Stigma around speaking Spanish on campus

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Stigma around speaking Spanish on campus

Jasmin Arias ('21) believes language is an 
important part of culture.

Jasmin Arias ('21) believes language is an important part of culture.

Martin Donovan ('20) | Chips

Jasmin Arias ('21) believes language is an important part of culture.

Martin Donovan ('20) | Chips

Martin Donovan ('20) | Chips

Jasmin Arias ('21) believes language is an important part of culture.

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The hate incidents that occurred at Luther last semester indicate that the environment towards minorities may not always be welcoming. Specifically, the incident at the Spanish Table revealed the difficulties that some Latinx students face while speaking their native language at Luther. 

Juan Velasquez Quiroga (‘21) recounts feeling unwelcome speaking Spanish on campus.

“I was talking to my friends in the Caf and sitting at a table speaking Spanish,” Velasquez Quiroga said.  “There was a Caf worker sitting in the corner and she started staring at me. She was just giving me horrible looks, disgusted looks.”

But, according to Velasquez Quiroga, the staff member’s stares quickly escalated to action.

“[She then] approached me and asked, ‘Do you speak English’?” Velasquez Quiroga said. “And I said ‘yes I do’, and I speak French and Portuguese and Spanish. Then she said, ‘Oh because this is America and in this country we speak English, so if you know English, you speak the language.”

Velasquez Quiroga’s experiences on campus last year have caused him to feel alienated from the Luther College community at times.

“I really want to call Luther home because I know I will be living here for four years, but it feels like I cannot call Luther home because of the events I have been through,” Velasquez Quiroga said. “There are people around who are pointing me out, targeting me, and in some ways bullying me just by the looks they are giving.”

The hate incidents on the football field and the

Spanish Table affect Velasquez Quiroga because he works at the Spanish Table. Yet Velasquez Quiroga’s experience last year is not an isolated event. Similarly, Jasmin Arias (‘21) was angry after a community member expressed their disapproval over her speaking Spanish in public.

“That pissed me off because I can speak Spanish if I want to,” Arias said. “There is no sign saying I can’t. It made me feel mad because, first of all, it’s my first language and my culture. It’s them saying it’s wrong to speak [Spanish].”

Arias added that the stigma surrounding Spanish speakers directly targets her identity.

Photo courtesy of
Associate Professor of Spanish Alfredo Alonso Estenoz speaks Spanish with students on campus outside of the classroom.

“When people comment negatively on a language, they think it’s towards the language [and] not towards the people, but language is a big part of our cultures,” Arias said. “A lot of us identify with language and it is part of us. Spanish is a part of me because I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household.”

But not all Latinx students who speak Spanish have experienced the same type of stigma on campus.

“Personally I have never had a really tough experience [speaking Spanish],” Izzy Vazquez (‘19) said. “Of course I have a lot of friends who have their own experiences, but [for] me never, especially here on campus.”

Vazquez added that he has become more comfortable speaking Spanish on campus throughout his time at Luther.

“Freshman year coming here kind of stopped me from speaking [Spanish] because I didn’t have enough people to speak it with, but also because I was in a different environment,” Vazquez said. “But now I speak it in public. There is nothing stopping me from speaking it.”

Similarly, Associate Professor of Spanish Alfredo Alonso Estenoz noted that he has not experienced this stigma surrounding Spanish firsthand.

“I haven’t experienced [this stigma] myself and I speak Spanish with my colleagues all the time,” Estenoz said. “I speak Spanish with some students who are doing the Spanish major or are Latinos.”

However, Estenoz acknowledged that at times there is a disconnect between students and faculty members.

“It’s from how I experienced things from my perspective rather than students’ experiences because they live on campus and they live here 24/7,” Estenoz said. “I think it is difficult for a faculty member to understand everything that goes on in their students’ daily lives.”

Estenoz thinks it is important to improve dialogue between faculty members and students.

“I think it would be beneficial if we hear more about [the stigma] because if these incidents are happening on a daily basis we need to be aware of that,” Estenoz said. “I’m not exactly sure how we would intervene in that sense, but students may feel that we simply don’t care about those types of situations when the reality is that in most cases we don’t hear about those types of situation.”

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