Huffpost Latino Voices

Steve Abraira, Latino Fire Department Chief, Singled Out For Inability To Speak Spanish

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On Thursday, The Boston Herald broke the story that the local fire department's "celebrated Latino hire" doesn't speak Spanish, calling their discovery "surprising news."

The story, written by reporter Dave Wedge, says that Boston has increased its efforts to hire bilingual Latino firefighters, but that the Boston Fire Department Chief Steve Abraira can't speak Spanish.

Abraira, a native of Miami, never claimed to speak the language and insists his heritage wasn't a factor in his hiring, according to the article. Some are left wondering what then is so "surpising" about a U.S.-born Latino who doesn't habla Español.

As Latin American immigration slows, and more and more Latinos are born in the U.S., a growing number of Hispanics don't speak Spanish.

Nearly all Hispanic adults born in the United States of immigrant parents say they are fluent in English, and one third of Latino children speak only English at home, according to Pew Hispanic estimates from 2007. Futhermore, only 38 percent of third–generation Latinos—United States-born kids with foreign-born grandparents—are proficient in Spanish, according to the same study.

The former Co-President and Editorial Director of Latina Magazine, Galina Espinoza, says she's sick of others insinuating she's not "Latino enough" because she doesn't speak Spanish.

"Why does anyone think she is the ultimate authority on what it means to be Latino? And, why do so many of us continue to insist that there's some sort of checklist that must be adhered to before you're allowed to identify with your heritage?"she wrote in a blog for Huffington Post LatinoVoices.

Many U.S. Latino notables, who are proud of their heritage, also do not speak the language fluently, including Soledad O'Brien, Selena Gomez, Rosario Dawson, and Naya Rivera. Even Latina superstars like Jennifer Lopez and Selena have garnered criticism for not speaking the language "well enough."

Still, others worry that Latinos will lose Spanish completely as the second and third generations are slow to pick up their parents' native tongue.

"Language is a key indicator that you’re part of a certain culture. Others will look at you and say, ‘You don’t speak Spanish? Then you’re not Mexican,” Eugene García, Ph.D., a professor at Arizona State University, told Latina Magazine in their article, "Will Spanish Survive In America?"

But Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce told The Boston Herald that Chief Abraira's language abilities had little to do with his heritage.

“It doesn’t make him any less Latino," she said.

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