News anchor drawn into Spanish language debate over her pronunciation of Mesa

A television news anchor in Arizona – more used to reporting on stories than being the center of one – has made headlines across the country for a strongly-worded on-air defense of her pronunciation of Spanish words during English broadcasts.

Vanessa Ruiz, an anchor and reporter with Phoenix's NBC affiliate 12 News, jumped into the national debate over the use of Spanish, which has been debated everywhere from the workplace to the campaign trail, when she responded on Monday to complaints from viewers over her pronunciation of certain words and that she "rolled her Rs."

"Some of you have noticed that I pronounce a couple of things maybe a little bit differently than what you are used to, and I get that, and maybe even tonight you saw a little bit of it," said Ruiz, who was born in Miami but grew up in a bilingual household in Colombia.

She added: "I was lucky enough to grow up speaking two languages, and I have lived in other cities, in the U.S., South America, and Europe," she continued. "So yes, I do like to pronounce certain things the way they are meant to be pronounced. And I know that change can be difficult, but it's normal and over time I know that everything falls into place."

12 News' station director Sandra Kotzambasis said that she had received complaints over the way that Ruiz pronounces Mesa, the third largest city in the state.

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"Locals pronounce it ‘May-suh,' but many Spanish speakers and natives say ‘Mess-uh,' " Kotzambasis told the New York Times, adding that viewers also noticed that Ruiz "rolls her Rs when pronouncing Spanish words."

Ruiz did not return phone calls and emails from Fox News Latino seeking comment.

While the use of Spanish in the United States has been a hotly contested issue for years – cropping in cases from objections over the use of it in the Pledge of Allegiance to "English Only" policies in certain work places – the debate ramped up this week after Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized his fellow White House hopeful Jeb Bush for using Spanish when speaking with reporters and on the campaign trail.

"I like Jeb," Trump said in an interview with the conservative news site Breitbart. "He's a nice man. But he should really set the example by speaking English while in the United States."

The use of Spanish is a particularly big issue in the border state of Arizona, which has a Latino population of about 30 percent and growing and has been seen heated debates over English proficiency for public officials and a state law banning, with some exceptions, bilingual education.

"My observation is people generally feel threatened by use of communication that they are unfamiliar with," Timothy M. Hogan, the executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, told the New York Times. "Underlying all of that is the implied threat to the vanishing majority."

Following her on-air comments, Ruiz also issued a statement on the 12 news' website in which she said that her comments "were made out of respect and acknowledgment for some of those who watch us and wondered why I pronounced certain things a certain way in Spanish…I was more than happy to explain and/or clarify. Nothing more."

Ruiz followed up on these comments with a posting on her Facebook page on Thursday, where she expressed shock at the amount of discussion caused by her on air comments and thanked people for commenting on her on-air statement.

"To see what it has become has been surprising, to say the least, but if anything, I'm happy it has ignited a dynamic conversation," she wrote. "I am more proud now than ever to be an American, and also, a Latina. Thank you. Gracias."

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