The Time Has Come for an English Language Latino Network

Marketers, media and politicians take note: demographics indicate that more than half of Hispanics born in the U.S. are now English dominant—and the statistic is growing

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Brendan Hoffman / PRIME for TIME

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is seen on a large screen as he speaks to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4, 2012.

Stealing Tuesday night’s show at the Democratic National Convention along with First Lady Michelle Obama was Julián Castro – the first Latino ever to deliver a convention keynote address. Yet while the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio represents perhaps the most coveted bloc of swing voters in this presidential election, there’s one thing about the Stanford- and Harvard-educated Castro that might seem counterintuitive to non-Latinos: He doesn’t speak Spanish. He knows enough of it to recall his Mexican-born grandmother, as he did in his speech, telling him, “Que Dios los bendiga.” (May God bless you.) But he admits that your average white kid studying Spanish in high school probably speaks the language as well as he does.

That’s not exactly a plus for the Democrats, especially when the Republicans’ Latino standard bearer, Senator Marco Rubio, speaks fluent Spanish. Still, Castro is hardly an anomaly. A recent Pew Hispanic Center study found almost two-thirds of Latinos (or Hispanics) living in the U.S. are either bilingual or English-dominant. A majority (51%) of Latinos born in the U.S. are now English-dominant. That doesn’t mean all those Spanish-language ads Craig Romney is narrating for his dad’s presidential campaign are a waste of time. But it does suggest that the U.S.’s largest and fastest-growing minority group, despite its still strong connection to its Latin American roots, has become much more linguistically and culturally assimilated, a la Julián Castro, than mainstream America had anticipated. “For Hispanics,” notes Isaac Lee, president of news for Univision, the U.S.’s largest Spanish-language television network, “birth rates are now higher than immigration rates.”

(MORE: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro Addresses DNC)

That’s the kind of demographic shift that media executives as well as politicians ignore at their peril – which is why Lee and his boss, Univision President Cesar Conde, got together with ABC News President Ben Sherwood last year to brainstorm a new, English-language cable TV network targeted at Latinos. The still unnamed venture, announced in May, will debut online next month (Univision has already begun a social media outreach via English-language Tumblr and Twitter sites) and plans to hit the airwaves next summer with both news and lifestyle programming. It could mark one of the biggest developments in Latino-oriented media since networks like Telemundo, CNN en Español and the Miami-based Univision (now the U.S.’s fourth largest network overall) began broadcasting in the late 1900s. That’s especially true given the distribution muscle of the Disney corporation, which owns ABC.

The U.S.’s more than 50 million Latinos have long considered language a linchpin of their identity, whether they’re Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles or Cuban-Americans in New Jersey. That’s a big reason white politicos like Al Gore and George W. Bush have felt compelled to butcher Cervantes’ tongue on the stump. But the new linguistic trend is evidenced by the fact that English-language networks are partnering with Spanish-language counterparts, as NBC and Telemundo are doing with convention coverage, hoping to make English-speaking Latinos feel more included. “Even though more and more Hispanics live and work in English,” says Lee, himself a Colombian-American, “they still take pride in their culture and care about what’s going on with immigration and the places their parents and grandparents came from.”

The Black Entertainment Television (BET) network has thrived on much the same premise vis-à-vis African-Americans. It’s more than welcome, if not overdue, that major media like ABC and Univision have seen the light regarding Latinos, says Colombian-American journalist Viviana Hurtado, who authors the popular Wise Latina Club blog and is a regular columnist for Fox News Latino, an online version of what Univision and ABC are bringing to cable. “There is still this assumption that all Latinos are immigrants and Spanish-dominant,” says Hurtado, who argues that many younger, more English-proficient U.S. Latinos find it a condescending gimmick when English-language media and political campaigns address them in Spanish. “It’s a retro demographic model that’s more 2000 than 2012.”

Still, the new Univision/ABC network could be unsettling for some in the Latino community – not least the U.S. Spanish-language broadcasters who fret that their linguistic market could someday be as small as a starlet’s skirt on a telenovela (soap opera). But the bigger debate the venture reflects is whether bilingual education, upbringing and interaction still matter to Latinos, or whether Spanish should be de-emphasized in the home and classroom in favor of English (which Castro says was his experience growing up in San Antonio). In Miami, for example, where 60% of the population is Latino, there is a growing fear that neither Spanish nor English is the dominant Latino tongue – that a hybrid Spanglish has taken over, meaning less a bilingual generation than a sort of “alingual” cohort that doesn’t speak either language all that fluently.

