Copyright 2001 Burrelle’s Information Services
SHOW: ABC NEWS: NIGHTLINE (11:35 PM AM ET)
March 2, 2001, Friday
HEADLINE: ENGLISH: WHO NEEDS IT? QUIEN LO NECESITA?; MANY SPANISH-SPEAKING PEOPLE IN US GET ALONG WITHOUT SPEAKING ENGLISH; JORGE RAMOS, UNIVISION TV, DISCUSSES COMMUNICATING IN SPANISH
ANCHORS: CHRIS BURY
REPORTERS: MICHEL MARTIN
Announcer: This is a NIGHTLINE Friday Night Special.
(Clip shown from “I Love Lucy”)
CHRIS BURY, host:
Back in the days of “I Love Lucy,” it was a novelty.
Mr. DESI ARNEZ: (From “I Love Lucy”) (Spanish spoken)
BURY: (VO) Today…
President GEORGE W. BUSH: (Spanish spoken)
BURY: (VO) From the president, to the music charts, to the nightly news…
(Clips of various people speaking Spanish in various settings)
BURY: (VO) …Spanish seems to be everywhere. Welcome to America. Spanish spoken here. Tonight, English: Who Needs It? Quien lo necesita?
Announcer: From ABC News, this is NIGHTLINE. Substituting for Ted Koppel and reporting from Washington, Chris Bury.
BURY: The great American melting pot is surely among our most enduring articles of faith. Immigrants come to this country. They settle at first in neighborhoods where the mother tongue is still spoken, but very soon, certainly by the second or third generation, the kids are speaking English even if their grandparents are not. That is the myth. The reality is the Spanish-speaking population here is exploding so rapidly that in only 50 years, white Americans will be another minority. Even now, for many immigrants, learning English is no longer essential. Indeed, in many American cities, it is quite commonplace to get up, go to work, come home, flip on the TV, or go out to a movie without hearing a single word of English.
The fastest growing American television network, Univision, is programmed entirely in Spanish. And in cities like Miami, its newscasts routinely beat those on ABC, CBC and NBC. In Los Angeles, Spanish language radio stations are often number one and number two in the all-important morning and evening drive times. And it’s estimated that half of this country’s 32 million Hispanics now get all of their news from Spanish language radio, television and newspapers. So the great melting pot may be giving way to separate stews of language and culture, a country with its own parallel universe of English and Spanish. For schools, business, politics, you name it, the implications are enormous. Consider what NIGHTLINE correspondent Michel Martin discovered in a place you might not expect.
MICHEL MARTIN reporting:
(VO) We toured a certain city recently, an American city, where you can eat…
Unidentified Woman #1: (Spanish spoken)
MARTIN: (VO) …you can work…
Unidentified Woman #2: (Spanish spoken)
MARTIN: (VO) …you can shop…
Unidentified Man #1: (Spanish spoken)
MARTIN: (VO) …you can pray…
Unidentified Man #2: (Spanish spoken)
MARTIN: (VO) …get medical care and keep up with the news even if you speak only Spanish.
Unidentified Man #3: (Spanish spoken)
MARTIN: You can do this, that is, if you live where Blanca Alfero (ph) lives, in a bilingual city like Washington, DC.
(OC) American cities have always had their Little Odessas, Little Italies and Chinatowns, ethnic and linguistic enclaves where immigrants arrive, get their bearings, maybe re-create some of what they left behind. But what seems different here are the numbers. One out of nine US residents is of Hispanic origin, and that means economic clout, political clout, and cultural impact far beyond the border cities like Miami and San Diego. These are communities with the potential to transform the cities around them, to sustain themselves on their own terms, especially with language, much as Blanca Alfero has done.
(VO) Born in El Salvador…
Ms. BLANCA ALFERO: (Spanish spoken)
MARTIN: (VO) …owner of a local business, Blanca Alfero has lived more than half of her 51 years in the United States and still speaks just a few words of English.
(OC) You told me that you used to speak more English than you now do. Is that right?
Ms. ALFERO: Si. Si. (Spanish spoken)
MARTIN: Why is that?
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) Because I’ve forgotten. Because I have been in this area for 12 years, and in this area you don’t need English.
MARTIN: Can you do pretty much what you need to do even though you have forgotten a lot of your English?
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) Yes. It’s no problem.
