Spanish as Old Respected Language: Why Not Now?

The Spanish language has followed two paths in the history of the United States: early on as a respected language and more recently as the derided vernacular of a racialized people. The majority of the sociological literature has focused on the racialization of Spanish and skipped over the “acceptable” roots of the language in this country. But both coexist today and the former’s status cannot be properly understood without consideration of the status of the latter.

The respectability of Spanish can be traced to early colonial days. Both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson stated that the study of Spanish would be beneficial to young men interested in commerce and Jefferson included Spanish in the curriculum that he designed for the College of William and Mary. By the nineteenth century Spanish-language instruction was adopted by many institutions of higher education, including Harvard University and other Ivy League schools and Spanish-language newspapers were published in New Mexico, Louisiana, and other areas of the United States.

Spanish remains “respectable” in academic and artistic areas, but since the end of the war between the US and Mexico in the 1840s there has been a significant white racialization of Spanish as the language of conquered Latino peoples. Even as millions of former Mexican citizens, most of whom spoke Spanish as their native tongue, were incorporated into the United States, the dominant declared vernacular Spanish as foreign and not belonging in the United States.

Such assertions are simplistic and inaccurate. They represent justifications of the subjugation of Latino peoples and lack a factual basis. explains the complex history of Spanish in the US and its legitimacy (pp. 4-5):

After the passage of centuries, Spanish became the native language of Spanish settlements in Louisiana, parts of the future U.S. Midwest, and the future Southwest, and the lingua franca for many American Indians who lived among these Spanish-speaking settlements. Over the course of the twentieth century, migration to the United States from Latin American countries has replenished Spanish’s place in the country and bolstered perceptions of Spanish as an immigrant language, distracting most from its earlier manifestations. This long exposure to the Spanish language makes it part of the nation’s fabric.

Although I have not conducted a systematic study, it seems to me that recently the racialization of Spanish has been fused with the xenophobia that has made “Latino” and vernacular Spanish coterminous with “illegal” and the rejection of immigrants entails the rejection of their everyday language.

Research that have conducted shows that Spanish speakers “caught” conversing in their own language are admonished to “speak English, this is America.” In other words, Spanish does not belong in the United States as a vernacular and neither do you as a Latino. This situation approaches lunacy. The deep rootedness of vernacular Spanish in North and South America is undeniable and its rejection as a legitimate everyday language in the US defies its importance in areas such as politics, business, and the media in North and South America. These are positions incongruent with the facts but consonant with a White Racial Frame that provides an ideology that supports the exploitation of a vulnerable proletariat.

I would venture a guess that, in the eyes of the white elite, the Spanish language as an academic and literate language that does not challenge their interests, will remain respectable while vernacular Spanish, the language of the oppressed, will continue to be a handy tool to deride Latinos/”illegals” for a long time. That is, the treatment of Spanish in the US by whites is about a log more than language. Try white racism.

More Hostility to Spanish: An Arizona Mayor

is a small community in Arizona (pop. 1900) located approximately 20 miles from the Mexican Border. Mayor Ken Taylor was upset when he received an invitation to a meeting of U.S. and Mexican border city mayors because it was written in both English and Spanish, or “Spanish/Mexican,” to John Cook, executive director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association in El Paso:

I will NOT attend a function that is sent to me in Spanish/Mexican. One nation means one language and I am insulted by the division caused by language.

Cook’s reply to Taylor’s email was sharp:

I will certainly remove you from our email list. The purpose of the Border Mayors Association is to speak with one voice in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City about issues that impact our communities, not to speak in one language. My humble apologies if I ruffled your feathers.

Taylor, in turn, :

America is going ‘Down Hill’ fast because we spend more time catering to others that are concerned with their own self interests. It is far past time to remember that we should be ‘America First’ … there is NOTHING wrong with that. My feathers are ruffled anytime I see anything American putting other countries First. If I was receiving correspondence from Mexican interests, I would expect to see them listed First. Likewise, when I see things produced from America, I EXPECT to see America First.

