Regardless of political affiliation, I would find it very hard to believe that any Latino out there didn’t think San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro‘s keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention was inspiring. Castro spoke so passionately and lovingly about his abuelita, his upbringing and all the hurdles his family has overcome that I’m sure many Latinos identified with him immediately.
Hearing him sprinkle his speech with Spanish here and there was music to my ears. But I, like many other Latinos out there, erroneously assumed he was bilingual. I don’t know if it was because during his speech he said his grandmother, who didn’t finish elementary school, taught herself to read and write in Spanish. Or because his mother, Rosie Castro, was a staunch supporter of the Chicano movement back in the 70s, belonging to a particular organization called La Raza Unida which believed maintaining the mother tongue was of extreme importance. Then again, maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part.
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That’s why it was a letdown to discover that the current Latino star within the Democratic party “doesn’t really speak Spanish,” as Castro himself admitted in a New York Times profile back in 2010. Armed with this information, some in the media wasted no time launching into the tired, old-age debate about whether speaking Spanish makes you more or less of a real Latino. Really? Who cares? Saying that someone is not Latino enough if he doesn’t speak Spanish is as absurd as saying that someone is not American enough if he is bilingual.
In any event, while everyone debates that topic to death, I, on the other hand, am more intrigued by this: why is it exactly that Latinos like Julián Castro and many others like him don’t speak Spanish? While heartbreaking, the answer is very simple, as Castro’s own mother, Rosie, explained in an interview, this is what her teachers would do back when she was in school: “They would charge us a quarter if you were caught speaking Spanish, and incidentally that’s how much lunch cost. We were put down so often that the message was clear—Spanish was a bad language that shouldn’t be spoken.”
Read full post by Roxana Soto at SpanglishBaby.