Speak American

Brenda Melara, Writer

Social media was filled with comments about a controversial video of a classroom in Cliffside Park High School, New Jersey the morning of October 12. The 26 second video is about an English teacher reprimanding three students for speaking Spanish and telling them to speak “American,” presumably meaning the English language.


“…men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish,” the teacher said in the video. “They are fighting for your right to speak American.”


This comment had a big impact because a great percentage of the students of this high school are Spanish speakers. Last year, 49.7 percent of the students reported speaking Spanish at home, while 62 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino and only 32 percent reported speaking English at home, according to local school board statistics.


On October 16, at least 50 New Jersey students staged a protest walkout, some were wearing or waving flags representing their heritage and protested in front of the school during the fourth period of the school day. Passing vehicles honked in support of the students, and residents stopped to watch. The protest broke up around 11:30 a.m., an hour after it started, when a fire alarm sounded and the school evacuated. The same day, the school board had scheduled a special closed-session meeting with no public audience. The measures Cliffside Park High School will take are still unknown.


There is a divided opinion on whether or not this comment was intentional or just in the heat of the moment. Regardless of the reason behind the comment or the intentions of the teacher this kinds of comments are not valid and should not be stated by a teacher or anyone. These kinds of comments would not seem important for some people and might think this should not be taken seriously. However, these kinds of comments have a big impact to those that receive them.


I am a Spanish speaker. I moved from El Salvador to California about two years ago and although the great majority have no problem with my Hispanic heritage I also received comments similar to this one coming from classmates, teachers and even friends insinuating that I should behave in a different way or should not be here in the first place because I am not from here.  


Now, most of the people after explaining them that these comments were disrespectful said that is was not their intention at all, but when this kind of behavior is normalized you feel isolated from the rest. The words of a teacher have a great impact in your life; their job is to instruct and encourage students to take advantage of their abilities. Speaking Spanish is not something to be ashamed of, it is a special skill that makes you part of a community.


Aside from the controversy of the video, it was encouraging that the students of Cliffside Park High School showed their support towards the Latin-American population. They showed pride in their hispanic heritage instead of feeling embarrassed for being different and that is how it should be.