Your Spanish Fluency Does Not Define Your Latinidad

Ifyou’reHispanic and somewhat online, you’ve probably heard the term “No Sabo kids” used to rip on Latine people who don’t speak fluent Spanish. Whether it’s 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’s actually some hurtful stigma around people within the community who aren’t fluent Spanish speakers. A recent Pew Research poll found that more than half, or 54%, of Hispanic people who don’t speak Spanish have been shamed by other Hispanic people. The poll also found that four in 10 Hispanic adults say they “very often” 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’t 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’t 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’t want our culture and language to die out, but it’s damaging to the Hispanic community to gatekeep Latinidad based on arbitrary guidelines. And this type of gatekeeping doesn’t stop at language. We don’t just exclude people who don’t speak fluent Spanish. In our communities, we often alienate people when they don’t look “Latin” enough. As someone who doesn’t 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’t 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’t grow up speaking Spanish.

At this point, we should be celebrating all types of Latinidad. When we make other Latinos feel like they don’t 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’t all look and speak the same — and that’s actually what makes us interesting.