Letter to the editor: Spanish exists for genuine communication, not “for fun”


“Hola amigo, como estas?” This may sound like a friendly way to greet a Hispanic, but such an approach can backfire. As a Hispanic student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I have been frequently approached in Spanish by non-Hispanics and feel compelled to write about this issue because many of us do not appreciate it. There are various reasons for this.

Firstly, it’s not necessary. We speak English. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be at a four-year university in the U.S.

Then we must ask the next important question: Why greet a Hispanic in Spanish?

Presumably it’s for fun. But, as a second point, this pokes fun at our language of Spanish, consequently poking fun at our heritage, culture and a great part of who we are.

Often when I am greeted in Spanish by non-Hispanics, I feel as if they think “Hey! You’re a Hispanic! I’m gonna whack you like a piñata by speaking to you in Spanish … because you’re a Hispanic! But that’s okay, because I’m only kidding around with you!”

Honestly, think: What is supposed to go through a Hispanic’s mind when he or she is greeted in Spanish by a non-Hispanic? “Oh, yeah, I’m Hispanic and you’re not”.

This brings up my third point that it fosters a mentality of separation as opposed to unity.

Quoting a friend of mine, we are “all created in the image and likeness of God. We should not play a role, just be our selves; which would lead to a more genuine conversation.”

Fourthly, such actions are potentially racist. I have asked myself various times, “Why did that person greet me in Spanish just now? Oh, because I’m Hispanic.” Since I look Hispanic, is it okay to point that out to me using humor – humor that is based on the color of my skin? Certainly not.

Lastly, it fosters stereotypes. Just because I look Hispanic, doesn’t mean I can speak Spanish. Many Hispanics actually do not know Spanish. Quoting another friend of mine, “I don’t appreciate how people assume I know Spanish because I’m brown.”

Here’s an analogy: imagine that you are a southerner and a freshman here at Franciscan, and you have a southern accent. Then, imagine if they greeted you with a southern accent.They did so simply because you are from the South. And occasionally, as they walked by you in the hallway, they greeted you with a southern accent. If you ever had lunch with them or hung out together, they would randomly blurt out a phrase with a southern accent, just because you were present, and they thought it was funny. Can you see how that can be offensive?

In conclusion, a clarification: This does not mean that you are unwelcome to speak Spanish.

For those who honestly desire to learn or practice Spanish, be sincere about it, not humorous, because then it feels like we are not taken seriously.

If you meet a Hispanic and wish to learn or practice Spanish, politely ask if we speak Spanish.

Please be considerate.

In contrast, if you meet a Hispanic who does not know English, then use whatever Spanish you may know, especially if the person is lost, injured or needs help in some way.

This is the overall point. Spanish exists as a genuine means of communication, not as a means of having fun.

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