Phil’s Findings: How did Spanish become such a prominent language in U.S.?


Last week in this column, I explained that Spanish was now language number two in the U.S. In this article I will try to explain how it how it achieved that eminent position.  There are a lot of people speaking a language other than English in this country.

Spanish was spoken first in the West and Southwest of the U.S. due to the Spanish presence before the U.S. actually existed as a nation. The 21 missions built by Junipero Serra and his followers in California actually became communities. The California natives who lived there were actually the first to learn to speak Spanish.

Many people from Mexico moved north into the areas which became California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A number of them were originally from Spain. Cubans later moved by the thousands to Florida. Spanish is a main language in Miami.

During the 1800s, Spanish language speakers arrived in the U.S. in relatively small numbers. But the results of the Mexican-American War of 1846 and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave to the United States a huge territory in the Southwest and the thousands of Spanish-speaking inhabitants.

In the early 1900s, Mexicans came across the border to work mostly in agriculture, but then in the mid-1930s, in the middle of the Great Depression, thousands were put on trains and sent back to Mexico. Some were U.S. citizens.

After World War II, the greater movement of Mexicans started. In addition, throughout the years, natives of every Central and South American came to the United States. Uncomfortable political conditions often were the cause for the migration.

Mexicans came to the U.S., legally or illegally, to find work. This movement went on for decades and increased the Mexican-American population in the U.S., making Hispanics the largest minority in this country.

At one time, during the large immigration movement from European countries to America, the large immigrant groups concentrated in large cities were from Germany, Italy, Russia, Yugoslavia, Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Portugal.

One Census Bureau survey said that nearly 35 million people ages 5 and up speak primarily Spanish at home. Another survey stated that 45 million speak both, a figure which doubles the number of 20 years before.

Another study predicted that in a few more years, there will be 50 million Spanish speakers in this country. This figure is the second highest figure in the world of Spanish speakers. Mexico is first.

Six million students are studying Spanish. Earlier, college professors arrived from Spanish speaking countries to teach advanced levels. My professor came from the Orient Province of Cuba.

Spanish is recognized as an English partner in many ways. Most businesses in our area have Spanish translations in their messages. Hospitals, restaurants, quick-stands, barbershops and beauty parlors, newspapers, schools, legal activities are examples.

A high level job is that of interpreter or translator for lawyers, state organizations, and courts.  I once worked part time as an administrative translator for the state. I gave it up after a year or so because I could not understand the dialects of some Mexican applicants for unemployment benefits. An exam offered in colleges is required for the job.

Day-long television stations provide programs of interest to Hispanics.  Univision is the main provider of these programs.

It appears that Spanish is here to stay and so are the millions who speak it.

(Philip A. Rue writes a weekly column for the Herald News.)

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