What Happens When Latino Immigrants Don’t Speak English — Or Spanish

Backlash against Latin American immigrants who primarily speak Spanish is nothing new – if you live in an area with a large Latino population, you need only leave the house to hear immigrants being ordered to “speak English.” Even speaking Spanish in public can open you up to harassment from bystanders for daring to have a conversation with your family in your native language, as this recent viral video demonstrates.

Statistics showing that 68 percent of Latinos speak English proficiently aside, the refusal to accommodate recent immigrants who are still learning English can result in very real consequences for families, diminishing employment opportunities and preventing people from accessing housing, up-to-date legal resources and medical assistance.

All of these factors are multiplied when you’re a Latino immigrant who speaks one of the dozens of indigenous languages still used throughout Central America. A recent NPR story estimates that there are over six million people who still speak traditional Mayan languages in Latin America today — and as more and more of them immigrate to the U.S., it is often nearly impossible to find translators who can help them navigate the legal system.

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