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Are you Hispanic—or Latino—if you don’t speak Spanish?

I believe language is an intrinsic element of any culture; it helps us communicate and express what we perceive, feel and think. Consequently, to fully experience a specific culture, one must understand its language. During my first semester in college, I met classmates who did not speak Spanish even though their parents were Mexican. I found this a little weird because having grown up in Peru, a Spanish speaking country, I perceived English as a language spoken by white people—my father was white and so was all his family who lived in Maine. In my mind, Spanish was the language spoken by most people—even my father spoke it, albeit his own ‘gringo’ version—and so did my mother, who has dark skin and is originally from Peru. Therefore I was thrown off by my Mexican American classmates who did not know how to speak Spanish. Eventually, I became friends with a few of them, and understood that their parents had motivated them to only speak in English so they could adapt more easily to America. Could my non Spanish-speaking friends be considered Hispanic or Latino? If so, then what parameters constitute being a Hispanic or Latino? Or does ethnicity dictate whether you are Hispanic or Latino?

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Hi Erich,

I’m glad you were able to view the issue from another perspective.  See, I am the parent who’s kids are now struggling to speak Spanish.  My mother speaks it fluently and I speak it well but it does not come naturally.  Embarrassed is what I am, for my kids’ struggle with speaking Spanish.  When I question why I didn’t put effort into teaching them, I end up with what sounds like excuses.  Bottom line, I just didn’t think it through.  I consider myself a good parent who’s kids are upstanding citizens, hard workers, great moral/values, neither have given me any challenges (other than typical age appropriate behaviors), all manageable and controllable.  Most importantly, they are spiritually sound.  Can I kick myself for not taking advantage of my skills while they were at home, absolutely!  Be it as it may, lesson learned, no dwelling over it, I move on and help them in any way possible.  Good for you and your father, that’s great!  To answer your question, I believe ethnicity and pride dictates how one describes/defines themselves.  I stand tall and proud to be a Latina!  Thanks for reading and have a Fantastic Day!

Hi Delores,

I understand what you mean. My older sister has three kids and she also struggles with teaching Spanish to them. Her kids don't have other family members or friends to practice, therefore it's difficult for them to speak and understand Spanish. Yet my sister tries to speak Spanish to them whenever she has the time.

A few other members also shared their thoughts about how they perceive the word Hispanic and Latino, you can read their comments here:





I am so glad that you presented this topic for dicussion.  My beliefs are comparable to yours.  As a Puerto Rican who grew up "pura cepa" in La Playa de Ponce.  Where Spanish is the language.   I was taught that English was important only because it permitted communication with "los americanos", which could enhance employment possibilities.  My wife who is from Mexico feels the same way.  We always have spoken Spanish to each other and to our children.  It is important that they have an identity and know who they are, and where where they are from.

Here on the United States mainland, it is interesting to see more and more "Hispanics" who, could not pass for anything else, refuse to speak their own language, apparently with the hope of passing for "white".    They discard their cultural identity, which they see as inferior, in favor of the mainstream "gringo" identity.  They view the real Spanish-speaking Latinos, who watch Univision and Telemundo, and listen to Latino radio, as inferior. 

I even see Latin American- born couples not only speaking accented, broken English to their children, but even to each other.  ¡Qué locura! es esa!  ¡Que clase de complejo!



Hi Anthony,

The spectrum you describe has a huge gap.  You comment on Hispanics “hope of passing for white.”  I struggle with this comment because I’m in a predominantly White American and Mexican American community.  I disagree that Latinas/Latinos try to act or portray themselves as white, I do believe however that the odds are against them, to a certain degree.  Allow me to explain.  Speaking Spanish was not comfortable for me growing up, English was my comfort language.  I am now 4+ generations born in the US.  I have no family in Mexico as are many of the kids you reference in your reply.  I’m not defending those who deliberately choose not to speak Spanish and do present themselves as white but for the others who are somewhat removed from the comfort and advantage many other families are afforded.  There is no effort needed where there is comfort.  As I stated before, did I disservice my children by not teaching them, absolutely!  They understand and speak minimal but have a hunger and desire to learn.  In my opinion, this is profound and I believe it’s the case for many others.  Thanks for reading.



Thank you for your response.  I applaud your willingness to engage in this important  dialogue.  Please do not misunderstand.  I am not criticizing the Hispanic who has successfully achieved assimilation into the dominant society.  On the contrary, such assimilation would be expected of a person like yourself with 4+ generations born in the US.   Even I, a first generation Latino, have been compelled to forego many aspects of my Puerto Rican heritage, language, and cultural identity to achieve my “American Dream” here on the mainland.  The fact that I am able to write to you in a language not my own displays my English language proficiency.


