"I feel not knowing Spanish, you feel a sense of...

"I feel not knowing Spanish, you feel a sense of disconnect,” says Helen Dorado Alessi, executive director of the Long Beach Latino Civic Association.  Credit: Helen Dorado Alessi

This story was reported by John Asbury, Robert Brodsky, Matt Chayes and Tiffany Cusaac-Smith. It was written by Asbury and Brodsky.

Helen Dorado Alessi’s mom grew up with parents who didn’t speak Spanish to her at home, even though both had moved stateside from Puerto Rico, where Spanish is the dominant language.

Her mom was taught to speak mainly English at home — and never to speak Spanish in the streets or in school, her daughter said.

But after her mom married a Cuban man, she learned Spanish from him and unlocked a connection with her roots. When Dorado Alessi was born, the couple spoke Spanish and some English to her, and she is now fluent in both languages.

“They were taught to be part of the culture and assimilate. She didn’t want to face racism or bullying,” said Dorado Alessi, 64, of Island Park. “Now it’s different. Why not know two languages? We know from studies that in one generation they may speak their native language, then people learn English. Why should we also lose our language?”

Although three in four U.S. Latinos are able to speak Spanish, a majority of those who cannot easily speak the language say they’ve been “shamed” by others fluent in Spanish, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

The national survey of 3,029 Hispanics, polled in August 2022, studied the views, attitudes and experiences of both U.S.- and foreign-born Latinos toward the Spanish language and its influence on their lives.

The poll found 75% of Hispanics are able to carry on a conversation in Spanish — and 85% believe it’s important for future generations to learn and converse in the language. A similar majority said it’s not necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Hispanic.

“So that tension between the importance of it for future generations versus how they see Spanish today as a part of what it means to be Latino in the U.S. is an interesting and contrasting set of findings,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at Pew and one of the authors of the survey.

A secondary tension found by pollsters was how Spanish-speaking Americans treat those who did not, or could not, speak the language.

More than half of U.S. Hispanics who do not speak Spanish say they’ve been shamed for not speaking the language, while 4 in 10 say they hear other Hispanics making jokes about those individuals who don’t speak Spanish well.

“This highlights some of the tensions that you see with regards to Latinos who don’t speak Spanish being shamed for not doing so,” Hugo Lopez said.

In July, a video of a young Mexican American soccer fan struggling to answer a reporter’s questions in Spanish went viral and sparked online ridicule of his parents for not teaching him the language.

Among third-generation Latinos, with both parents born in the United States, 65% said they could not carry on a conversation well in Spanish — more than any other group, the survey found.

Pollsters also report that Spanglish, a combination of Spanish and English, is widespread and spoken by 63% of U.S. Hispanics.

Margarita Espada, a founder of Teatro Yerbabruja in Bay Shore who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, says she understands some of the reasons why a parent might not want to teach their child Spanish. One, she said, could be that parents might not want their children to be discriminated against because they speak English with an accent.

Still, she said language is a cultural identity.

“It’s a way that you perceive a reality, and context and everything,” she said.

Dorado Alessi, the executive director of the Long Beach Latino Civic Association, said she “was trying to be as American as I could be” while growing up in Queens, so she spoke English to fit in.

“I don’t feel the sense of shame. I feel not knowing Spanish, you feel a sense of disconnect,” Dorado Alessi said. Now she realizes she “was missing out on the relationships and love for the language. The Spanish language is beautiful and English is beautiful.”

She said Latinos struggled with being told to speak English, but she noted the importance of speaking Spanish at home to connect with family and culture.

“I think we evolve and we understand the world in a better way. Why not have two languages and not get rid of one at all?” she said. “With all of the people on Long Island who think that we should put everything in English, they’re doing a disservice.”

Helen Dorado Alessi’s mom grew up with parents who didn’t speak Spanish to her at home, even though both had moved stateside from Puerto Rico, where Spanish is the dominant language.

Her mom was taught to speak mainly English at home — and never to speak Spanish in the streets or in school, her daughter said.

