Are You Hispanic If You Don’t Speak Spanish?

One of my students called Luis is a Mexican-American who often wonders: “are you Hispanic if you don’t speak Spanish?…

True, it might seem like an identity problem that for some people the answer lies in the place you’re born, but if you were born in a different country to the one all your family is from, then we all know that it’s not just about where you took your first breath for the first time in life.

The reason Luis asks himself this question is because he considers himself Mexican. 

The food he likes, his looks, his customs, his culture are from Mexico. However, he grew up in the USA and for some reason, he never learned Spanish from his parents. 

For Luis there’s always a point in which he meets people who tell him: 

  • How can you have a Latino last name and not speak Spanish?
  • You look like you speak Spanish!
  • Why don’t you speak Spanish?

People like this often face feelings of shame due to this social perception of what being a Latino means. 

In this article, we’ll discuss how important this language should be for you if you come from a Spanish-speaking family, but you just can’t speak that language.

What does it mean to be Hispanic?

Hispanic couple dancing what seems to be Spanish music

I could get lost in definitions, history of the Hispanic culture, the Roman empire, the discovery of America, and a review of your history lessons back from school.

For practical reasons, though, and in an effort to be clear in this article, let’s say that a Hispanic person is basically how people identify someone who looks like a human being who was born in Latin America or comes from a family that originated in that part of the continent.

These people are commonly known as “Latinos”. I myself, am a Latino, Colombian, and because of how I look, people in the street would say that I’m Hispanic. But what does it really mean to be Hispanic or Latino?…

As I was doing research to write this article, I found out that there’s such a strong feeling of belonging, and pride among the Hispanic community.

People are proud of their heritage, and they want to protect what they got from their parents, validate their identity and feel like they belong somewhere.

If you are someone who feels that way, then you probably:

  • Have memories of your mom disciplining you with “una correa” (a belt) or “una chancla” (one of mom’s flip-flops).
  • Or maybe you used to have “frijolitos” (beans) or “habichuelas”(beans in Puerto Rico) very often for dinner.
  • And you probably remember mom having loud Spanish conversations on the phone.

If you have any of those memories recorded in your heart that means that your culture is different than the one that lives natively in the country you grew up in.

But what is culture?

It’s the behavior, customs, beliefs, habits, norms, and even religion that that most people adopt inside a group of people that lives in a specific region. 

Like when your mom used to tell you that you’re “un cochino” (Slang for disgusting in Spanish) because you didn’t want to take a shower in the morning.

Or when your dad said that a burger doesn’t make a good lunch, and instead of that you should have “arroz”(rice), “sopa”(soup), “papita”(potatoes)… etc. 

All of that comes from the culture, and yes, language is included in the culture. 

Does that mean that you’re not Hispanic because you don’t speak Spanish? Not at all.

Spanish is just a part of the culture just like religion. 

For instance, the most popular religion in South America is the catholic church, but not everyone belongs to it, and there are people who strongly disagree with that church. 

Does that mean that they’re not Latinos because they’re not Catholics? Nope… it just means that they don’t share that part of the culture, but they keep being Latinos. 

If you feel Latino, but you don’t speak Spanish, there’s nothing to worry about. Your roots can’t be changed. The way you were raised, and your family belongs to you forever.

Feel proud of your heritage, even though you don’t speak Spanish. It’s your past and a part of your identity.  

Should you learn Spanish to feel more Latino?

Hispanic woman with a long white dress sitting on the grass and thinking

Lots of people might disagree with what I just wrote about being Latino. 

For example, according to Pew, 71% of Latinos in the US consider that speaking Spanish isn’t important to be a Latino, which means that it is important for the other 29%.

The question is… is it important for you?

Some of that 29% feel like Luis, who feels frustrated every time he goes to Mexico to visit his family. 

Everyone having regular conversations around him, while he stares at them in silence in family gatherings makes him feel uncomfortable. 

Some other people even feel ashamed for looking and feeling Latino, but not being able to speak Spanish. 

If that happens to you, if that’s important to you, then you should invest some time in learning Spanish.

Not because you’re not Latino, but because it’ll help you feel better about yourself, and you could even connect more with your family.

Now, if speaking Spanish isn’t important to you, and you don’t really need it because your whole family can speak English, then it’s ok if you don’t want to learn Spanish.

That won’t make you less Latino than others. 

You are way ahead of people who want to learn the language from scratch

If improving your Spanish is something you want to do, you have to know that because of the contact you’ve had with Spanish in your life, it will be easier for you, than it is for someone who has never been in touch with the language.

Why am I saying this?… Because if your parents are Spanish speakers, then it’s very likely that understanding the language isn’t so hard for you. 

At some point in your life, you heard the language, you got to know some phrases, and you probably have some vocabulary. 

In fact, many people like you or Luis, understand the gist of what people say in Spanish, but it’s terribly difficult to express ideas with fluency. 

If that happens, it means that Spanish lives inside of you, and you just need to take it out, push it through, so you can become a confident Spanish speaker.

Doing that will transform the way in which you communicate with your family. It’ll be easier than it is now.

How long would that take? I can’t tell you that because it depends on how much exposure you’ve had to the language previously. But, it’s very likely, that It might be a matter of months.

Related: How long does it take to learn Spanish? 

Some years ago, I wrote a free guide that will show you how to push your Spanish through and develop fluency quickly. It’s called: 10 Secretos que nadie te dice para hablar español como un nativo. 

You may download it after joining my newsletter en español in the form below: 

ConclusionAre you Hispanic if you don’t speak Spanish?

Yes, absolutely! 

If you love your heritage, if your Latino culture lives in your every day, in your relationships, in your appearance, and your experiences, then you are a Latino. 

You don’t need to speak Spanish to be Hispanic, it just lives in you, so don’t let anyone else make you think the opposite. 

Now, if learning Spanish is important for you, because you want to connect better with your family, or just because you want to feel more complete in regards to your Hispanic identity, go ahead and do it: Learn Spanish.

if you need any help to make the Spanish that lives in you shine, let me know, I’ll be happy to help you improve your Spanish. 

Finally, I know that some people may disagree with I what I said in this article, so I’d like to know your opinion. What do you think?

Do you have to speak Spanish to be a Latino?

Let me know in the comments below.

Diego Cuadros is a blogger and a Spanish online teacher. He uses stories to help Spanish lovers understand fast-speaking native speakers, so they don't freeze and panic in conversations.

Leave a Comment