Are Latinos abandoning Spanish in the United States?

José López Zamorano | La Red Hispana 
Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign launched its first ad this month to court the Latino vote, it didn’t just do so in Spanish.

The advertisement “One Option,” which seeks to mark differences with Donald Trump on issues such as the cost of insulin or abortion, was produced in Spanish, English and Spanglish.

The new effort to reach out to Latinos takes place at a time when Biden’s Hispanic support appears to be weakening. A New York Times poll shows that Trump has the support of 46% of voters, while Biden has only 40%.

It is not a new phenomenon, in the 2022 general elections, a higher proportion of both Latino women and men voted for Republican Party candidates.

But the decision to launch this $30 million media campaign in English, Spanish and Spanglish recognizes a reality: the use of Spanish is being diluted in the United States.

Although 75% of Hispanics say they are able to speak and understand Spanish, that proportion drops to 55% among Latinos born in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.

For third-generation Latinos, that proportion plummets to just 34%.

The trend has profound implications for society in general, for Spanish-language news media and, in the current election year, for presidential campaigns.

Right now, 54% of all adults in the United States get their news in English. The proportion increases to 81% in the case of those born in the United States, according to Pew.

That is, U.S.-born Latinos are less likely than immigrants to get their news from Spanish-language news outlets.

As if that were not enough, Latinos are increasingly migrating from traditional media such as television, radio or newspapers to social networks through digital media.

Although television continues to be the majority medium for 23% of Latinos, social media is approaching and already captures 21% of the audience and, together with digital media, absorbs 40% of the Hispanic audience.

Of course speaking English is absolutely critical for the future of Latinos in the United States. It is not only the most important language in the country but in the world. And it is key to daily life, access to services, education, employment and civic participation.

But the loss of the Spanish can be an avoidable tragedy.

Spanish is not just a language, it is a carrier of heritage and cultural identity. When Spanish is diluted, cultural connections and traditions are lost and a unifying factor within communities is weakened.

The key may be the defense of bilingualism. Because it enriches our lives, strengthens our communities and contributes to the economic, cultural and political development of a diverse and plural country. Because Spanish is a treasure that we cannot afford to lose.