The Real Reason Democratic Candidates Spoke Spanish On The Debate Stage

Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images.
Today, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 40 million Americans speak the Romance language at home.
So, what is a presidential candidate to do when presented with the opportunity to address the entire nation, including many Spanish-speaking voters, via a televised debate? Hablar un poco de español, of course.
That's exactly what former Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker did in at least three separate instances during the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election on Wednesday, June 26. The event was hosted by NBC, in partnership with MSNBC and Telemundo. As you may know, Telemundo is one of the country's largest Spanish-language broadcasters.
O'Rourke used his introductory turn to speak Spanish, a clear pitch to the bilingual Latinxs who were tuning in to the debate. He said that the American democracy should "listen to all voices." He didn't answer the question he was asked about whether he supports a 70% marginal tax rate in either language, however. The Texas Democrat spoke Spanish once again when answering a question about immigration, which led to a heated back-and-forth with former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro on whether or not crossing the border illegally should be criminalized.
Notably, Castro, the only Latino in the crop of presidential hopefuls, saved his Spanish for his closing statement. "I am Julián Castro and I'm running for president of the United States," he said.
Booker also used the question about immigration to address Spanish-speaking voters directly. "The situation today is unacceptable," he said, in reference to the crisis of migrant children who are being detained at the Southern border. "The president has attacked and demonized immigrants."
With the Latinx voting bloc in flux, Democratic candidates have aggressively tried to court these voters via appearances and interviews with Spanish-speaking outlets. What candidates seem to forget at times is that many Latinxs are not bilingual at all: According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, Spanish dominance has been declining among second- and third-generation Latinxs. At times, the use of Spanish can be awkward and feel like extreme pandering.
With one more night of the debate to go, Andrew Yang, who will be on the stage Thursday, June 27, tampered everyone's expectations with one tweet: "My Spanish is terrible."
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Wellness guru Marianne Williamson is taking a different approach. She jokingly tweeted: "I need to learn Spanish by tomorrow night at 9."
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