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.
*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.