It doesn’t matter if you’re minding your business, or living in a city with a large Latinx population or wearing a military uniform. If you speak in Spanish in public in the United States, you could be the target of hate.
For Xiara Mercado, who was wearing her Air Force uniform, she was criticized for speaking Spanish during her while on a Starbucks run in Hawaii. The Puerto Rican woman was chatting on the phone inside the Starbucks as she waited for her order. As she was leaving, an unnamed woman tapped her on the shoulder and told her she shouldn’t speak Spanish while in uniform.
“You shouldn’t be speaking Spanish,” the woman told her. “That’s not what that uniform represents… [It’s] distasteful.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Xiara responded. “What’s distasteful?”
“You speaking another language that does not represent America and that uniform you are wearing, that’s distasteful,” the woman told her.
The comment shocked her, and Xiara needed a moment to compose herself. But when she did, she let the woman know that her bigotry wasn’t OK. “I’m sorry, ma’am, the only distasteful thing here is that you are clueless to your discrimination,” Xiara told her. “Please educate yourself.”
As she walked away, the lady shouted, “I don’t know how you are allowed to wear that uniform.”
Xiara stopped, turned around and replied, “I wear it proudly,” before walking away.
While the incident left Mercado feeling “more sad than mad,” it was an empowering moment for her. It, unfortunately, doesn’t always go this way. Many end up feeling frightened and worried. Bigotry has always happened, but with a president who openly disparages those who don’t look like him (i.e. those who aren’t white), many have felt increasingly unsafe. In 2018, Pew Research reported that 4 in 10 Latinos were discriminated against in the previous year. They were either told to stop speaking Spanish or told to return to their countries.