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  • Writer's pictureDr. Chi

Spanish in the USA

I was on Facebook and someone posted an image of what looks like a movie poster with a large humanoid being with a huge prickly arm standing next to a much smaller human that does not even arrive at its waist. It has an aircraft in a purple sky with the large words in white"LAPUTA: Castle in the Sky" against a black background. Underneath it were two columns. The first said "Japanese and Americans" and had the face of a cartoon White blonde man with blue eyes smiling. The second column said Latina, Latinas, Spanish, and Filipinos and had a darker image in black and white of a cartoon man with shadows across his face like a bad photocopy. I do not watch animated shows very often so, I did not recognize the two male characters.

Many found the post hilarious. In Spanish and many other Romance languages, "la puta" translates as "whore." Perhaps the second man was thinking dark thoughts, so that was why he was smiling in the dark.

I have no idea what it means in Japanese but the word "Americans" really bothered me. It was not because of Latin American Spanish-speakers being angry that we coined the demonym American to call ourselves. This is despite other people in the Americas having that option and the Spanish language has the word "estadounidense." The word does not exist in English despite people trying to make US-ian a thing, making me feel like Regina in the film "Mean Girls."

US-ian is not going to happen.

There is also a bit of Spanish-centrism since the word does not exist in the language of the largest country in Latin America: Brazilian Portuguese. In Brazil, people from the USA are americanos. (Brazilians did not seem to mind when I lived there.)

What annoyed me about the original post us that the person who created the meme used the word "Americans" when they really meant English-speakers. Of course, monolingual English-speakers would be more correct, but the joke would emphasize the language, not the country.

The post reminded me of the global linguistic racism that exists in which the word "American" signals White to people outside of the United States (along with US White supremacists, but that's a story for another time). White people are indeed the majority of people in the United States, but they are not indigenous to these lands. Despite celebrating a distant "Cherokee" American Indian ancestor who may or may not have been taken by force, the overwhelming majority of White people are of European descent.

Several of our Founding Fathers had origins in Europe. Most Whites today are of descendants of German immigrants who came about a century ago. However, during the World Wars, many Schmidts became Smiths, Műllers became Millers, and Baekers turned into Bakers to avoid the stigma of being German. Black Americans have been on these shores for centuries longer than their European American counterparts, with the first being stolen and arriving here in 1526. Many Americans of Irish, Italian, and Polish ancestry are proud of their heritage as they've assimilated into our beautiful melting pot/salad bowl where few of us know all the words to our national anthem, but most of (including many Native Americans) enjoy turkey and stuffing on that very problematic holiday.

The meme creator is probably not American. If were, they might have known that many Americans speak Spanish, Tagalog, and are Latina/o/x. In fact, the United States has the fifth largest number of native Spanish after Mexico, Colombia, Spain, and Argentina. With 42 million Americans speaking Spanish at home (not including people like me who learned it), the United States has more native Spanish speakers than Peru, Venezuela, or Chile. Berlitz says only Mexico has a larger population of Spanish speakers, with the USA having more Spanish speakers than Spain.

This is why the joke made no sense to me. Even Americans who do not speak Spanish (like my siblings) know the meaning of la puta. Since ignorance is bliss, those meme creators must be in heaven.

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