When US President Donald Trump took office, one of his first acts was to remove the White House’s Spanish-language Web page.
More than two years later, as he battles with the US Congress over funding for a border wall to stem the tide of immigrants from Central America, disturbing incidents linked to the use of Spanish are on the rise.
In May last year, a New York lawyer went off on employees in a Manhattan store who were speaking Spanish, threatening to call the immigration authorities.
That same month, two US women were arrested by border patrol agents for speaking Spanish to each other.
The acts of intolerance are evidence of the country’s increasing political polarization, even though the language is more and more commonplace in American life.
More than 41 million people living in the US claim Spanish as their mother tongue. Hispanics are now the country’s main minority group, at 17 percent of the population, according to the Pew Research Center.
Worryingly, a study from the center published in October revealed that about 40 percent of Latinos said they had been harassed in the past 12 months because of their background, including speaking Spanish in public.
Since Trump was elected in November 2016, “we are seeing more employees calling saying: ‘Hey, I’ve been told to speak English only,’” said Christopher Ho, a lawyer for Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco.
The association provides legal assistance to workers and a toll-free number where Latinos can file complaints about language-based discrimination.
On social media, it is not hard to find examples of people behaving badly when faced with Spanish speakers.
In June, 24-year-old Julio Cesar Ovalle — who was born in Los Angeles and is American but grew up in Mexico — was walking in San Antonio when he was arrested by a border patrol agent.
Ovalle did not have an identification document on him, and never really learned to speak good English.
He was quickly accused of being in the US illegally, and was deported the next day, despite his efforts to explain his situation.
“It was an injustice and racism, all because I don’t understand or speak English well,” Ovalle told the San Antonio Express-News in Spanish.
In October, a Guatemalan family was harassed in a restaurant in Lovettsville, Virginia.
One woman, after asking to see their passports, used an expletive multiple times in telling them to “go back” home.
“The Trump administration and its rhetoric has clearly emboldened some of the worst impulses” at US Customs and Border Protection, said Cody Wofsy, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.
The organization is representing the two women who were arrested in Montana and have since filed a complaint against border patrol.
“There’s no official language in the US. People are within their right to speak any language they want, and hundreds and hundreds of languages are spoken in the US,” Wofsy said.
Spanish has always been present in the US, notably in the West, where territory that is now part of six different states was sold to the US by Mexico in the mid-19th century.
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