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Many Latinos who can’t speak Spanish have been made to feel bad about it, new data shows

Many Latinos who can’t speak Spanish have been made to feel bad about it, new data shows

Young Latinos who’ve been pushing back against being shamed for not speaking Spanish are not alone, according to a new survey.

Just like “No Sabo Kids” on TikTok have been poking fun at themselves after being told they should speak better Spanish, a little over half (54%) of Latinos who speak very little or no Spanish have been made to feel bad because of it, according to a Pew Research Center report published Wednesday.

What’s more, 40% of all Latino adults say they “often” or “extremely often” hear other Hispanics make jokes about Latinos who don’t speak Spanish or don’t speak it well.

The report, however, points to “an interesting tension I think is striking,” co-author Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew’s director of race and ethnicity research, told NBC News.

While a large majority of Latinos (85%) say it’s at least somewhat important for future generations of Hispanics to speak Spanish, nearly 80% say it’s not necessary to speak Spanish in order to be considered Hispanic.

The widely shared view that Spanish is not synonymous with Latino identity could be reflecting changing demographics, Lopez said, as the number of third-generation Latinos (those who were born in the U.S. from two U.S.-born parents) grows and as almost 40% of U.S.-born Latinos marry non-Latinos.

Other findings from the survey:

  • Three-quarters (75%) of all U.S. Latinos say they’re able to “carry on a conversation in Spanish pretty well or very well,” the report said.
  • But when it comes to third- or higher-generation Latinos, the numbers look very different: Only about one-third (34%) of them say they can have a Spanish-language conversation pretty well and only 14% can do so “very well.”
  • More Latinos from Central America (79%) think it’s important that future generations are able to speak Spanish, compared to other groups like South Americans (65%), Mexicans (64%), Cubans (63%) and Puerto Ricans (59%).
  • Sí, we speak Spanglish: Many U.S. Latinos (63%) say they sometimes use Spanglish, though it’s much more common among second-generation (72%) Latinos than third-generation or higher (45%).
  • Slightly more Latino Democrats (88%) than Latino Republicans (80%) say it’s at least “somewhat important” that future generations speak Spanish. Among Hispanic Democrats, 36% say it’s “extremely important,” versus 26% of Hispanic Republicans.

The survey focused on U.S. Latinos’ views on Spanish, which is the country’s most commonly spoken non-English language. Almost 40 million Latinos speak Spanish at home, according to Pew.

However, many Brazilians, who speak Portuguese, consider themselves Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and there are hundreds of Indigenous languages in Latin America.

Sandra Lilley

Sandra Lilley is managing editor of NBC Latino.   

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