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Spanish Miami’s Primary Language

Spanish Miami’s Primary Language Spanish-only speakers have an easier time getting by in Miami than English-only speakers, AP reports.

In many areas of Miami, Spanish has become the predominant language, replacing English in everyday life. Anyone from Latin America could feel at home on the streets, without having to pronounce a single word in English. In stores, shopkeepers wait on their clients in Spanish. Universities offer programs for Spanish speakers. And in supermarkets, banks, restaurants — even at the post office and government offices — information is given and assistance is offered in Spanish. In Miami, doctors and nurses speak Spanish with their patients and a large portion of advertising is in Spanish. Daily newspapers and radio and television stations cater to the Hispanic public.

But this situation, so pleasing to Latin American immigrants, makes some English speakers feel marginalized. In the 1950s, it’s estimated that more than 80 percent of Miami-Dade County residents were non-Hispanic whites. But in 2006, the Census Bureau estimates that number was only 18.5 percent, and in 2015 it is forecast to be 14 percent. Hispanics now make up about 60 percent.

“The Anglo population is leaving,” said Juan Clark, a sociology professor at Miami Dade College. “One of the reactions is to emigrate toward the north. They resent the fact that (an American) has to learn Spanish in order to have advantages to work. If one doesn’t speak Spanish, it’s a disadvantage.”

According to the Census, 58.5 percent of the county’s 2.4 million residents speak Spanish — and half of those say they don’t speak English well. English-only speakers make up 27.2 percent of the county’s residents.

That Miami has a huge Spanish-speaking population is hardly news, of course. They’ve been electing Hispanic mayors almost exclusively since 1973 and all their first-time mayors since 1985 have been Cuban-born.*

It’s arguable, at least, that people who live in Miami should be expected to be able to speak some Spanish. The problem, though, is that Miami isn’t an island. It’s a major city in an overwhelmingly English-speaking country. It’s not reasonable that Americans who live elsewhere should feel as if they’re in a foreign country when traveling domestically on business. More importantly, it threatens to isolate Miami from the rest of the country, making them less able to participate in the political system and cut off from the broader national culture.

Generally, immigrants have a strong incentive to learn English and their children do so almost universally. But that’s much less likely to happen when they can get by in their native tongue. We should expect, therefore, that this trend will continue.

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*Stephen P. Clark, who served from 1993-1996, had previously been city mayor from 1967-1970 and mayor of Miami-Dade County from 1970-1972 and 1974-1993.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Anon says:

    I’m a second-generation immigrant myself, and strongly pro-immigrant, but I agree that this is a bad trend. I’m not sure about the best way to combat it without trampling on state rights and individual liberties, however. One way might be to eliminate or severely curtail Spanish in school and state-funded Universities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  2. Triumph says:

    They’ve been electing Hispanic mayors almost exclusively since 1973 and all their first-time mayors since 1985 have been Cuban-born.*

    Not true. Alex Penelas was born in Miami. So that makes one mayor since the 1960s to be born in Cuba.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    Alex Penelas was born in Miami. So that makes one mayor since the 1960s to be born in Cuba.

    Penelas isn’t mayor of the City of Miami but of Miami-Dade County. Miami’s mayors since 1985:

    1985-1993 Xavier Suarez
    1993-1996 Stephen P. Clark
    1996 Willy Gort (Acting)
    1996-1997 Joe Carollo
    1997-1998 Xavier Suarez
    1998-2001 Joe Carollo
    2001-Present Manny Diaz

    I can’t find any info on Gort, but he was a short-term fill-in for Clark after his death in office. Carollo and Diaz are both Cuba-born.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  4. LaurenceB says:

    That 29% of residents in Dade County don’t speak English well is not too surprising. Newer and more elderly immigrants will always fall into that category.

    What was surprising to me was that there are apparently less Spanish speakers in Dade County than Hispanics! It’s hard to argue that Latinos are not assimilating when, apparently, they are losing the ability to speak Spanish.

