By Chef George Duran
I was at a deli in NYC a few weeks ago with a friend and we were ordering some sandwiches for lunch when something interesting happened. The guy behind the counter was Latino, so as usual I put in my order in Spanish. I often prefer to speak to my “compadres” in my native language to make sure the message gets across properly, and to make sure that my sandwich is made exactly how I want it (BLT on whole wheat with sliced avocado). What happened instead was the gentleman behind the counter answered me in broken English. My friend immediately turns to me and asks “why did he refuse to speak Spanish with you if he’s Latino?” The answer was complicated, but made sense to me.
You see, being Hispanic doesn’t put you in a category. It’s just a feeling of pride that can be shared from one Latino to a non-Latino easily. In fact, since I moved from Venezuela to the United States, I’ve always felt that I had a connection to South America right here in the USA…even amongst my American friends. The Hispanic culture is so engrained in our society that quite often we can’t (and shouldn’t) differentiate between the two. Americans have embraced the culture through music, arts, language and of course, food. Speaking Spanish is not a prerequisite to being Hispanic. I believe this is true of many cultures in the US, but Latinos most (thanks to the physical proximity).
Take in consideration that countries in the Eurozone are enormously diverse and much smaller than the border we share with Mexico. In fact, it’s no surprise that the US hasn’t adopted English as its official language.
Hispanic heritage month starts on September 15th and ends on October 15th this year, and it’s a time to reflect how our inner-Latinos (and Latinas!) appreciate this culture. Speaking Spanish is not necessary when you can dance, paint, and eat in Spanish! And chances are you have everything at your fingertips.
My “compadre” behind the counter did what anyone who wants to assimilate in the US would do. I give him credit for that and for making one of the best BLT’s I’ve ever tasted!