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‘Speaking non-English’ is speaking Spanish

More than 62 million Americans are of Hispanic origin, 70% of whom speak Spanish at home. Although Latin voices are becoming louder and louder, there is still a long way to go

Ana de Armas in 'Saturday Night Live.'
Ana de Armas in 'Saturday Night Live.'Cortesía

Puerto Rican singer Benito Martínez Ocasio aka Bad Bunny asked the audience: “What do you prefer? Me talking in English o español (or in Spanish)?” “¡Español! (Spanish!)” the audience responded in unison. “Entonces, ustedes mandan (you guys are in charge),” Bad Bunny replied to the thousands of people dancing reggaeton.

This scene took place at perhaps the world’s biggest festival, Coachella, in California’s Indio desert. It’s just a short drive from Los Angeles, where Bad Bunny performed at the Grammy Awards a couple of months ago. During his performance, the closed captions read “speaking non-English; singing in non-English,” as if it was too difficult to use the lyrics themselves, or even write, ahem, “speaking in Spanish; singing in Spanish,” lest someone wonder what language it was.

Last weekend, Bad Bunny became the first Spanish-speaking artist to headline Coachella. Rosalía, who has also been a regular guest at the festival, also made a splash at the event, addressing the audience in Spanish. Almost at the same time as the Catalan artist was making thousands of fans dance in the Indio desert, on one of the most recognized shows on American television, Saturday Night Live, the Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas opened the program with a monologue in Spanish to explain that she was born in Cuba and that she was about to become a U.S. citizen. That night’s episode also featured Colombian singer Karol G.

All this has happened in the last few days, but a couple of months ago, the omnipresent Pedro Pascal, the most desired Chilean — and perhaps man in the world — also appeared on SNL. In his opening monologue, he said that everything he has achieved in his career is thanks to his parents’ decision to flee Pinochet’s dictatorship. In what language did he give the speech? The same one in which Shakira sang with Bizarrap on Jimmy Fallon’s show shortly after.

The importance of Spanish — for some apparently “speaking non-English” — is not new: more than 62 million Americans are of Hispanic origin, 70% of whom use the language in the family environment. Despite the fact that Latin voices are becoming louder and louder, there is still a long way to go. Days ago, Mexican actress Karla Souza sparked controversy on social media after telling an anecdote in which, despite her appearance as a white, blonde and light-eyed woman, in the U.S. audiovisual industry she is still considered a minority — that is, among Afro-descendants or Hispanics, mostly Mexicans — and therefore is paid less than her white U.S. colleagues. It wouldn’t have hurt for Souza to have been careful in the way she delivered such an important message, instead of implying that she was a “person of color.”

Souza’s problem, if we can call it that, is one that comes from certain privilege. Everything that has to do with Hispanic and Latin culture, including speaking in Spanish, is just now entering a new phase in the United States. There are millions of Spanish-speaking people living in the U.S., and thousands of others who try to reach the country every year, who do not even dream of these problems. Discrimination and structural problems have changed little over the years, despite the fact that Latin culture is more present every day and that world-renowned artists like Bad Bunny remind us not to be afraid because, at the end of the day, “speaking non-English” means speaking Spanish.

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