A South American acquaintance of mine asked recently, upon learning that I spoke Spanish, why so many Americans learn Spanish. To me, the answer seemed obvious – because of the Latin influences in the US. Then I realized that he, along with I’m sure countless others from other countries, are unaware of just how much Latin culture has changed the face of the United States in recent years. I began to list for him a few reasons. When I finished, he look genuinely surprised. He said something to the effect of ‘I had no idea Latinos had that much influence there. That’s amazing.’ Being a big fan of Latin culture myself, I smiled proudly and agreed. Being an expat, what I miss most is that very aspect of the US. I miss the Latin side of America (North America that is).
So I thought I’d share with all of you readers outside the US, the ways in which Spanish is seen in everyday life so that you can better understand the importance of this language in our culture.
- “Press 1 for English.” This (or something similar) is what we hear when we call most 800 numbers or any form of customer service number. Most large companies have to have bilingual staff on hand to handle Latin clientele. (This is how I obtained a few of my jobs.)
- A number of official documents or forms have Spanish equivalents in both the private and government agencies.
- The most frequently offered second language courses in schools and universities is Spanish. In some areas it is even mandatory for students to take Spanish. (I was required to do so starting in 6th grade and I am grateful for that!)
- You can buy separate TV packages with companies like DirecTV that specifically group together Spanish channels.
- Most TVs sold in the US have the ability to add Spanish subtitles to various channels. (…which reminds me of that awesome Friends episode where Marcel the monkey pushes the wrong button and changes everything to Spanish. haha! Good stuff…sorry back to business.)
- There are numerous successful Spanish TV and radio stations throughout the US.
- In music, there has been an incoming stream of crossover artists from Latin America who bring with them bilingual songs as well as bilingual albums. A few examples would be Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Daddy Yankee and Shakira. Most notably the video for Shakira/Alejandro Sanz‘s duet, La Tortura, was one of the first Spanish language videos to get heavy rotation on MTV and VH1 in 2005.
- Spanish can be seen on some product labels and also in some restaurant menus.
- The tags of clothing including sizes and how to care for them are in both languages. For example, you can see a large shirt that says “L/G” on the tag. G stands for grande, which means large in Spanish.
- Machines such as ATMs can be accessed in Spanish.
- Mexican restaurants flourish in many areas of the US introducing us to words like taco, burrito, enchilada, guacamole, salsa, fajita, tortilla and flautas.
- Linguistically, many Spanish phrases [<—- check out that link, it’s a BIG list!] have gradually been added to American slang or idioms. Those of non-Hispanic roots can be heard using, or at the very least understanding, words and phrases like que pasa, hombre, amigo, chico, papi, mami, mucho, grande, cerveza, por favor, uno, hola, adios, fiesta, siesta, agua, hasta luego, hasta la vista…and a plethora of inappropriate words (which usually spread the fastest).