    From the stats cited in the posting above it’s impossible to say how many Hispanics fall into the category of “non-spanish-speakers”, but here’s how it appears to break out:

    1) 60% of residents are Hispanic.
    2) 58.5% of residents speak Spanish (including, presumably, some non-Hispanics like myself.)
    3) Therefore, there must be some significant percentage of Hispanics who do not speak Spanish at all. That sounds like assimilation on steroids to me.

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  5. John Burgess says:

    If 1.5% is all I get for my steroids, I want a refund.

    I recall being rather irked in the mid-1980s that I had to spend hours in City Hall Miami trying to find someone who could/would speak English to me.

    It’s not like I refuse to learn a second language… I’ve three I’m very comfortable in and another two I can get by in. None of them happens to be Spanish, however, as my life led me to other parts of the world.

    I’m considering taking a Spanish course–the only one I had was in 6th grade. But the Spanish I’ll be learning is Mexican-based as this part of FL has nearly no Cubans.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    Therefore, there must be some significant percentage of Hispanics who do not speak Spanish at all. That sounds like assimilation on steroids to me.

    I don’t doubt that plenty of Cubans are assimilating into the culture and learning to speak English. One would presume that the vast majority are doing that by the third generation.

    The problem is how many aren’t assimilating. That Miami is still “Little Havana” half a century after the wave started is problematic. Half the Hispanics don’t speak English well by their own admission, despite most of the immigration having come before 1980.

    Of greater concern is that English-only speakers are unable to get around and are being discriminated against for jobs. The article is anecdotal (I skipped the first several paragraphs when excerpting) so it’s not clear exactly what the breakdowns are.

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  7. LaurenceB says:

    John,
    You missed my point. Perhaps I wasn’t clear.

    At least 1.5% of Hispanics do not speak Spanish at all, but the actual number is obviously much higher, since many non-Hispanics speak Spanish.

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  8. Dave Schuler says:

    The statistics you’re reacting to sound like margin of error and study flaw to me.

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  9. LaurenceB says:

    Dave,

    Could you expound? Which statistic sounds like “margin of error”, and which sounds like “study flaw”, and for why do they sound that way?

    Thanks

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  10. Dave Schuler says:

    You point to a 1.5% difference (almost certainly within the margin of error) as a sign of “assimilation on steroids”.

    We don’t know what “speak Spanish” means (from the Census Bureau’s point of view) either. Does it mean native speaker? Primary Spanish? True bilingual? Any Spanish at all? A quick look at the Bureau’s web site didn’t help me out there much.

    I think it’s more than likely that Spanish-English bilinguals (probably many in the population in Miami) are not counted as Spanish speakers. We just don’t know from the information given so drawing conclusions probably isn’t terribly prudent.

    Additionally, were the statistics derived from mailers (probably) or live census takers? Mail-in questionnaires are probably not reliable under the circumstances. There might be problems with live census takers as well. Will respondents give reliable information to the census takers?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  11. John425 says:

    The UNITED States of America- R.I.P.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  12. Michael says:

    Dave,
    “Assimilation” would mean that Hispanics would be learning English, without necessarily abandoning Spanish. Laurence is indicating that the fact that some number of Hispanics are no longer learning Spanish as all, that English is now their _only_ language, is assimilation on steroids. His claim is one of increased quality, not increased quantity.

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  13. Michael says:

    The UNITED States of America- R.I.P.

    Did I miss a secession?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. Barry says:

    Perhaps there’s a Cuba policy at work?
    href=”http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2008/05/29/8259″>’Paved With Good Intentions’

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  15. Triumph says:

    Penelas isn’t mayor of the City of Miami but of Miami-Dade County. Miami’s mayors since 1985:

    You got me! But of course Mayors of the constituent municipalities have little power since consolidation.

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  16. LaurenceB says:

    I must be writing particularly badly today – the only one who seems to understand what I’m saying is Michael. So, one last time…

    The stats show that only 58.5% of Dade County residents speak Spanish. Since many non-Hispanic residents of that county speak Spanish, and since Hispanics make up only 60% of the county, it must be true that a fairly significant percentage of Hispanics do not speak Spanish at all.

    That seems like a very strong indicator of assimilation.

    I am not talking about a 1.5% difference. That is not what I am talking about.

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