Your Spanish Fluency Does Not Define Your Latinidad

"No Sabo kids" are getting hazed for their bad Spanish. But are the jokes actually damaging?
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty

If you鈥檙e Hispanic and somewhat online, you鈥檝e probably heard the term 鈥淣o Sabo kids鈥 used to rip on Latine people who don鈥檛 speak fluent Spanish. Whether it鈥檚 TikToks that poke fun at them for um, reinventing Spanish words or memes that call them out for their shoddy grammar, the No Sabo community is definitely being hazed right now.

But beyond the seemingly innocuous jokes, there鈥檚 actually some hurtful stigma around people within the community who aren鈥檛 fluent Spanish speakers. A recent Pew Research poll found that more than half, or 54%, of Hispanic people who don鈥檛 speak Spanish have been shamed by other Hispanic people. The poll also found that four in 10 Hispanic adults say they 鈥渧ery often鈥 hear jokes made at the expense of non-Spanish speaking Latinos.

There are many reasons why Hispanic people who are raised in the U.S. don鈥檛 end up speaking Spanish as fluently as they might like. For one, not all schools have good Spanish language programs and younger kids might not have the chance or resources to be exposed to the language.

Also, for those who don鈥檛 grow up in areas with a lot of Hispanic people, speaking Spanish could be viewed as a barrier toward assimilation. Growing up with a blended ethnic identity can already be complicated and confusing, and we definitely need to give each other more grace.

I get that authenticity is key and that we don鈥檛 want our culture and language to die out, but it鈥檚 damaging to the Hispanic community to gatekeep Latinidad based on arbitrary guidelines. And this type of gatekeeping doesn鈥檛 stop at language. We don鈥檛 just exclude people who don鈥檛 speak fluent Spanish. In our communities, we often alienate people when they don鈥檛 look 鈥淟atin鈥 enough. As someone who doesn鈥檛 look stereotypically Latino but speaks fluent Spanish, my Latinidad is often questioned, an experience that can be frustrating and alienating.

Also, lest we forget, some of the most prominent Hispanic people in our community were once No Sabo kids, starting with Selena Quintanilla, who was raised in Texas and had to learn Spanish so that she could sing the songs that were written for her. She wasn鈥檛 afraid to lean into the fact that she was a part of many different cultures, which is probably one of the reasons that Gen Z loves her so much. Becky G, who is now wildly popular in Latin America, was raised in California and didn鈥檛 grow up speaking Spanish.

At this point, we should be celebrating all types of Latinidad. When we make other Latinos feel like they don鈥檛 belong in the community, that weakens our bonds and affiliation toward each other, which only ends up hurting all of our sense of belonging. We can鈥檛 all look and speak the same 鈥 and that鈥檚 actually what makes us interesting.

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