Silencing Spanish Speakers

CNN reports an act of silencing Spanish that took place at a Burger King restaurant in Eustis, Florida on July 6.

Two white customers became upset because a manager had a brief conversation in Spanish with one of his employees. After the employee left, the customers told the manager they wanted to complain. Thinking they were dissatisfied with their meal, he offered to give them credit or a free desert. One of the customers explained that their complaint was about the manager’s speaking Spanish. They said that he shouldn’t be speaking Spanish but “American English” instead because “we’re in America.” The manager said, “No ma’am, I don’t,” and one the protagonists told the manager to go back to Mexico. The manager responded “”Guess what ma’am, I’m not Mexican [he is of Puerto Rican descent] but you’re being very prejudiced and I want you out of my restaurant, right now.” The customers responded that what they meant was that the manager should speak Spanish at home, not in public places like the restaurant and added they would leave after they finished their meals but left soon thereafter left after the manager threatened to call the police.

This was an episode in silencing. Joe Feagin and I discussed silencing in our book, where we point out that silencing is related to beliefs in the White Racial Frame that define vernacular Spanish as not having legitimacy in the United States and others have the authority to interfere in conversations in Spanish and demand that the speakers stop and switch to English.

As we said in the book and have repeated elsewhere, silencing is on the surface absurd since it demands that people abandon their language, the one they feel comfortable speaking, and switch to English, a foreign language. It is in fact an extreme act of denigration against Latinos, a rooted people in the US, and their language, which is equally rooted. On the surface it is white elite racism in its purest form: claiming white supremacy over vernacular Spanish on utterly racist, xenophobic, and irrational grounds.

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