Latinas in the U.S. not only face cultural and economic barriers but also a strong division of language. This has caused them to suffer stigma and prejudice for using their mother tongue with co-workers or customers. In the worst cases, Latinas have been accused of using Spanish as a code to speak poorly behind managers’ backs, which resulted in reprimands such as termination.
In this article, we’ll briefly cover some interesting historical facts about Latinx discrimination in the U.S., such as Texan segregation practices in the twentieth century and the intimidation tactics used by conservatives during the Trump administration. We’ll share some outrageous stories about Latinas who got fired for speaking Spanish during the Trump era, which has taken part in a recent resurfacing of hate crimes against the Latinx community.
History 101: Texas’ Discrimination Against Spanish Speakers
Racism against Latinxs was (and still is) a common occurrence in Texas and other states. As a former territory of Mexico, both English and Spanish are used by locals in Texas, but the Spanish language has suffered discrimination from government officials and non-Latinxs. Mexican-Americans were treated as foreigners and their mother tongue was prohibited in schools.
This was the case at Blackwell School in Marfa, Texas, a “Mexican school” opened in 1909. This establishment was known for spanking students with a wooden paddle if they spoke Spanish in class. Alumni have performed a mock funeral service for ‘Mr. Spanish’, in which slips of paper with Spanish words were buried in school grounds.
Jenni Silva, a former student at Blackwell, remembers these memories with sadness.
“I understood that a right was being taken away from me without an explanation, without a say,” she said.
However, Silvia wasn’t able to speak English at home.
“I couldn’t speak to my grandmother in English because she would scold me,” she remembered during an interview with Los Angeles Times.
Mexican families long for their children to blend in American society, so their heritage had to be buried down, just like ‘Mr. Spanish’ was. Around 4,000 children were educated inside these walls until the institution closed in 1965.
Latinx Discrimination During The Trump Era
It is fair to say that Trump’s administration was both the result of citizenship indignation, xenophobia and the match that sparked a new flame of intolerance against the Latinx community. Since the ex-president began his administration in 2016, there was a significant rise in Latinx discrimination threats and hate crimes throughout the nation. For example, there were 51 hate-motivated murders in 2019 alone. Also, according to an FBI report commented by Reuters, in 2018 there was a 21% raise of Latinx hate crimes.
From undocumented immigrants to U.S.-born citizens, it didn’t matter how much you could have contributed to American society, all that mattered was your accent and the color of your skin. For instance, it is estimated that people of Latinx descent accounted for 95% of CBP and ICE deportations during the 2017-2019 period of Trump’s administration.
As it was said before, hate against Latinx is a problem that dates back to the birth of the country and that will live on in the future, but the issue here is how much it is legitimized within the government’s discourse, internal legislation literature, actions, and, therefore, within American society in general. If the head of a country shows intolerance and violence against a racial group or a gender, many people who feel that way will start to show their true colors and enact violent actions against said group. This is because they believe (with reason) that their doings will not be penalized or frowned upon if there’s a consensus within the public sphere. For instance, in 2020, a mother and her daughter were brutally attacked in their own neighborhood in Boston just for being Latinas.
Even though 8 percent more Latinx voters chose Trump in the 2020 elections than they did in 2016, there has been a strong backlash from this community during his administration. Many Latinxs showed solidarity for immigrants’ situation and supported this cause through donations to political activity and protests in different parts of the U.S.
Cases of Discrimination Against Latina Workers
These two events involved Latinas who were discriminated against for using their mother tongue at work. Both incidents occurred in 2019, near the end of Trump’s administration.
Fired After 10 Years of Employment
After working in California as a line cook for more than a decade, Francisca Pérez, a Mexican immigrant, was suddenly fired. Why? For speaking Spanish to a coworker.
The conflict arose after Leonardo Fasulo, manager at this high-end restaurant in California, heard her talking to waitress Janet Ruelas-Nava about a dish that was ready to go. Instantly, Fasulo started yelling at Janet for speaking Spanish at work. When Pérez told him he was discriminating against her identity. “This is America. We speak English here,” said the manager angrily.
He then proceeded to humiliate Francisca in front of her son and asked if burritos should be added to the menu.
“I felt I was not worth anything in this country,” she later told NBC News.
Strangely, when Pérez first started working at the restaurant, Fasulo himself talked to her in Spanish and didn’t seem to have a problem with the language, but that situation changed throughout the years. Thankfully, the State of California sanctions any workplace discrimination against the employees' native language (or even accent), so Pérez sought legal action with The Center for Workers’ Rights in Sacramento.
According to the Latina worker, she did this for her son. who “hopes it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
How Speaking a Different Language Can Get You Fired
Connie Fuentes Aguirre’s story is one of betrayal and lack of respect for her job performance. In Salt Lake City, Aguirre was working at a restaurant when her manager promised her a raise, which would become effective with the change of post. However, the raise never happened, so she worked a higher-level job without wage recognition.
Because Aguirre didn’t speak fluent English, she was “scared to ask” her boss for the raise, so her children helped her by talking to the manager. The manager’s reaction was to start yelling at them.
“You no más trabajo (work) here. Your niño and niña no bueno,” the manager yelled at Aguirre.
After that, she told the children to “get the hell out” of her restaurant, and even called security to kick them out of the establishment.
Luckily, this story has a silver lining: the manager was terminated after the incident, and a fundraiser was set up by her children to help Aguirre after losing her job.
Taking into account that there are around 54.2 million Spanish speakers in the U.S., with 42.5 million native speakers and 12.2 who are bilingual, discourses of hate against Latinx culture are attacking a large percentage of the American population. It’s important to identify the politicians and members of the general public who take part in this hateful behavior against Latinxs so we can stand our ground and protect our heritage.
But we Latinxs must play our part, too!
Speaking Spanish or attempting to learn how to speak Spanish is a great way to connect to our culture. We need to be the tinder that keeps our heritage’s flame burning bright and avoid history from repeating itself. With the 2024 election year coming up, the Latinx community wants to avoid or prevent what happened during the Trump era when discrimination against the Spanish-speaking community thrived.
If you are a Latinx but don’t know your ancestors’ tongue, know that speaking “Spanglish” or saying a few words in Spanish is a big display of pride. Speaking at any level of Spanish doesn’t make you less Latinx or less in touch with your roots. If anything, you are keeping the culture alive and resisting by keeping Spanish existing in the U.S. So stay strong and don’t give in to hate, hermanos y hermanas!