Julián Castro – Is He ‘Latino Enough’ Even Though He Isn’t Fluent in Spanish?


Julián Castro – Is He ‘Latino Enough’ Even Though He Isn’t Fluent in Spanish?

The last couple of days there has been a buzz surrounding Julián Castro.  The young mayor from San Antonio, Texas spoke on behalf of our President and U.S. DREAMers during this week’s Democratic National Convention and the chatter since has been mostly good.  Many have said that he would be an excellent candidate for the 2016 election, that they would be happy to see him represent Latinos as president one day and that his speech – especially his inclusion of his mother’s own struggle – was heartwarming and indicative of the Latino experience in the U.S.

Not unlike all public figures though, Castro has his critics.  His name alone has perked ears from mainstream, but now some Latinos have jumped into the convo and called him out as a ‘fake’.  Not surprising, but definitely disappointing.

For many bicultural Latinos, it’s not a new debate…and this is especially true for South Texans.

If you grew up in South Texas, or have ever lived there…you know what I’m talking about.  There’s a stigma near the border…especially if you’re Mexican.  There is a stigma surrounding Spanish speakers.  There is also a constant struggle in border towns and nearby counties to make communities English proficient.  And while some cities and states nationwide have made bilingual studies a top priority, this perspective still isn’t widely accepted.

My point is, there are many factors that weigh on Latinos who either decide to forgo Spanish language or don’t have access to resources for Spanish fluency.  Not everyone feels they have the option to retain Spanish language and in this country, bilingualism still hasn’t been justified as an acceptable ‘right’ to Latinos who want to keep their heritage alive.  Who are we to judge how Latino someone is or how much pride they have in their heritage based on their Spanish fluency?

Don’t get me wrong, Spanish language is a common connection between many Latinos and it’s a skill that I am desperately trying to give to my daughter, but it isn’t a qualifier as to whether or not she is a “real” Latina.  Believing so is as ignorant as saying that color should be an indicator.  If a Spanish-fluent Latino is light-skinned and blonde or has kinky hair and deep brown skin – are they also not “real” Latinos…because they don’t “look” Latino enough??

Where does it end?  Why can’t the line be blurred?  Why must it be defined?  Should the definition really be this narrow and discriminatory?



  1. Beth Ortuño says

    I am not a Latina but married into an immigrant Mexican family. Guess which side of the family is completely supportive and even excited about our son being raised fully bilingual. It is not the Mexican side…

    My father was born in a German-American community living in Ohio since the 1830's and school was in English but everyone / everything in the community still functioned mostly in German (Plattdeutsch). There is a story of my grandfather being beaten up during a trip to the city sometime during WWI because somebody overheard him saying something in German. These people held onto their language over a hundred years despite sometimes being treated quite badly for it. After WWII, however, this changed. It was the community itself who wiped out the German — nobody from outside. As I understand, until she could learn enough English to get by (since in that rural area most women had not gotten far in school) my grandmother would quietly say things to the older children and they would translate instructions to the younger kids, so as to avoid the little ones even hearing any German.

    It makes me wonder why I hear shame being placed on Latinos who weren't raised speaking Spanish (and some I think even accept some sense of guilt) even though they weren't even the ones who made that choice. My father at any time as an adult could have simply asked his older siblings to help him re-learn Plattdeutsch, and it would come in handy, as he often visits relatives in Germany and many people his age don't speak English much or even at all. But he didn't and not for one second has anyone anywhere thought that was a shame or a negative reflection on him. He was working and raising a family. He had other priorities.

    The funny thing about my son is that all Mexicans who see just the two of us invariably suspect just by looking at him that his father is Mexican. And to be fair, with most white people I don't even find out what they think about what race he is, because it's usually irrelevant — and that's good. But I have already had the displeasure several times of having a white person saying something to me about Mexicans in a way that I'm certain they don't realize the little boy standing next to me is one of them.

    It's very complicated!

    • says

      Beth, my father has similar stories to tell. He is German on one side, Austrian on the other and when he was a kid, speaking German was really discouraged. Due to the post-WWII view of German immigrant families, they thought it would be best to blend and leave behind much of the culture. That saddens me a lot, because I would have loved to benefit from learning about my dad’s heritage. He passed a long as much as he could though, which was mostly in the form of food.

      So awful, but I totally hear you on white folks saying things about Mexicans when they don’t realize that you’re an insider. I just hate that and I wear Mexican pride most times when I go out just to avoid that kind of conversation. If they already know, they won’t be senseless enough to say something ignorant, right? It works most of the time, but definitely not all of the time.

  2. says

    What a shame. Here we have what could have {should have} been a poignant success for ALL Latinos and POC, yet we're discussing his fluency level as if the lack of it equates to a failure. Latino enough? How about amazing enough to have worked his way into an influential circle of power that will, undoubtedly, impact our experiences as Americans.

  3. says

    THANK YOU! I have blue eyes and passed that on to my children. Because of the stigma that you speak of, I decided not to teach my kids Spanish when they were younger. I regret that now, but I do understand why I made that decision. So now, when my kids tell people they are Mexican, they get the whole "You don't look Mexican. Say something in Spanish!" challenge. I cringe every time. Not being fluent in Spanish doesn't make them or anyone any less Mexican. Neither do blue eyes, light brown hair, or fair skin. Mexicans come in all shapes and colors. Challenging how Mexican someone is really is ignorant.

    • says

      Thank you for your comment! I couldn’t agree with you more and that’s so sad to hear that your kids are being challenged on their identity. It is theirs to own and no one else’s. That’s one thing I worry about with my daughter, so I’m doing my best to raise her confident and proud, as well as aware of these challenges, so that when they come up, she’ll know that it isn’t about her, it’s about them. I want her to know that it’s their lack of awareness that is a problem, not her identity, culture or personal choices. ;)

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