Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Strange Duality of Spanish in the American Imagination

By: inoljt,

It’s quite interesting to see how America perceives Spanish. There are two quite different ways that the Spanish language is viewed in the American imagination. Indeed, in many ways these two approaches are the exact opposite.

The first way is the one more associated with American politics. This is the nativist perspective, the one which led to the defeat of the DREAM Act.

More below.

This perspective insists that America is an English-speaking country and wishes “those people” would stop speaking Spanish. Spanish is the language of illegal invaders and ought not to be used. The official language of the United States is English, not Spanish. Signs should be in English only. People who don’t know – or don’t want to – speak English should not be in this country. Unsurprisingly the Spanish language is portrayed quite negatively here.

The existence of this portrayal of Spanish is not surprising. Any large influx of immigrants almost invariably meets backlash by the native inhabitants. Reaction against the language of said immigrants is normally part of this. The nativist perspective is merely one in a long line of many anti-immigrant backlashes in many countries throughout history.

The second approach to the Spanish language, however, is more surprising. Spanish is not the only language with this connotation; French, for instance, has it at well. This is the Casanova perspective, the one in which Spanish is viewed as a “sexy” language. It is the perspective of romantic literature, in which a dark-tanned, suave foreigner – whispering about “mi amor” -sweeps a willing women off her feet. Sometimes the man is from Spain; sometimes from Columbia; sometimes from Argentina; sometimes from Cuba. Whatever the case, Spanish is viewed as a beautiful, romantic language.

The contrast between these two perspectives could not be more striking. On the one hand Spanish is viewed as the language of invasion and illegal, border-jumping wetbacks; on the other it is viewed as the language of sexy, smooth-talking foreigners. The irony is that these two people are one and the same. The dark, handsome Columbian is also the dark, illegal Columbian.

How the latter trope came into existence is a bit of a mystery, at least to this poster. Most American women probably do not see Spanish-speaking immigrants as suave, sexy hunks. Yet somehow the perception of Spanish as a romantic language continues to coexist with the perception of Spanish as quite the opposite.