[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Spanish and English in Miami

Friday, May 30, 2008

Spanish and English in Miami

Few topics generate as much resentment in Miami as language. Namely, the alleged lack of English spoken by many of the residents of our fair city.

The Miami Herald has published an AP piece headlined In Miami, Spanish Is Becoming the Primary Language which pretty much accepts the notion that English is spoken by only a few mostly bitter Anglos, and those people are often mistreated for not speaking Spanish. The comment thread following the article is even more illustrative of this.

However, if you've followed this blog for a while, you know that this is one of my hot-button topics. And I categorically disagree with those who insist that in Miami, it's Spanish or Bust.

I understand that there are a lot of people here who can't (or perhaps won't) speak English well enough to carry a basic conversation. I realize that many jobs require Spanish-speaking employees which makes it difficult for non-Spanish speakers to find jobs. All this creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for some, which is perfectly understood.

I also know, based on personal experience, that a lot of the complaints that English is not spoken in Miami are greatly exaggerated. In most areas of town, people will try to communicate with you in English if they sense that you don't speak Spanish (being a Hispanic with non-stereotypical Hispanic features gives me a unique insight into this, believe me). In my job, I do FAR MORE Miami public outreach events in English than in Spanish, even in areas where you would think you would hear no English.

Mixed Hispanic/Jewish/Anglo/African-American/Caribbean families are so common in Miami (including my own family) that we take it for granted. The language of local government is English. Need I say more?

Interesting that the Herald, which should be the local expert in this matter, chose to publish an article by AP which is so one-sided.

I won't continue to rehash all of my reasons, as you can check out previous posts down at the bottom for my feelings on this topic, but before I do, let me quote three comments left at the Herald site which pretty much mirror my view and experiences (and proves that intelligent people actually do read the Herald):

Come on, people! As someone pointed out, Spanish-only people have terrible trouble finding "decent" jobs. I am a gringo and look like it but speak fluent Spanish and believe me when I say that wherever I go (and that since 1984) in Miami, people make huge efforts to speak English to me, and keep doing so (struggling mightily) even when I speak Spanish! Public services? All speak English, be serious! Miami is the greatest little show on earth, somme toute. Don't believe me? Try Des Moines or Salt lake or Cleveland or (sorry, all have huge Hispanic-Latino populations also but can't compare to this place)...

This story is 20+ years old. Listen to the children of Hispanic immigrants in school, tune in to the Hispanic music stations. You get a lot more English than you'd ever imagine. Lots of Hispanics flee Miami too. Is it the language? ethnic issues? traffic? cost of living? Even for a wire service story this one is too simplistic. The Herald SHOULD know better.

In 2007 Dade county gained 2% non-hispanic whites and lost 4% Hispanics. The trend is already changing. 18% white non-hispanic and 60% hispanic. Of course you are going to hear spanish alot (sic) in most of Miami the city is most hispanic, but Spanish is far from being the primary language, its just one of the primary languages. Cities are still run in english, everything is in english, spanish is sometimes used but as a secondary form not primary. Very few times will I encounter someone that doesn't speak english, I live in Hialeah and speak no spanish and almsot never does sopmeone (sic) not speak english, I might be greeted in spanish alot (sic) but the conversation continues in english. Anyone that says otherwise is just exagerating (sic) the fact and being too tempered.

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Blogger Alex said...

This is one issue in which I'm totally with you.

I had a long-runing bet at SoTP that I'll buy lunch at the best steakhouse in town to anybody who could show me a government agency in town where he/she could not get help in English. Nobody ever took me up on it, despite having some serious ranters on the subject.

People who expect inmigrants to come over and learn perfect English instantly really expect something else... they expect inmigrants to not come over at all.

9:05 AM, May 30, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Either that or they expect immigrants to give up any and all trace of their past.

12:15 PM, May 30, 2008  
Blogger nonee moose said...

Is the press lazy? Nah.

1:30 PM, May 30, 2008  
Blogger Adam said...

I love having a multilingual city. I'm not fluent in spanish, yet, but I sure don't mind having the opportunity to learn more every day.

11:58 AM, June 03, 2008  

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