MARTIN: (VO) It’s not a problem because in Alfero’s neighborhood, businesses and professionals of every kind cater to customers like her. They either speak Spanish or make sure someone is around to translate, which NIGHTLINE staffer, Henry Navas, is doing for us.
Do you buy most things that you need in this area?
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) Yes. Yes. I always buy shoes. Everything I need I can buy here.
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) Everything. Clothing stores, food, jewelry stores, lawyers. It’s all close.
Ms. ALFERO: Yeah.
MARTIN: (VO) That’s right. You can get your taxes done?
Ms. ALFERO: Uh-huh.
MARTIN: Right here?
Ms. ALFERO: Uh-huh.
MARTIN: See, I see the sign. There’s a sign that says, “We speak Spanish.”
(VO) In fact, she is so used to being able to speak Spanish whenever she wants, that she is taken aback when her bank has no Spanish speaking teller on duty one day.
Ms. ALFERO: (Spanish spoken)
Unidentified Woman #3: No.
Ms. ALFERO: (Spanish spoken)
Woman #3: To get change?
Ms. ALFERO: (Spanish spoken)
Woman #3: The roll of quarters? You want to get a roll of quarters?
MARTIN: (VO) She even urges the teller to learn Spanish.
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) It’s very important.
Woman #3: Yes. Very important, very important.
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) When one does not speak English, they need to be able to speak Spanish.
Woman #3: Right. Right. Because we have a lot of Spanish speaking customers.
Ms. ALFERO: Yeah. When they come and nobody there to speak Spanish, I tell you sometimes I go and they say nobody speak Spanish. So I go.
MARTIN: (VO) And the manager of the local bank, Victor Lopez (ph), knows this. He says 80 percent of his customers prefer to speak Spanish.
(OC) Do they need Spanish speaking tellers and people to help them or will they be able to function without them?
Mr. VICTOR LOPEZ: Most of them–well, most of them would. I would say probably about 35 percent of them would require some sort of assistance in translation to help them with their services. The other ones understand and speak well enough to defend themselves and to get it done. But from a comfort point, I think it’s better for them if I assist them in–in translating the services.
MARTIN: (VO) Nor could the new owner of a neighborhood institution, Heller’s Bakery, function without his Spanish speaking employees, he says.
Mr. ERIC JOHANSON (Heller’s Baker): Many times, no matter how long the line is, they’ll wait and speak to the Spanish employee. And they know who that is. And I’ll ask them, do they like me to help them, and they just sit, you know, and defer, and they would rather wait. I don’t mind it. In this neighborhood, especially, this is their neighborhood. I’ve come into their neighborhood to run a business, so I have to cater to the people in the neighborhood, which happen to be Spanish in this case.
Ms. MONICA VILLALTA (Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care): The idea is to provide services that are appropriate to the target audience. We do that with marketing. It’s our–it’s our–it’s our American approach.
MARTIN: (VO) But mainly this clinic administrator says services like health care are just so important that every effort must be made to persuade people to use them.
Ms. VILLALTA: What was happening is that there were women who were not accessing health care at all, who are now getting their prenatal care. And there was a need for someone to be able to come to the patients and be able to understand their needs, their pains, and even their attitudes toward care.
MARTIN: (VO) In fact, some people in this part of town, not only tolerate the prevalence of Spanish, they encourage it.
Father FRANCIS RUSSO (Shrine of the Sacred Heart): It’s a given. You pray best in your own language. That’s a given.
MARTIN: (VO) Which is why Blanca Alfero’s priest, Father Francis, now offers four masses in Spanish every weekend and two in English, as well as one each in Vietnamese and Creole.
Father RUSSO: I think it is so important, because people–the–the–the most basic reality of people is their relationship to God.
MARTIN: (VO) This is not to say that Ms. Alfero does not want to speak English, she does.
(OC) Is there anything that you are personally missing or that you would like to do that you cannot do because your English is not as good as it could be?
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) Yes. There are lots of things that I don’t feel competent in. To understand completely someone like you who speaks only English and I can say these pants are made in El Salvador and were sewn by hand, but you’re not going to understand me.
MARTIN: (VO) But as a single mother of four, Blanca Alfero had a difficult choice to make, a choice she believed between learning English and taking care of her family.
Announcer: This is ABC News: NIGHTLINE, brought to you by…
MARTIN: (VO) Immigrants have always faced the challenge of learning a new language. So what’s new? For one thing, says Margarita Delyano Rodriguez, (ph) television.
Ms. MARGARITA DELYANO RODRIGUEZ: Compared to 20, 30 years ago, we now have two major television stations that are national, that are in Spanish. We now have at least four radio stations that I know of, and in the DC metropolitan area, I think it’s four or five weekly Spanish newspapers. And we didn’t have that at all when–when I was growing up.
MARTIN: (VO) Delyano Rodriguez owns an insurance company down the street from Blanca Alfero’s clothing store. Her family came from Puerto Rico. They had to learn English to survive she says. And as painful as it was, she worries that newcomers will suffer in the long run because they do not face similar pressure.
Ms. RODRIGUEZ: I don’t think they can as rapidly adjust themselves to society here. And I don’t think they’re going to succeed with that pattern unless they make an extra effort.
MARTIN: (VO) Ben Zwaig (ph), whose photography studio is nearby, also believes that a neighborhood like theirs, where businesses are run by people from all over the world, needs a common language.
Mr. BEN ZWAIG: I don’t recent having to converse in Spanish. What I find frustrating is not with the people themselves, but the fact that because this is a Hispanic neighborhood, that the neighborhood, in my opinion, doesn’t get the city services that it–that it deserves because the people aren’t united.
MARTIN: (VO) Father Francis thinks such worries are overblown.
Father RUSSO: I–I don’t see where it is any–does any harm to people or to our country or to the people coming in that they speak their language. Eventually, they’ll learn English, if they need it. But there’s no need, they won’t.
MARTIN: (VO) The church helps out with free English lessons. But, in fact, the priest is even more adamant that families hold on to their Spanish. And Blanca Alfero agrees with him. She wants her children to speak both languages.
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) Yes. It’s very important. We are Latinos. We came, but we can’t let our children, even though they were born here, lose our language. It’s very important.
MARTIN: (VO) They agree.
Unidentified Man #4: Let’s start with problem 19.
MARTIN: (VO) Ugo (ph) is a law student at the Catholic university.
UGO: Do I think that English is, you know, fundamental to, you know, to do things in the United States and to achieve things? I–I think it’s very important. But if you can get it done with Spanish, I don’t see why you should force people to learn English.
MARTIN: (VO) He switches languages with ease. But his older brother Roger, a construction worker and chef, worries that, like his mother’s, his English will deteriorate, because everyone around him speaks Spanish.
ROGER: If I’m trying to get my kids to learn in Spanish, I need to talk to them in Spanish. So I don’t have room for–for my English.
MARTIN: (VO) Sometimes, Roger says, he’s even criticized for speaking English. He wouldn’t mind being required to speak it sometimes.
ROGER: To a certain amount. Maybe that’s what they need, that little boost to get out of, you know, our own, like I say, our own little world.
MARTIN: (VO) For Blanca, however, that boost sometimes felt like a hammer. Like the time she ruined the decorations at the hotel where she worked because she did not understand the instructions. The manager called her in.
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) He told me that I had to learn more English. And I told him, ‘If you want, you can fire me because I have my children, and I can’t leave them.’ Always, when I remember this, it hurts me because I suffered a lot. I had to leave my children alone. I didn’t have anyone to take care of them. I left them to God and called them as often as I could and hoped that nothing happened to them.
MARTIN: (VO) Eventually the manager arranged her hours so she could take English lessons. But she left the job so she could keep a closer eye on her children and now her grandson. That’s why she started her own business which mainly serves Spanish speakers like her. To those who know many women like her, it is a familiar story. Surviving in any language is achievement enough.
Ms. VILLALTA: When someone asks you, ‘Well, how do you feel about your life here?’ And you realize that you’ve done so much, that you have left worse and you have left problems behind, that you have succeeded, of course you have to say, ‘Yes, I didn’t need to learn the language because I managed to do it despite those odds.’
MARTIN: (VO) Blanca Alfero has managed.
Ms. ALFERO: (Through translator) When I remembered what I experienced, I always have to cry because it looks like my life–I came to this country looking for a future for my children and to help my parents, and trying all my life to work so that my children would have a life different than that in El Salvador.
MARTIN: (VO) And it is different, except for one thing. They still speak Spanish. This is Michel Martin for NIGHTLINE in Washington.
BURY: (VO) When we come back, one of this country’s highest rated network news anchors and it’s not who you think it is.
BURY: Joining us from our Miami bureau, Jorge Ramos, evening news anchor for the Spanish language network, Univision. Mr. Ramos’ newscast routinely beats the English language network news programs in many of the country’s biggest cities.
And Mr. Ramos, we don’t mean just to flatter you by that, I guess it is a sign of just how fast the Spanish language audience is growing that, in fact, you do beat ABC, CBS and NBC in some cities.
Mr. JORGE RAMOS (Univision TV): That’s–that’s true. I think it has to do with–with many different factors. On one hand, 18 percent of the newborn babies in the United States are Hispanic, even though we’re only 11 percent of the population. Every day at the same time, 1,000 immigrants cross the border illegally from Mexico to the United States. So you see a trend in here. People in–in the Hispanic community tend to–to prefer to watch their programs and to get their news in Spanish, and that’s a trend that’s going to continue for the next–for the next decade for sure.
BURY: Mr. Ramos, what about you? I mean, how well do you get by in your own personal and professional life without English?
Mr. RAMOS: Well, sometimes I can tell–I mean, sometimes I can spend days without speaking a word in English. I–of course, I have to do it now and sometimes I have to do it for–for business purposes. But sometimes I simply do not need to speak English during the whole day or sometimes during the whole week. But I think I would like to point out something that is very important. Even though, that there are millions of Hispanics like me who do not have to speak English during the whole day, that doesn’t mean that we do not and we cannot communicate in English. That doesn’t mean that we are not assimilating to mainstream America. The fact that we speak Spanish is something that I’m very proud of. It–it keeps–keeps me in touch with my roots. It keeps me in touch with my country. But at the same time…
BURY: But at the same time, Mr. Ramos, just on a very practical level, if one needs a police officer or one needs to negotiate in an emergency room, there are instances in which it’s not good enough just to be able to speak Spanish.
Mr. RAMOS: Well, I mean, the fact is I think it’s a misconception that the–that because we speak Spanish we do not speak English. In Europe, it’s very common for everyone to speak not only two languages or even three languages. So I don’t see why in the United States we shouldn’t adopt exactly the same thing. So I think it’s–it’s the rare example that you might find a person who speaks only Spanish and cannot communicate in English.
BURY: Beyond that, what you saw in Michel Martin’s reports were communities where the adults still had trouble with English. The children in many cases had been assimilated. But what about the adult who perhaps works with Spanish speaking people all day, comes home, doesn’t have time to–to listen to tapes, doesn’t have time or perhaps the resources for–for language. That person it seems to me is–is growing evermore isolated.
Mr. RAMOS: I–I don’t think so. I think it’s–what’s–what’s going on in the United States, again I would like to point out, that it’s–this is a very diverse society. It’s a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society. And I don’t think it’s being isolated. The fact that we are, for instance, in the Spanish language news medium that we are providing content and newscasts for them doesn’t mean that they cannot assimilate into the rest of–of society and–and Hispanics and La–Latino are following the exactly the same path as other immigrants. That’s what happened with the Irish and what happened with the Italians. Eventually, second and third generations assimilated completely to–to this country. And what happens is that we have a continuous flow of immigrants coming to the United States, and that’s the reason why we still have a lot of–of people speaking only Spanish. But, eventually, and the census is going to confirm this fact, we are assimilating at a very fast pace. We are contributing economically to this country. And what we are lacking is political power.
BURY: Mr. Ramos, on that point of assimilation, we’re seeing some interesting kinds of it we noticed in the show. Martin’s piece there, the woman ordering bagels and cream cheese in Spanish.
Mr. RAMOS: Well, I–I think what happens is the rest of America is going to have to–to accept the fact that it’s truly becoming a diverse country. More tortillas are being sold in the United States than bagels, more salsa than ketchup. So the process is well under way. I don’t know who’s assimilating to what.
BURY: Jorge Ramos, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We appreciate it. I’ll be back in a moment.
Announcer: To receive a daily e-mail announcement about each evening’s NIGHTLINE and a preview of special broadcasts, logon to the NIGHTLINE page at abcnews.com.
BURY: On Sunday, a key member of the Senate committee investigating the presidential pardons and a preview of the Naval inquiry into the nuclear submarine accident. That’s Sunday on “This Week” with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. That’s our report for tonight. I’m Chris Bury in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.
LOAD-DATE: March 3, 2001