Mr. Taylor’s reaction is rooted in a portion of the that vilifies Latinos and their culture and language. It was early developed by Southern slaveholders and other white elites to justify the US seizure of sovereign Mexican territory in the mid 1800’s. This segment of the White Racial Frame received a “shot in the arm” as a result of the spread of Trump’s blatant anti-Latino rhetoric.

Mr. Taylor should be aware of two things:

First, to call Spanish “foreign” is ignorant of history. The presence of Spanish in what is known today as “the Southwest” precedes the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth Colony in 1620.

Second, with the growth of the Latino population, Spanish has become indispensable for businesses and government, maybe not in Fort Huachuca City but definitely everywhere else. Spanish is here to stay.

Jeb Bush: Latinos’ Candidate?

Jeb Bush finally announced his candidacy for President of the United States as a Republican. According to a reporter, as

[A]n executive animated by big ideas and uniquely capable of carrying them out, pointing to his record in Florida of introducing a taxpayer-financed school voucher program, expanding charter schools, reducing the size of the state government by thousands of workers and cutting taxes by billions.

He also portrays himself as near-Latino.

One of Bush’s campaign major strategies is the pursuit of the Latino vote. It centers on Bush’s claim to Latinos that “I’m close to you, I understand you”: I speak your language, I embrace your culture and I know firsthand the immigrants’ experience. He says nothing about issues of importance to Latinos.

Bush’s repeatedly emphasizes his fluency in Spanish. OK Bush, it’s nice that Spanish is important to your family, but how does that help Latinos? Does that mean that you’ll champion immigration justice or accessible health care for poor Latinos? If not, which is certainly the case, your Spanish is just for show.

Bush also :

Here in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has become a day where we celebrate our ties with Mexico and the great contributions of the Mexican-American community in the U.S. In my case, this relationship is very profound. My wife Columba was born in Mexico, my family has always had strong ties with Mexico and I have great respect and affection for our neighboring country.

What Mexico are you talking about, Jeb? The Mexico of Mexican elites? I doubt that you are speaking of the large number of people that would need your help the most: the undocumented poor who experience exploitation in their jobs and racial profiling on the streets.

:

I know the power of the immigrant experience because I live it each and every day. I know the immigrant experience because I married a beautiful girl from Mexico.

Come on, Jeb: Are you serious? What immigrant experience are you talking about? Your wife married a wealthy white aristocrat whose family includes two former Presidents of the United States. Your wife’s experiences have nothing in common with the mass of Latin American immigrants. She has almost certainly not been racially profiled in public spaces or spent years in this country without papers afraid that after years of hard work she could be apprehended and deported.

Jeb touts portions of his biography that are vacuous and not substitutes for a clear statement about how he would address as President the needs of the mass of Mexican and other Latino immigrants or the large population of poor US born Latinos. Don’t expect Latinos to vote for you simply because you speak Spanish and your wife is a Mexican immigrant. Offer them concrete solutions to their problems.

Latinos’ Skin Tone & Republican Partisanship

In a recent article Professor analyzed the association between Latinos’ skin tone and four forms of Republican partisanship: degree of identification as a Republican (ranging from “Strong Republican” to “Strong Democrat,” that is, “Weak Republican”) as well as voting Republican in the 2012 Presidential, House and Senate elections.

Professor Piston presents evidence that the lighter their skin tone, the more likely is their support of the four forms of Republican partisanship.

The prizing of light skin is an old component of the . It was also present in the old Spanish racial frame in the Southwest, where Spanish light skin was valued over “Indian” dark complexion. Thus Latinos have been exposed to two different white racial frames.

Immigration has been a vibrant issue in the last few years. Some light-skinned Latinos, possibly affected by both racial frames as well as cognizant of the white elite’s deprecatory views of “dark illegals,” might want to distance themselves from the latter. But their reaction is not just bigotry: light skinned than their dark counterparts.

