- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 27/11/2013
- america hispanohablante, English, español en sudamerica, hispanoablantes, localization, Spanish
Juan Ponce de León was one of the first Spanish speakers to set foot in what is now the United States. In his search for the mythical fountain of youth, he came upon what he thought to be an island, naming it after either its profuse vegetation or the time of year (historians disagree). Florida − which in Spanish means “flowery” − is now known around the world as the all-American playground. But it has not shed its all-Spanish name.
Despite its predominant use of the English language, the United States is inextricably linked to the Spanish language. The first permanent European settlement in what is now U.S. territory, in Saint Augustine, Florida, served as a base for Spanish explorers, missionaries, and merchants during the 1600s and 1700s. As they explored and settled in Florida, Alabama, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, the Spaniards left a trail of forts, churches, towns, and missions.
Junípero Serra, a Franciscan monk, founded nine missions in California, among them San Francisco (Saint Francis), Los Angeles (The Angels), Sacramento (Sacrament), and San Diego (Saint James). Thanks to Spanish colonisation, the Spanish language extended throughout South America, Mexico, and into what is now Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. When the United States annexed those areas during the short Mexican War (1846-1848), the Spanish speakers stayed behind as part of the cultural and linguistic landscape of the Southwest.
After the Spanish-American War (1898), the United States gained control over Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. The Spanish-speaking immigrants who came to the United States as a result settled mostly in California, Florida, New York, and New Jersey, where they kept their culture and language alive. With the Great Depression came a new trend in immigration as more than five million seasonal workers moved from Mexico to fill the labor shortage created by the Second World War, especially in the agricultural, construction, and railway industries.
Throughout the 20th century immigrants from most Latin American countries fled to the United States from their politically unstable or war-torn countries. The early 21st century has seen the growth of Spanish TV channels, the predominance of Latin music and culture in Hollywood and the media, as well as the growing recognition from the business world of an untapped market sector with great spending capital. Over forty million Spanish speakers live and work in the United States (13 percent of the population) and more than 28 million speak Spanish as their primary language at home. That makes the U.S. the third largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Since the days of Ponce de León, the Spanish language has become deeply entrenched as part of American life and culture. The fountain of youth may continue to be elusive, but offering websites, brochures, catalogues and support in Spanish is a guaranteed strategy for reaching out to a large – and growing – sector of the population in the U.S.