Spanish is not a foreign language in the United States. It has been around for centuries since the first Spanish settlers arrived in Florida in 1513.
When Juan Ponce de León arrived to the coast of what is now Florida, there was a vibrant Native American population that spoke neither English or Spanish but their own indigenous languages.
There were about 300 languages spoken by the aboriginals, many of these languages sadly disappeared and died over time.
Spanish was therefore, the first European language spoken in this part of the world before the United States existed as a nation and way before English became the most widespread language in the whole territory, a process that happened gradually during the 19th century.
In 1607, the first English colonizers arrived in Jamestown, Virginia . That is almost a century later than the Spanish so for a long time, Spanish was the main language of many current states that at the time were controlled by the Spanish speaking settlers.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 put an end to the Mexican-American War and English took over Spanish in the American Southwest.
The “California Gold Rush” (1848-1855) brought to the area massive arrivals of native English speakers from the East who were searching for gold. They imposed anglocentric laws to control the market and their power brought the dominant use of English over other languages.
The United States was pretty much a multilingual territory. Before colonialism, there were the many languages of the Native Americans and when the European settlers arrived, they brought the Spanish language, English, French, German, Dutch or Swedish.
English became the common language of the territory as in the thirteen colonies that later became the United States, English was the main language.
Even today, the country does not have an official language, it is not recognised in the American Constitution and there is no federal law that establishes English as an official language. However, it is a given that English is the most spoken language in the country and the one needed to thrive and succeed in the nation.
But despite the imposition of English, Spanish remained and flourished. According to a study by the prestigious Cervantes Institute, in the United States, there are about 58 million Spanish speakers (about 42 million are native speakers and the others are people who learned Spanish as a second language) . These figures make perfect sense considering that about 62 million people in the United States are of Hispanic origin.
The “Yearbook of Spanish in the world 2019” claims that by 2060, the United States will be the second Spanish speaking country in the world after Mexico (124 million) and therefore surpassing the number of Spanish speakers of Spain (47 million), the European nation that brought Spanish to the Americas.
While native English speakers are notably higher than native Spanish speakers in the United States, Spanish is the most common language after English. Therefore, it is about time , the United States embraces this language as what it really is, an American language spoken by American citizens on a daily basis all over the United States.
The “English only” attitude should be a thing of the past. Speaking a second language, being bilingual or multilingual should be embraced not penalised or feared.
In 2018, Spanish speakers were harassed for speaking Spanish in New York. Manhattan attorney Aaron Schlossberg, pestered hospitality staff when he heard them speaking in Spanish and insisted that “in his country” they should speak English.
But “his country”, is also the country of those Spanish speakers Mr Schlossberg stigmatised by associating the Spanish language with undocumented migrants. It also showed a general lack of culture and knowledge of the history of the United States because Spanish is undeniably deeply rooted in its history.
Perhaps, it is the school system the one that needs to change according to the times, and teach history from the point of view of both winners and losers because there is two sides to every story and history is currently being taught from the point of view of the winners. History lessons are pretty one sided in many parts of the world and not just the United States.
Out of the 6.000 languages in the planet, the Spanish language is the third most spoken language in the world after English and Mandarin, therefore there is a lot to gain from this linguistic diversity the United States enjoys.
In a letter dated 1787, Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father, the main author of the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809, wrote to his nephew Peter Carr:
“ Bestow great attention on Spanish and endeavour to acquire an accurate knowledge of it. Our future connections with Spain and Spanish America will render that language of valuable acquisition. The ancient history of that part of America, too, is written in that language. I am sending you a dictionary.”
With a growing Hispanic population, the Spanish language is definitely contributing to making America great again. A nation that embraces languages, diversity, cultures and ethnicities is a nation that will always prosper for the benefit of all.
American identity is not exclusive to native English speakers.Being American and a Spanish speaker is just as American as being American and an English speaker. Quoting the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano:
“Identity is not a museum piece sitting stock-still in a display case, but rather the endlessly astonishing synthesis of the contradictions of everyday life”.
For many Americans, Spanish is their mother tongue, and the sooner we all accept and respect that, the better. Linguistic diversity is a strength in any society and never a weakness.