Spanish Thrives in the U.S. Despite an English-Only Drive

ALBUQUERQUE — Wander into El Super, a sprawling grocery store in the same valley where fortune seekers on horseback laid claim nearly four centuries ago to one of Spain’s most remote possessions, and the resilience of the language they brought with them stands on display.

Reggaetón, the musical genre born in Puerto Rico, blares from the speakers. Shoppers mull bargains in the accents of northern Mexico. A carnicería offers meat, a panadería bread, a salchichonería cold cuts, and there’s also a tortillería — that one’s self-explanatory for many who never even studied the language of Cervantes.

“Everything I need here is in Spanish,” said Vanessa Quezada, 23, an immigrant from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, gesturing toward the branch of the First Convenience Bank, where tellers greet people with a smile and “Buenas tardes.”

Indeed, the United States is emerging as a vast laboratory showcasing the remarkable endurance of Spanish, no matter the political climate.

Drawing on a critical mass of native speakers, the United States now has by some counts more than 50 million hispanohablantes, a greater number of Spanish speakers than Spain. In an English-speaking superpower, the Spanish-language TV networks Univision and Telemundo spar for top ratings with ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. The made-in-America global hit song of the summer? “Despacito.”

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At the same time, more than 20 states have enacted laws making English the official language, President Trump won the election with a platform that included building a border wall, and his push for new limits on legal immigration would require that applicants speak English to obtain legal residency green cards.

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Chris Alexakisart