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Speaking Spanish on the Presidential Debate Floor

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Spanish-speaking Democratic presidential candidates have flexed their linguistic muscles in past debates in an effort to connect with Latinx voters, but their polyglot escapades have not escaped controversy. While some see it as evidence that the candidates genuinely care about the Spanish-speaking community, others see it as blatant political pandering mixed with a dose of show-offiness.

“When you share your story without a mediator or a translator, “you can connect” with your audience in a deeper way,” explained DREAMer activist Astrid Silva. Astrid is a Nevada millennial who migrated to the U.S. with her family at the age of 4, and she believes whole-heartedly that conveying political messages in Spanish is more effective with Spanish-speaking immigrant communities. She delivered the Democratic Party’s Spanish-language response in 2017 on how President Trump’s comments about unauthorized immigrants could negatively impact law-abiding Spanish-speaking families. 

Candidate images licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

We can only surmise that during the debate today, September 12, candidates Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke, and Cory Booker will likely break out in Spanish again, as they have in past debates. Beto, who uses a Spanish nickname, became fluent in Spanish during his formative years growing up in El Paso, Texas. Cory Booker speaks conversational Spanish that he learned in language classrooms in Mexico and Ecuador, while Julián Castro, the only Latinx candidate, speaks imperfect, rudimentary Spanish because he grew up in a family that did not speak the language for fear of discrimination and retaliation. While some might find Mr. Castro’s lack of Spanish language prowess at least ironic, and possibly embarrassing, it may in fact give him an extra point of connection with Latinx voters. That is because, as noted by the Pew Research Center, approximately 87% of registered Latino voters do not speak Spanish as their primary language.

Interestingly, a recent Pew Research Study finds that younger Latinxs, who form the majority of voters within the Latinx community, see the use of Spanish by politicians as “extreme pandering.” Naturalized citizens, however, feel Spanish-speaking politicians represent them better. 

Les deseamos a todos los candidatos la mejor de las suertes para este jueves. Pero les deseamos a algunos más suerte que a otros ;).

Irene Velarde is a bilingual Staff Writer on the Revolution English News Team. Irene is passionate about sharing news and resources with immigrants, and educating and engaging with Revolution English subscribers. Prior to joining the News Team, Irene worked in educational settings for more than 4 years in China and the United States.