But after her mom married a Cuban man, she learned Spanish from him and unlocked a connection with her roots. When Dorado Alessi was born, the couple spoke Spanish and some English to her, and she is now fluent in both languages.

“They were taught to be part of the culture and assimilate. She didn’t want to face racism or bullying,” said Dorado Alessi, 64, of Island Park. “Now it’s different. Why not know two languages? We know from studies that in one generation they may speak their native language, then people learn English. Why should we also lose our language?”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A Pew poll surveyed the views, attitudes and experiences of both U.S. and foreign-born Latinos toward the Spanish language and its influence on their lives.
  • 75% of Hispanics are able to carry on a conversation in Spanish, according to the August 2022 poll.
  • 85% of U.S. Latinos believe it's important for future generations to learn and converse in Spanish.
  • To be considered Hispanic, a person does not have to speak Spanish, according to 85% of those surveyed.

Although three in four U.S. Latinos are able to speak Spanish, a majority of those who cannot easily speak the language say they’ve been “shamed” by others fluent in Spanish, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

The national survey of 3,029 Hispanics, polled in August 2022, studied the views, attitudes and experiences of both U.S.- and foreign-born Latinos toward the Spanish language and its influence on their lives.

The poll found 75% of Hispanics are able to carry on a conversation in Spanish — and 85% believe it’s important for future generations to learn and converse in the language. A similar majority said it’s not necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Hispanic.

“So that tension between the importance of it for future generations versus how they see Spanish today as a part of what it means to be Latino in the U.S. is an interesting and contrasting set of findings,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at Pew and one of the authors of the survey.

Non-speakers may be shamed

A secondary tension found by pollsters was how Spanish-speaking Americans treat those who did not, or could not, speak the language.

More than half of U.S. Hispanics who do not speak Spanish say they’ve been shamed for not speaking the language, while 4 in 10 say they hear other Hispanics making jokes about those individuals who don’t speak Spanish well.

“This highlights some of the tensions that you see with regards to Latinos who don’t speak Spanish being shamed for not doing so,” Hugo Lopez said.

In July, a video of a young Mexican American soccer fan struggling to answer a reporter’s questions in Spanish went viral and sparked online ridicule of his parents for not teaching him the language.

Among third-generation Latinos, with both parents born in the United States, 65% said they could not carry on a conversation well in Spanish — more than any other group, the survey found.

Pollsters also report that Spanglish, a combination of Spanish and English, is widespread and spoken by 63% of U.S. Hispanics.

Language is cultural identity

Margarita Espada, a founder of Teatro Yerbabruja in Bay Shore who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, says she understands some of the reasons why a parent might not want to teach their child Spanish. One, she said, could be that parents might not want their children to be discriminated against because they speak English with an accent.

Still, she said language is a cultural identity.

“It’s a way that you perceive a reality, and context and everything,” she said.

Dorado Alessi, the executive director of the Long Beach Latino Civic Association, said she “was trying to be as American as I could be” while growing up in Queens, so she spoke English to fit in.

“I don’t feel the sense of shame. I feel not knowing Spanish, you feel a sense of disconnect,” Dorado Alessi said. Now she realizes she “was missing out on the relationships and love for the language. The Spanish language is beautiful and English is beautiful.”

She said Latinos struggled with being told to speak English, but she noted the importance of speaking Spanish at home to connect with family and culture.

“I think we evolve and we understand the world in a better way. Why not have two languages and not get rid of one at all?” she said. “With all of the people on Long Island who think that we should put everything in English, they’re doing a disservice.”

Ref shortage... Katie Lee Biegel debuts new wine... What's up on LI Credit: Newsday

Home elevation program... Suffolk vehicle auction... Ref shortage... Katie Lee Biegel debuts new wine.

Ref shortage... Katie Lee Biegel debuts new wine... What's up on LI Credit: Newsday

Home elevation program... Suffolk vehicle auction... Ref shortage... Katie Lee Biegel debuts new wine.

Latest Videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME