LIFESTYLE

Poll: Most Latinos say speaking Spanish not important to being Hispanic

MYRTLE BEACH, SC - FEBRUARY 11:  Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) autographs a Spanish language version of his book, 'An American Son' during a campaign town hall meeting at the Crown Reef Beach Resort February 11, 2016 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Earlier in the week Rubio placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary, behind fellow GOP candidates Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Donald Trump, who won with 35 percent of the vote.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC - FEBRUARY 11: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) autographs a Spanish language version of his book, 'An American Son' during a campaign town hall meeting at the Crown Reef Beach Resort February 11, 2016 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Earlier in the week Rubio placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary, behind fellow GOP candidates Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Donald Trump, who won with 35 percent of the vote. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)  (2016 Getty Images)

With two presidential candidates of Hispanic heritage, one of whom admitted to shortcomings when it comes to fluency in Spanish, the question has arisen about the extent to which skill level in the language is a fair measure of just how Hispanic somebody really is.

In a recent debate, Sen. Marco Rubio made reference to Sen. Ted Cruz’s lack of Spanish-speaking skills, which prompted the Texan to utter a few words in Español.

Before he dropped out of the race after the South Carolina debate on Saturday, Jeb Bush’s supporters likes to say that he is more Latino, in some ways, than either Cruz or Rubio because, among other things, he speaks Spanish fluently.

A new Pew Research report says that most Latinos surveyed say that speaking Spanish should not be tied to qualifying as a Latino.

Almost three-quarters, or 71 percent, said that being able to speak Spanish was not a measure of whether someone is Hispanic or not. Only 28 percent said that to be Hispanic, a person should speak Spanish.

Responses did differ somewhat between Latino subgroups, with 87 percent of those born in the United States dismissing Spanish speaking skills as a test of whether someone is Hispanic, compared with 58 percent of immigrants who rejected the notion.

At the same time, the share of Latinos who speak only English at home is rising. More than a quarter of Hispanics ages 5 and older live in a household in which only English is spoken, compared with 22 percent in 2006.

The Pew report noted: “Rubio’s confrontation with Cruz, who recently became the first Hispanic to win the Iowa caucuses, was interpreted by some as a challenge to how much Cruz belongs to or identifies with the Hispanic community in the U.S. (It’s worth noting that this is not a new tactic. Hispanic Democrats have been confronted before by fellow Latinos in a similar way.)"

While most Latinos say Spanish-speaking should not be a litmus test for Hispanic identity, they do feel that future generations of Latinos should be able to speak Spanish.

“While language use differs among Hispanics – some speak only English, some speak only Spanish and some are bilingual – Spanish is still a characteristic that, for the most part, unites much of group,” the report said. “About three-quarters of Latinos, no matter where they are from, speak Spanish at home.”

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