Yo no hablo Español, ¿pero soy Latino? Latines and the Spanish language

Diego Benites, Crier Staff

I was recently scrolling through my Tik Tok “For You” page when I came across a video that used the term “no sabo kid.” In this video, a Latina struggles to speak Spanish while using a thick American accent when ordering in a Latin-American restaurant with the caption “how no sabo kids order at restaurants.” I had never heard of the term “no sabo kid,” so I turned to a highly valid source to find a definition to this new slang terminology – Urban Dictionary.

According to Urban Dictionary, a “no sabo kid” is a child of a native Spanish speaker who knows very little Spanish or doesn’t speak it at all. I found this terminology to be fascinating. It aroused numerous questions for me, such as: how deep is the connection between speaking Spanish and being Latine? Is it essential for Latines to speak Spanish? If it is indeed crucial for Latines to know Spanish, then what does this mean for those who don’t speak it? Can you still identify as Latine if you don’t speak Spanish? With so many of these questions invading my thoughts, I needed to find answers.

As I began seeking answers, I was confronted by my own background and experience. I’ve always identified as a white-Latino. Given that my mother is white and my father is Latino, it would make sense for me to identify as a white-Latino. Recently, I began to question that label on its accuracy. My skin is white, I’m well engaged in American culture/customs, and I don’t speak Spanish. If I don’t speak the language and have associated myself so closely with American culture, then am I really a Latino? Have I been too Americanized to identify as a Latino? Am I just a “no sabo kid”? Am I Latino in name only?

Do not get me wrong, these questions aren’t always at the forefront of my thoughts. There are more pressing things that I spend time worrying about, like writing a paper that’s due tomorrow, studying for my next exam, or any other thing that weighs on the mind of an average college student. However, I did have the urge to find the answers to these pivotal questions.

From what I have gathered during my quest for answers, Latines have taken a nuanced position on the importance of Spanish. According to a 2015 Pew Research survey, 95% of Latines believe that it is important for future generations to speak Spanish. However, in the same survey, 71% of Latine adults believe that Spanish is not necessary to be considered Latine. Also, most Latines say Spanish isn’t a necessary component of the Latine identity, with 58% immigrant and 87% US-born Latines holding this view. If the majority of Latines believe that Spanish is not necessary to be Latine and is not a necessary component of the Latine identity, then why is it so important for future generations to speak it?

The answer boils down to the issue of culture. There is no denying that Spanish is an integral part of Latin-American culture. It is our ancestral language, and is, therefore, an important piece of our culture. The 95% of Latines that want future generations to know Spanish probably believe that it’s the best way to preserve our culture. However, Spanish is not the only part of our culture. Food, music, dance, and familial relationships are all part of our culture.

My search to find the linkage between Spanish and the Latine identity had caused me to become blind to the other parts of my culture. I forgot about my dad’s Papa a la Huancaina (potatoes with cheese sauce). Or, the excitement that fills my house when the Copa América, or World Cup, happens. Or even the numerous nicknames my family has given me, like “Dieguito” (little Diego) or “la zanahoria” (peruvian slang for “the nerd”). All of this is a part of my culture and makes me a Latino. A language is only one portion of a culture. It is an important piece; however, it is not the full picture that represents all of the Latine culture.

Yo no hablo Español, pero soy Latino. (I don’t speak Spanish, but I am a Latino).