At first, they were a frankly repugnant surprise: nativists and supremacists alike, taking a page from the current regiment, reacting with violence upon hearing people around them speaking the Spanish language.
As if knowing two languages within the cultural space of other human beings was a reason to be punished, in a multilingual nation, the sudden and violent demand to speak only English —”because we are in the United States”— began to show itself: a facet of open intolerance.
Emboldened and in some ways protected by official anti-immigrant rhetoric, whether in airports, shopping centers or any other public place, the viciousness these people show toward the language of Cervantes has become one of the many signs of our times.
It has to be said: these attacks have not been against any language other than ours, the second-most spoken in the United States, with more than 40 million people, according to the Census, utilizing the language in one form or another; whose history in this part of the world is several times more ancient than the English language, which of course we have to respect, use, and spread since some 80% of the population prefers to use it, even if it’s not the “official” language. That is, linguistic cohabitation should be possible.
The incidents that filled this “hate map” that was drawn in just two years of the Trump presidency seemed to have paused and it seemed as though we didn’t have to worry so much, but these recent cases put in relief, once again, how little we have matured.
Two examples have come up recently: the angry tirade of a white diner towards the manager of a Mexican restaurant because he said a few words in Spanish, even though he spoke to the patron in English, showing he is bilingual; and the prohibition on speaking Spanish placed on a woman in Texas, living in a retirement home run by The Salvation Army.
In the first case, fortunately there were people on the manager’s side this time, including the companion of the woman who was disgusted by hearing Spanish spoken and who hurled that cutting phrase so common in these situations: “Get out of my country!” In the second, the interview with Katherine Hernandez served to not only bring a measure of justice, but revealed an even more delicate situation: the letter from the administration prohibiting the speaking of Spanish was addressed only to her, which in her opinion was retaliation. Since coming to this retirement home she has been working to help other elderly people, the majority of whom are Hispanic, as she is bilingual.
“I believe that the woman doing this is taking everything Trump does to heart, and used this to continue abusing me as she has ever since I came here,” Ms. Hernandez said.
This is exactly the point. It’s not that Trump’s rhetoric has “discovered” the fact that a good part of the white population of this country is racist; this has been true since the birth of the nation through today, as we see in the call for the return of the Ku Klux Klan made by a newspaper in Alabama. But what it has done is to reawaken the supremacism that had more or less been neutralized since the civil rights era. Now it has taken on a new and dangerous impulse, especially toward those who represent the most hated stereotype by those in power and who happen to speak Spanish.
Proof of this comes from the most recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which found that hate groups have grown 7%, to a total of 1,020 in 2018, a figure that should put Homeland Security officials on guard, although right now they are too immersed in treating migrants as the country’s public enemy number one.
With things being the way they are now, it is difficult to see the government to changing this equation, despite alarming warnings of the existence of white supremacists with violent tendencies, like theCoast Guard lieutenant Christopher Paul Hasson who was preparing a massive attack with a terrifying arsenal, according to officials in press reports.
Hasson identified as a white nationalist who defended “focused violence” as a way to establish a “white homeland.” His list of potential victims included reporters who had been critical of Trump, and Democratic politicians.
The president, meanwhile, has been silent; had the man been Hispanic, undocumented, and dark, it is certain he would have used his entire Twitter arsenal to once again attack the image of the community that disgusts him and speaks Spanish.
But that is no longer surprising.