And it is to their advantage to support Republicans, who invariably look after the better off.

It would be incorrect to attribute support for the Republican Party among Latinos just to skin color. Latinos who oppose left-leaning politicians in the US and Latin America tend to favor Republican administrations’ hard line against such politicians. Whatever the reason, these Latinos should not forget that they favor a Republican party that would not hesitate to end its support if it benefited white elites.

Spanish in the US: Racialization (Part II)

Victorious intruders often justify their actions by playing up their self-defined probity vis-à-vis the supposed wickedness of their victims. White settlers in the 19th Century Southwest were no exception: they held an undisguised contempt for Mexican citizens residing in the region.

One of the “racial” traits that “tainted” Mexicans was their language. In the aftermath of the 1848 Mexican-American War, the eradication of Spanish became an important goal of whites in power. They started early in a person’s life. To “divest” Mexican children of their racial baggage,

In 1929 some Mexican Americans in Corpus Christi, Texas, decided that to improve their lot they would succeed in areas in which they were supposedly deficient. To this end, they founded the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), restricting membership to US citizens and emphasizing English-language skills.

The efforts to squelch Spanish extended well into the 20th Century. They included the portrayal of Spanish as an intruder in English’s linguistic realm. Harvard luminaries Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Huntington (2004) were among the proponents of this perspective.

In a similar vein, the

America’s culture … is still primarily the culture of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century settlers who founded American society. The central elements of that culture … include . . . the English language.

There is overwhelming evidence that the “establishment” still favors the hegemony of English. However, white economic and political elites have been forced to relent in their “monoglot” policies, not so much as a gesture of sympathy toward Latinos but as a necessity for these elites to pursue Latino votes and markets.

Spanish in the U.S.: A “Respectable” Language (Part I)

References to Spanish in the US tend to evoke memories of Latinos’ racist oppression. However, there was a time in the early days of this country when Spanish was regarded by important whites as a “respectable” language.

Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wrote about the importance of Spanish to the US. In a document he penned outlining his ideas about the education of youth in Pennsylvania, .

Jefferson’s admiration for Spanish is evident in this passage: “With respect to modern languages . . . Spanish is most important to an American . . .” One scholars notes, “His interest in Spanish was instrumental in its incorporation into the curriculum of William and Mary in 1780″ ()

Franklin’s and Jefferson’s positive view was shared by other members of the elite then. For example, a Puritan divine, Cotton Mather, found in Spanish an important tool to spread the “Christian” message to Spanish-American Catholics. wrote a pamphlet in Spanish, La fe del Christiano, hoping to convert them “from Darkness to Light,” that is, from the Catholic faith to Protestantism.

There was an early demand for private instruction in Spanish. In 1747 the New York Gazette announced the establishment of an Academy where Augustus Vaughn taught several languages, including Spanish, “correctly and expeditiously.” In 1773 another New Yorker, Anthony Fiva, advertised instruction in Romance languages, including Spanish, “in their greatest purity.” ().

Instruction in Spanish began at the college level in the 18th Century. It was offered at major colleges and universities such as Pennsylvania (1750), Dickinson (1814) , Yale (1826), Princeton (1830) and Amherst (1827). However, the great prestige of Spanish instruction at the university level did not reach its peak until 1816 with the establishment of the Smith Professorship of the French and Spanish Languages and Literature at Harvard ().

As US expansionism grew, however, the esteemed status of Spanish turned into contempt as white settlers moved to Texas and the US seized Mexican territory after the conclusion of . Conquering whites made the squelching of Spanish a central component of their takeover. Their strategy was familiar in history: to break a people, you dispossess them of such an important part of their lives as language. Their justification was simple: the language of an inferior race was necessarily an inferior language. Thus began the racialization of Spanish in the US.