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Last Updated: Monday, 13 August 2007, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
BBC team ends US Spanish journey
Over the past two weeks, Jose Baig and Carlos Ceresole from the Spanish American service of the BBC travelled from the east to the west coast of the US, speaking only Spanish.

Carolos Ceresole and Jose Baig at the end of their trip
The BBC team asked hundreds of people "¿Hablas español?"

Their aim was to get a flavour of life among Spanish speakers in the country.

Jose Baig reflects on some of their experiences:

You are in a town in Florida and you decide to check who speaks Spanish there. Easy enough, you would think. How many people do you think you need to ask?

It took us 16 people and 50 minutes to find someone who spoke Spanish, as a second language.

You come across someone with thick black hair, brown skin and a badge on his chest with the name Armando Perez.

How much do you bet that he speaks Spanish? Well, keep hold of your money because this Armando did not speak a word apart from his own name and despite, as they say in the southern US, "looking Mexican".

Tony Jasso
Tony Jasso: Proud to be a US soldier and proud to be Hispanic

How much do you think a group of business people in Houston make, many of whom began selling tortillas on street corners?

We are talking of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce - a group of 700 companies, almost all run by immigrants - which has an annual turnover of $1bn.

You meet a soldier in San Antonio, Texas, who was in Iraq and who tells you what he is most proud of is serving in the US Army and speaking his own language - Spanish.


These are just a few of the stereotypes surrounding Spanish in the US that we saw overturned during the two-week journey we have just finished.

Hispanics and African-Americans live in permanent conflict, competing for jobs and services, don't they? That is what the newspapers and the statistics say.

Rey Rodriguez
Rey Rodriguez's family has lived in the US for generations

But we can give the example of Katrina, an African-American, who studied Spanish in school and whose six-year-old daughter speaks Spanish fluently as a result of playing with her Latina friends. Another cliche bites the dust.

There are plenty of people who criticise Latinos for not making an effort to learn English and integrate.

Those who do should meet Rey Rodriguez, whose ancestors arrived in the US six generations ago and who, despite his university degrees and his impeccable English, still gets called "beaner", the most disrespectful way of referring to an immigrant.

Time for some statistics - according to a leading market research company Global Insight, 15% of people who define themselves as Hispanic just speak English, while 25% of Hispanics just speak Spanish.

The rest speak the two languages, with differing degrees of fluency, obviously.

As a woman from El Salvador, who works as a restaurant cook, told us: " I might not pronounce it right but I know what I am saying."

Daily life

The question we asked ourselves before setting off was, would it be possible to cross the US from coast to coast just speaking Spanish?

Sherryl who works in a cafe in Mobile, Alabama
Sherryl has learned a few Spanish words serving Hispanic customers

The answer: we don't know. It most likely depends on the circumstances and which places you travel through.

We almost always found people ready to try to communicate even though they didn't speak our language.

Another factor is that although we insisted on speaking Spanish, we understood everything that was said to us in English. Our reaction was probably very different to someone who truly understood no English.

It also depends on where and when you need the other person to speak Spanish.

To order in a restaurant, maybe you can point but what about someone who doesn't speak English and needs to go to the doctor, or to a parents' evening at their children's school?

What we do know is that Spanish is present in the daily life of all Americans. Even the most hardened defender of "English Only" can stumble across Spanish while changing TV channels or walking in the street.

There are some 250 TV channels and 650 radio stations that broadcast programmes in Spanish, and the number keeps growing.

Perhaps the best conclusion is from an email sent to our blog from a Spanish teacher in New York, who wrote: " In the US, Spanish has stopped being a foreign language."

You can read more about Jose and Carlos's journey across the US in their blog on bbcmundo.com.


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