Let’s examine this situation historically.  During the early part of the twentieth century, immigrants from all over the world, upon their arrival at Ellis Island, were expected to assimilate into the American mainstream.  In fact, the quicker they developed English language proficiency and  "melted" into the "pot" of American culture, the easier it was to be accepted by the dominant white Anglo-Saxon Protestant society.  This assimilation meant access to the “American Dream”:  job status, a better income, homeownership and citizenship, etc.


Cultural assimilation is described as the process by which a person or a group's language and, or culture come to resemble those of the dominant group.  In order to achieve assimilation,  ethnic groups were required to give up their respective language, religious practices, dietary and eating habits, customs, values, and norms.  In to achieve assimilation, one had to be willing, and able, to conform and let go of one’s cultural and ethnic foundation.


Unfortunately, non-white latino immigrants in the US have been faced with more difficult challenges with respect to their assimilation process.   They are the victims of prejudice, hostility, racial profiling and police brutality .  The dominant society also has many biases that make it difficult for non-white latino immigrants to be accepted into the economic, political and social structure.  Full assimilation only occurs when new members of a society become indistinguishable from members of the dominant group.  Realistically, this is something that is not possible for the non-white latino immigrant. 


Ultimately, the question becomes: if we are not able to fully integrate ourselves into the dominant society, is it desirable to lose all aspects of our own heritage, language, cultural and ethnic identity? 


I personally prescribe to the concept of cultural pluralism, which emphasizes mutual respect between the various groups in a society for each other’s cultures, a respect that allows minorities to maintain express their own culture and language without suffering prejudice or hostility.


I just joined NSHP and I really thought this article was interesting.  

I was born in Nicaragua and immigrated to the U.S. at 9 years old.  In this point in my life Spanish was the only language my family and I knew.  Thus, for me Spanish is a beautiful language, one that I am very proud of speaking.  I have an accent when I speak English and even my Chicano husband makes fun of me at times as some words are difficult for me to pronounce.  And unfortunately, Americans do not think our Spanish accent is Beautiful as they admire European accents.  And they also feel that knowing Spanish is not a talent, for example my White coworker told me that she learned Spanish in a high school class (1 class) and so "it is not that difficult." Yet I still translate for her.

The point that I am trying to make is that Latino/Hispanic Americans have been taught to  be ashamed of their language.  Because is "easy," it's not pretty like French, and the accent is "heavy."  I had the opportunity to speak Spanish fluently because I grew up in California in the 1990's.  Many of my friends who do not speak Spanish were born here and are children of Chicano parents who grew up in times of turnmoil.  They did not teach their children Spanish because they did not want their accent to prevent them from job opportunities.  They hoped that if they sounded "white" they would be more marketable.  Sadly, this was not the case.  They were still discriminated.  Knowing this allows me not to judge my folks that do not speak Spanish, I challenge them to learn and tell them that I can help.  In fact, my dear friend has asked me to call her home often to speak Spanish to her 4 year old daughter.  And as Latinos/Hispanics knowing this, is important not to discriminate each other, but rather understand such challenges that we have endured as a group that has sometimes pushed us to reject our own heritage.

I believe that you are Hispanic or latino if you were parents are from Latin America.  I also believe that we should not limit children by not letting them speak other languages.  I believe that some parents do this and it is sad.  Knowledge is power.  I try and learn other languages.  I would love to know as many as I could.  Sometimes people speak in their language so you cannot know what they are saying and I believe this is rude.  This is life and nothing we can do about it.  Selena was an example of what you were talking about, it could be that Mexicans do this and sadly they are not the only ones.  I loved and still love Selena I think that she was a beautiful soul and is in heaven right now. 

I have to admit when I read the title of this discussion I struck me in my gut as this topic is a passion of mine. My father was Puerto Rican born there and my mother was American. I typically don't post to any sites however I feel that Hispanics/Latinos need to understand their own prejudice against their own. I spent time with my father and his family because my mother saw to it, realizing how important it was for me to be apart of my other culture. Minimal effort was made for me to learn the language. I learned dancing, some cooking, and some cultural aspects however the language seemed to be too much effort. I now as a professional or even someone that is involved in Latino community get criticized against from my own people. It has been a challenging upbringing because of it and now my children face similar challenges. I am more than proud to be multiracial. It allows me to be extremely open minded and I am blessed to have a variety of traditions however proud as I am disappointed in the judgment passed on me when not speaking the language was not my choice.

I do try to speak the words and phrases I know and try to teach my children as well but again it is minimal.

Hopefully, I just gave readers something to think about. I love my Hispanic and American Heritage!

Thank you for bringing up a necessary topic!


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