Why Are You a Spanish Major or Minor if You Don’t Care About Latinx People?

 

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I am a Spanish minor and I am taking my first 300-level Spanish course this semester. The first topic that we had to talk about in the class was immigration. This isn’t an issue for me: most people are aware of conversations surrounding the topic in the country and have an opinion on what should happen next. Some people in my class were reluctant to discuss, though, which I find strange for people that supposedly want to be Spanish majors or minors.

 

It’s possible that some people see Spanish class as just for learning the language. But I think, like most language majors and minors, it is more than that. Being an English major isn’t just reading books. It’s reading and talking about how they apply to and affect the world around us. I’m sure that most other majors are similar in that people are not there to learn a surface level description of the subject they are studying. The people in my class must forget that, and think that they can separate the language from issues in the world surrounding many people that speak it. There are several problems with that mindset.

 

Firstly, it is impossible to separate the language from its history. It is important to remember that, similar to English, Spanish is a colonial language. While many parts of the Americas were being colonized by white Spaniards, the language was being forced onto indigenous people, which is called linguistic imperialism. To simplify hundreds of years of history, several new countries that wanted independence from Spain were formed.

 

While there are still hundreds of indigenous languages spoken in Latin America today, Spanish is a common language spoken due to colonialism. In countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and El Salvador, Spanish is the official language (although other languages are spoken, of course). Other countries have indigenous languages included as their official languages along with Spanish. Paraguay has Spanish and Paraguayan Guaraní as its official languages, of which there are over four million speakers in the country! Peru is another country where indigenous languages such as Quechua and Aymara have official status. And there are over three dozen official languages in Bolivia, which I think is wonderful.

 

A commonality among many of these countries is that Spanish is typically spoken. It is becoming a very popular language in the United States too, especially with immigration from Latin American countries. People from the United States have strong opinions on whether these immigrants and oftentimes refugees should be accepted into the country.

 

This may sound crazy, but being a citizen of the United States myself, I think that people should care about other people, even if they were born in a different country. Of course talking about immigration can get more complex than that, but to me, that is what it comes down to. People have all different reasons for going to a new country. They may have taken a long time to consider all possible paths to the United States, and the one they’ve chosen is still their best option. There are awful stereotypes born out of people opposing immigration, such as generalizing Mexicans as rapists and murderers. Another word people use often when talking about immigrants is “illegals,” which in a lot of ways can dehumanize undocumented immigrants.

 

It is not so uncommon to have the opinion that “immigration is okay, as long as they’re coming here legally.” This argument still allows the othering of people who aren’t able to obtain legal status, as if those are the monsters that embody the stereotypes, not the people who do it “properly.” It is much harder to become a citizen than people in the United States may think. If we’re going to talk about anything, it shouldn’t be the immigrants’ lack of effort to become citizens, but the United States’ lack of effort to fix the Immigration System. One notable point is the waiting period, which could be decades long. It is not so simple as “just do the paperwork.”

 

I have been hearing some of these opinions from people in my class. I understand that sometimes people are uneducated or misinformed. The Spanish curriculum will often only teach language and cultural topics about Spain. In my experience, in past classes, Spain was the main focus, but we certainly talked about other dialects and cultures.

 

After all, this is a 300-level course, and I think it is time to step it up. If you want to major or minor in Spanish, you should take the time to learn about issues that involve people that speak the language. My question for my classmates is: Why are you here? If you are here to learn, that’s wonderful and I hope you can expand on what you may or may not know about the language, Spanish-speaking cultures and immigration. If you are only here to learn the language, it concerns me, especially since many of you want to be teachers. If teachers don’t learn all of the context that comes with Spanish, they’ll only continue the cycle of misinformation with future generations.

 

My only hope is that people, inside or outside my classroom, will have enough compassion for immigrants and will do their own research. Ignorance is only going to hurt others, but with education, people coming to the United States can feel more welcome through policy change and social acceptance.