a bilingual household, said some viewers had questioned her way of pronouncing Spanish words. Sandra Kotzambasis, the station’s news director, said viewers were asking why Ms. Ruiz ‘rolled her Rs.’
Viewers were also upset at the way Ms. Ruiz pronounced the names of local areas that had Spanish names originating in colonial times:
(S)ome viewers objected to . . . her habit of pronouncing local place names, such as the city of “Mesa,” as these names were meant to be pronounced. They preferred that a journalist who has lived and worked throughout the United States and Latin America pronounce such words their way (‘May-Sah’).
This is another instance of the crazy issues that arise in reference to Spanish in this country. The viewers seem to be saying: We have difficulty pronouncing Spanish as required by grammar so why shouldn’t you also? Makes sense?
I’ve been writing and doing research in the area of language and oppression for a few years but I was not familiar with the forms of discrimination that Ms. Ruiz experienced. On the surface it seems to be a nonsensical, petty complaint, but it is just another effort to deny Spanish legitimacy at any level.
The issue of language suppression is not just an abstract academic pursuit for me. It is personal.
My parents, brother and I left Cuba in 1962. Our native language was Spanish. My family arrived in Miami and shortly thereafter I enrolled in High School. I was not fluent in English and was completely lost the first day in class. I turned to another Cuban student to ask him a question in Spanish and he said “They don’t want us to speak Spanish.” As I sat there trying to make sense of what the other student said, the white teacher caught on and told me, “You are going to have to learn.” I had arrived from Cuba just a few days before and was not fluent in English but the school expected me to communicate in a language I didn’t know and to refrain from communicating in a language I knew. How is that for surreal?
These ideas make sense only in light of what Joe Feagin calls the white racial frame, the complex worldview that insists that only whites and their culture really matter. It is a crazy worldview purported to hold the ultimate truth
My brother lives in Puerto Rico. He and his wife have a teenage daughter and have not escaped the economic difficulties that Puerto Ricans have been suffering for a while. He has a good profession and is fluent in English. Some members of my family couldn’t understand why he and his family wouldn’t move from Puerto Rico to the mainland where he could find better job opportunities. His answer was direct: He knew how Latinos, particularly those with “accents,” were often treated in the mainland. He wasn’t willing to expose his daughter to such treatment in exchange for any amount of money. He is lucky in that he had a choice. Unfortunately, there are many others who don’t.