Does Spanish have a chance in the US? Language in American politics

He speaks Spanish! And he uses it to make a good point.
He speaks Spanish! And he uses it to make a good point.

Spanish makes an appearance in the US presidential campaign. I first became aware of it when I saw the famous George Takei speak it in a plea that immigrants not vote for Trump.

In the ad, he addresses Spanish-speaking Americans, comparing verbal attacks by Trump against Latino immigrants to the US government’s forcing Japanese-Americans—like Mr. Takei himself—into internment camps during World War Two.

I was fascinated to see how he used Spanish as a way to connect with immigrants. He understood that using a language besides English would connect immediately with and show solidarity with immigrants. Moreover, he expressed how he learned Spanish: by living alongside Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles growing up.

Politicos take Spanish seriously. As a result, Spanish-speakers possess power. Spanish may have a future in the US, in spite of the normal forces that eliminate languages other than English from our country.

As I looked further, I found that Spanish political ads are common this season, and they have a history in our country.

Hilary Clinton aired a campaign ad in Spanish that attacked Trump on his immigration policies. The ad tells first-hand stories of Spanish-speaking Americans. She doesn’t speak Spanish, though.

The Bernie Sanders campaign put together a short documentary in Spanish about working conditions for immigrant laborers. It takes a longer form than a standard ad. Like Clinton, he doesn’t speak Spanish in it.

Jeb Bush actually speaks Spanish in this ad. He focuses on the common interests in English- and Spanish-speaking Americans. I found it interesting that his wife, who is a native Spanish-speaker, speaks English in the ad. (Maybe the message is that we all need to learn a foreign language?)

Not surprisingly, Marco Rubio spoke publicly in Spanish. In this video you can hear his native Spanish as he addresses a crowd in Puerto Rico. I analyzed his Spanish-language response to the 2013 State of the Union speech in this post.

I believe that Ted Cruz speaks Spanish, but I didn’t see an ad in which he actually speaks it. Marco Rubio said a couple times that Cruz doesn’t really speak it, but Cruz is Latino and was born in Texas, so I would be surprised if he didn’t know it all. (Cruz was able to offer a Spanish retort to Cruz at 4:54 in this debate.)

Significantly, I could find no Spanish-language ad for the Trump campaign. This vacuum could prove very problematic for the campaign (though many predictions about problems for the Trump campaign have proven to be wrong).

In this research I found Spanish ads for many candidates from 2012, 2008, and farther back. Then I found this gem of a campaign ad, when John F. Kennedy’s wife, Jackie, spoke of the virtues of her husband and presidential candidate, whom she described as uniquely capable of keeping the US safe. She gave live public speeches in Spanish as well.

Significantly, more Republican candidates this year spoke Spanish (three) compared to Democrats (none).

I like how these ads turn the power on its head. They grant legitimacy to those who don’t speak English, and addresses them in the way most natural to them. They do not seek to force assimilation or education, but meet immigrant populations where they are. George Takei especially addresses the anxiety of immigrants as they listen to the attacks against immigrants these days. I’m happy that speaking Spanish is, at least in one sphere, seen as legitimate and important.

What do you think of this phenomenon? What other countries seek to connect with specific populations with languages in this way?

Photo by Florida Supercon from Ft. Lauderdale, USA (spops_00086) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

4 thoughts on “Does Spanish have a chance in the US? Language in American politics

  1. Rachel

    Did Hilary Clinton say “Soy Hilary Clinton and I approve this message” at the end? I can’t think what else it might have been (in English) so maybe it was a poorly-pronounced attempt at speaking Spanish?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She did, indeed. I think it’s significant that she says, “I am,” in Spanish, but, “I approve this message,” in English. Can she not say the whole thing in Spanish? That very well may be a legal requirement–which itself is an interesting point.


  2. Pingback: Loving Sign Language in coffee shops: Could we do more? – Loving Language

  3. Pingback: Sacrifice your talent for love – Loving Language

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