Bad Bunny brought back the closed captioning conversation during his Saturday Night Live (SNL) hosting night on October 21st, proving the debate over its use is alive and well.
The Puerto Rican superstar called out the use of closed captioning during his opening monologue, which was about half in Spanish, and did not always include closed captioning. This didn’t just send a clear message, it also proved that the narrative about Spanish closed captioning typically reading (Speaking Spanish, Speaking Non-English or Singing in Non-English) instead of translating the actual words is about more than just laziness, it crosses over into a lack of respect for our communities.
On the surface, the explanation for closed captioning is simple – networks and streamers alike hire English-speaking professionals to provide close captioning. Hiring Spanish-speaking ones for the Spanish-speaking moments would be an extra expense they don’t truly consider necessary. Except the (speaking in Spanish) issue occurs even in shows where Spanish subtitles are available – Netflix ones, for example, which do all the dubbing and subtitles way in advance.
That proves that, at this point, it’s not about the expense, it’s about the lack of thought that goes into it, and into our communities in general. As of 2022, the Hispanic population of the United States was 63.7 million, approximately 19.1% of the total population according to the U.S. Census. And yet our communities and the language most commonly spoken among them remain an afterthought for mainstream media.
It’s partly why there’s an entire generation of Latine kids who don’t actually speak Spanish – not that language determines their Latinidad at all. Their parents felt the need to assimilate them, because the language, for many, was seen as a negative, not a positive.
The pride of people like Bad Bunny has returned Spanish and the outward symbols of Latinidad to a place where the younger generation can feel comfortable in claiming this part of themselves again. But even if the shift among Latines continues, it will never be enough until the perception of who we are also changes. That means our Latinidad needs to stop being homogenized – and one of the common denominators (if not the only one) of our heritage, Spanish, needs to start being treated with respect for what it means for our community in the present, and not for its colonial history.
Spanish isn’t the only thing that makes us Latine, but it’s impossible to deny its importance as a common denominator, especially for a community that has long been denied exactly that. We aren’t “Speaking in Non-English.” We are saying words, specific words, and the world deserves to know what those words are, just as they get to know what they are in any other language. No one’s ever seen the phrase (Speaking in German) or (Speaking in French) on a US network telecast, after all. The why is obvious.
What Bad Bunny called out during SNL was the lack of respect toward our communities, and he was right to do so. We have to look at it in the face if we ever hope to change it and move forward.