Cepeda column: A few words of Spanish on Oscar night spoke volumes for Latinos
CHICAGO — All right, Diego Luna can come in from the doghouse. He managed to earn a reprieve on Oscar night.
I had kicked him out back in 2013, when Luna (most famously of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) went on Conan O’Brien’s talk show, “Conan,” to promote his futuristic movie “Elysium” and dropped some tired stereotypes on millions of TV viewers.
O’Brien: “In the future, they’re prophesizing in this movie that everybody speaks Spanish, ‘cause that’s sort of the way it’s going.”
Luna: “Yeah, and it’s not going to take so long. … If you want to keep your job at this network, you’re going to have to learn Spanish.”
O’Brien: “Yes, ‘cause the country, it’s all changing over.”
Luna: “Forty-seven million people speak Spanish today, and we like having sex, so multiply that for eight in 10 years, another eight in another 10 years.”
I ripped Luna for pushing the narrative of hypersexualized Latinos and suggested he check the Pew Research Center for accurate data before shooting off his mouth. That’s because, like all other immigrant groups before them, Latinos get up on their English skills pretty quickly.
The same year Luna made these comments, a Pew blog post noted that “A record 31 million Latinos now speak English proficiently, up from 8 million in 1980. … Our studies show that among Latinos born in the U.S., significant majorities get their news in English, watch television shows in English, listen to music in English and even think in English.”
Even though the number of Latinos who speak Spanish at home continues to increase due to the overall growth of the Latino population, the share of Latinos who speak the language has declined over the past decade or so, according to 2015 data from Pew, the most recent available. Just 73 percent of Latinos spoke Spanish at home in 2015, down from 78 percent in 2006, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data.
When I started teaching in 2005, all of my Hispanic students were native Spanish speakers. This year, many of my students are native English speakers who nonetheless require help understanding and internalizing the intricacies of the language because they’ve grown up in a household where English is only spoken as a second language.
Luna was dead wrong in 2013, but bygones must be allowed to be bygones because we’re no longer in a political environment where a Mexican man could even say such a thing without potentially triggering a violent act.
In the years leading up to president Donald Trump’s victorious presidential campaign, hate crimes against Latinos had risen so much that more than one in five hate crimes victimized Latinos, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.
In California, hate crimes against Latinos have increased by more than 50 percent since 2016, according to a recent Department of Justice report.
In such an environment, Luna sprinkling his Academy Awards presenter patter with Spanish is a declaration of pride in a language no one in the world should be ashamed of speaking.
As Luna, and chef Jose Andres, finished their introduction to a 2019 Oscar nominee for best picture, “Roma,” Luna let Espanol have the last word over the majority white crowd of attendees and viewers.
He basically said, and I’m translating here: “Alrighty then, here’s a little piece of ‘Roma.’”
It was a simple little moment that probably passed by too quickly for non-Spanish speaker to catch. And a huge one for everyone who recognized the Mexi-centric slang and felt that Diego was not only speaking to them, but for them.
“When Diego Luna said ‘Bueno pues,’ I felt that,” said film fan @voyalcinesola on Twitter.
Me too, right in the sternum.
Just like everyone else who felt the emotions start roiling when Andres prefaced Luna’s quip with: “This beautiful, intimate film, one that gives voice to the voiceless, reminds us of the understanding and compassion we all owe to the invisible people in our lives — immigrants and women — who move humanity forward.”
Countless people of color felt gratitude to Andres and Luna for reminding us that despite any attempts to dehumanize us and break our spirits, it only takes a few words to inspire fellowship and a sense of shared experience, regardless of whether you’re rich and fancy or barely out of poverty.
And in this way, the duo’s intro was as poignant and as breathtaking as the movie “Roma” itself.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.