Latino Peoples’ Resistance to Language Silencing

Research Joe Feagin and I conducted revealed that when silencing attempts are directed at Latino peoples they frequently do not accept them meekly but are likely to respond against the perpetrators’ command in strong terms. Here is an example: A Cuban-American executive and his wife, though fluent in English, spoke in Spanish to their son so that he would learn the language. They were at Disneyworld and after he spoke in Spanish to their son an unsavory silencing episode occurred that could have turned into a tragedy. He described it as follows:

I had a really bad experience at Disneyworld . . . . My son at the time was three . . . . He jumped the line and went straight to where there was Pluto or Mickey Mouse or something and I said “[Son’s name], come back,” in Spanish and . . . ran after him. And I heard behind me somebody say, “It would be a fucking spic that would cut the line.” Now my wife saw who said it, and I said ”Who said that?” in English and nobody said a word. And I said [to my wife], “Point him out, I want to know who said that,” and she refused. I was like, “Who was the motherfucker who said that?” I said, “Be brave enough to say it to my face because I’m going to kill you.” You can see me, I’m 6’3’’, 275 [pounds]. Nobody volunteered . . . . [Interviewer:] So nobody stepped up? No, no and there was a bunch of guys there, and I would have thrown down two or three of them; I wouldn’t have had a problem (pp. 49-50).

The executive was willing to confront the perpetrator physically. Fortunately, the situation did not reach that point, but he stated in unequivocal terms his opposition to the treatment received by his child from a white bigot.

A recent silencing episode resulted in a surprising and delightful case of resistance. The victim of the silencing attempt relates the episode as follows:

This man just asked me to “please stop speaking Spanish” on this plane to NYC (in his defense it’s very early and he’s racist) so the man next to him STARTED SPEAKING SPANISH and then the flight attendant [started speaking Spanish as well].

The silencer did not anticipate that there we other Spanish speakers nearby. One can only imagine his reaction when confronted with a joint resistance response. As the number of Spanish speakers in the US is augmented with the immigration from Latin America, and since there are no indications that tolerance of Spanish will increase among whites and others, one can expect episodes of the silencing-resistance dialectic to become more frequent.

Since it would be absurd to expect a people to become crypto-speakers of their own language, it seems as if an increase in tolerance for Spanish among those who blindly oppose it is the only solution to defuse a potentially dangerous situation. We can start by electing politicians who hold a pro-Latino platform and display an interest in speaking Spanish in public and thus will promote its legitimacy.

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