Spanish, English, and Puerto Ricans in the US Mainstream

Synopsis: Although many people assume English is the US official language, the reality is that the United States does not have an official language. Moreover, it is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. However, anxieties about Spanish-speakers reflect longstanding xenophobia, nativism, and racism targeting Latinx populations. In popular culture, representations of Spanish have often aligned the language with stereotypes of Latinx people as hypersexual, buffoons, and racially inferior. In this context, Bad Bunny’s insistence on performing in Spanish makes a critical intervention into language politics in the US.


In “The Accent on Modern Family: Listening to Representations of the Latina Vocal Body,” Dolores Inés Casillas, Juan Sebastián Ferranda, and Sara Veronica Hinojos analyze the accent and grammar of Sofia Vergara’s character Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on the television show Modern Family.  They argue Gloria’s accent and vocabulary are frequently used for comedic effect throughout the show which upholds racial and gender hierarchies that stigmatize Spanish-speaking Latine people.

In this chapter of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, Juan González outlines the history of bilingualism, especially Spanish, in the United States.  González connects the language histories of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, French Creoles, and Native Americans as ones that are not foreign to the United States but rather autochthonous linguistic minorities who were absorbed into the United States through imperialism. He also writes about the Spanish language in Latino culture and communities in the United States.

In this piece, Michelle Ramos Pelicia and Sharon Elise demonstrate how language is used to replicate anti-Blackness in Puerto Rico. Through ethnographic research, they found that participants repeated ideas of colorblindness, avoided talking about issues of race because it was seen as rude, and often used anti-Black terminology while speaking.

“Y yo soy cubano and I’m impatient: Frequency and Functions of Spanish Switches in Pitbull’s Lyrics” analyzes the different uses of Spanish in Pitbull’s majority-English songs. Loureiro-Rodríguez argues that Pitbull is most likely to use Spanish words in his lyrics about women and hypermasculinity, thus reproducing stereotypes of the Latin lover.

Using a textual analysis of two Univision reality TV shows, Nuestra Belleza Latina and La Banda, Jillian M. Báez and Manuel G. Avilés-Santiago explore the ways in which Univision targets “billenials” or “bicultural and bilingual millennials.”  They found that Univision, which has traditionally produced programming in Spanish specifically without an accent, is starting to incorporate accented Spanish, like Caribbean Spanish, and English in its media.

In this article, Sara Verónica Hinojos analyzes the ways in which Mexican actor Lupe Vélez’s accent was depicted in English print media. She highlights how Vélez’s quotes sometimes contained exaggerations of her accent to draw attention to perceived mispronunciations to racialize her speech, as well as how her accent was used to sexualize her as exotic or tropical.