How To Speak Spanish In America

If you ever stop in El Paso, Texas, for a short visit, don’t be shocked to hear a significant amount of Spanish spoken by locals. You will hear Spanish spoken in malls, schools, park, movie theatres and public buildings. Some visitors in an opprobrious manner will wonder if El Paso is part of Mexico rather then Texas.

El Paso Texas, Franklin Mountains

One reason why Spanish, the dominant lingua franca, is so prevalent in El Paso, Los Angeles, California, and Phoenix, Arizona, (to name a few), is that these territories were acquired from Spain. Not to mention the added flow of immigrants from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and multiple Spanish speaking South American countries.

The Spanish language was brought to the great Southwest in part by Spanish explorers. They were; Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, who explored the Southwest from 1540-1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who explored the Pacific Coast, becoming the first European to see San Diego Harbor and continuing as far north as Point Reyes.

Don Juan de Oñate, El Paso International Airport

Juan de Onate explored and settled permanent communities in New Mexico in the 1590s. These Spaniards not only introduced the local natives to a new religion but also inculcated a new language. The Spaniards were not cognizant that by their action, in time, their decedents would be viewed through the glasses of xenophobia in the Southwest, and would be generally distrusted.



U.S.-Mexican War
U.S.-Mexican War

Spaniards require the Native Americans of the Southwest to speak Spanish, yet the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the U.S.-Mexican War of 1848 did not need Southwest remaining Mexicans settlers and Native Americans to speak English. For decades the U.S. government permitted local Southwest governments to use Spanish in official capacities. An overwhelming amount of southwesterners, rest on their laurels that the U.S. does not have an official language. An interesting fact is that the U.S. has the second-largest number of Spanish speakers in the world, outnumbered only by Mexico, according to the Cervantes Institute. Most will agree with Frank Smith who said,

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”



Rita Mae Brown
Rita Mae Brown

If you travel to El Paso or any city in the Southwest, the Hispanic family is the primary re-enforcer of the Spanish language. A high number, but not all, believe that learning Spanish is very important to preserve their culture in the United States. Rita Mae Brown supported that belief when she said,

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

An outside family influence to maintain Spanish in the family is radio and television for which the family believes to be a perfect vehicle for the cross-cultural understanding of the old world and the new world. In 1990 the Supreme Court further endorsed Spanish in Astroline Communications Co. vs. Shurberg and Metro Broadcasting vs. FCC. Why would the Supreme Court want to support the Spanish language in the U.S.? The court found that the FCC had an obligation to provide for “diversity” in broadcasting under the Communications Act of 1934, thus, supporting the re-enforcement of learning Spanish.

“In the Spanish-language media, you also get the human interest, the arts and sports stories…Latinos are reduced to only one slice in the Anglo media, while in the Spanish media, a whole community is presented,”

said UCLA Professor David Hayes-Bautista in a 1994 American Society of Newspaper Editors’ report. This appears to be another reason why Spanish is re-enforced in the U.S. Spanish media.



In a report, Spanish: a language of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the authors indicate that the children of Mexican-Americans and Spanish-speaking immigrants who choose English rather than Spanish as their home language can be problematic. They argue that the loss of language and culture has been shown to have adverse academic and cognitive effects. They point out two reasons why: the first is that the lack of learning Spanish can alienate the child from family and secondly, from their sense of cultural rootedness. One can wonder how in the turn of the century European immigrants who arrived in the U.S. overcame such a problem? Or perhaps the perceived problem was not a long-lasting problem.

One positive outcome for Spanish speaking individuals in El Paso and any city in the Southwest is that they have become fluent Spanish-English bilingual speakers. The reason is that south westerners want to be competitive in a globalized economy. Also, it creates more opportunities, more influence, and potentially more profit as well.

When touring the great southwest, and you hear Spanish, don’t worry because you are in the presence of people who may be bilingual in languages and also can be very patriotic to America. If it’s difficult for you to learn Spanish, then smile. Someone once said,

“There are hundreds of languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all.”

Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” As many south westerners would say, “Adios. Hasta mañana”


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