Hurtado, who has a PhD in Latin American literature – “I do want to hold on to my parents’ culture and speak their language well,” she says – is certainly no foe of Spanish. She insists nonetheless that “for Latinos in this country, where English is the language of power, English proficiency is an imperative.” And yet, even so, they “want their news to be relevant to them,” says Lee. Univision/ABC research, he notes, shows that even for English-dominant Latinos, one of the most important stories from the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year was the young Mexican-American intern, Daniel Hernandez, who helped save her life and became a son-of-immigrants hero at a time when Arizona was enacting draconian anti-immigration laws.

That suggests that the Republican Party, which thanks to issues like immigration could lose the Latino vote as badly as it did in 2008, probably can’t count on Latinos becoming more conservative as they speak more English. In the end, Latinos seem to be saying, legislation trumps language.

MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage of the DNC

20 comments
goober
goober

Why does there have to be a separate English language network for Latinos? Why the segregation?

Nadeau Barlow
Nadeau Barlow

Historically Spanish was a widely used language of the United States before the United States was even a country. The strong, deep historical links the U.S. has with the Spanish-speaking world are one reason the Spanish language remains so resilient in the U.S. today. As the Latino population becomes more educated and prosperous, all sorts of companies are looking for ways to plug into the market they represent. TIME is not the first, and it won’t be the last to cater to this growing market segment.

Nadeau Barlow
Nadeau Barlow

Historically

Spanish was a widely used language of the United States before the United States was even a country. The strong, deep historical links the U.S. has with the Spanish-speaking world are one reason the

Spanish language remains so resilient in the U.S. today. As the Latino

population becomes more educated and prosperous, all sorts of companies are

looking for ways to plug into the market they represent. TIME is not the first,

and it won’t be the last to cater to this growing market segment.

Nadeau Barlow
Nadeau Barlow

Historically Spanish was a widely used language of the United States before the United States was even a country. The strong, deep historical links the U.S. has with the Spanish-speaking world are one reason the Spanish language remains so resilient in the U.S. today. As the Latino population becomes more educated and prosperous, all sorts of companies are looking for ways to plug into the market they represent. TIME is not the first, and it won’t be the last to cater to this growing market segment.

Charles Edward Brown
Charles Edward Brown

Sounds great, put it on cable and charge for it like HBO, I already pay for too many Spanish language channels on cable that I don't want.

Ted Sebern
Ted Sebern

If you live here speak English.Recently I was accosted by a family who didn't speak English and had car trouble. Too bad.

istar123
istar123

 Wow, that's really charming of you Ted. Your mom must be proud.

Jardin J
Jardin J

We don't have a national language, just like we don't have a national religion. Not speaking English does not make you less an American. I'm willing to bet, once upon a time, you family moved here and didn't speak much English either. 

Carlos6970
Carlos6970

That's the point of the article, that Hispanics born in the U.S. DO speak English. 

Jose Antonio
Jose Antonio

Time mag should go out of print,  period - there's nothing deep in it - now, Mother Jones... that's deep; pure journalism!

AugustineThomas
AugustineThomas

They're both leftist drivel meant to win over immigrants like you.

Nothing wrong with immigrants. But leftists are pathetic and it's sad the way they take advantage of minorities and never give them anything for it.

fuzzypook
fuzzypook

I have a real problem with immigrants like "Jose."  I thing he should go back where he came from.

AugustineThomas
AugustineThomas

Yea but welfare Americans like you (9 out of 10) are dumber than sh** and worthless in a physical sense so the country would collapse without them.

18235
18235

4th paragraph down = " The U.S.’s more than 50 million Latinos have long considered language a linchpin of their identity"

LIBERALS HATE WHEN SOMEBODY CLAIMS THERE ARE 20 MILLION SPANISH SPEAKING ILLEGAL ALIENS----NOW TIME MAGAZINE CLAIMES THERE ARE 50 MILLION LATINOS.

LIBERALS HATE WHEN SOMEBODY CLAIMS THAT LATINOS LOVE SPANISH---TIME MAGAZINE HERE CLAIMING THAT LATINOS..."HAVE LONG CONSIDERED LANGUAGE A LINCHPIN OF THEIR IDENITY"

that one little sentance re 50 million latinos prefering spanish should be an eye opener.

Little_2Note
Little_2Note

you don't know nuthin'.  it's all over for people like you.  Viva the Reconquista.

18235
18235

gracias, for admitting that to dummies like obama and lame liberals.

Kenneth Dreger
Kenneth Dreger

If this is so, then why are we trying to publish everything also in Spanish? There should be ONE language, and ENGLISH is it. Having all these different languages only helps divide this country.  Also the Spanish and all other foreign language stations SHOULD HAVE ENGLISH SUBTITLES.

18235
18235

TIME MAGAZINE SHOULD PRINT PART OF ITS WEEKLY MAGAZINE IN SPANISH.

and this is the one millionth pro-spanish article in usa written by a gringo.

how come time magazine has so many gringos...?  there are lots of spanish speaking writers willing to write for time magazine for less money.


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