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A few words of Spanish on Oscar night spoke volumes for Latinos

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- All right, Diego Luna can come in from the doghouse. He managed to earn a reprieve on Oscar night.

I had kicked him out back in 2013, when Luna (most famously of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story") went on Conan O'Brien's talk show, "Conan," to promote his futuristic movie "Elysium" and dropped some tired stereotypes on millions of TV viewers.

O'Brien: "In the future, they're prophesizing in this movie that everybody speaks Spanish, 'cause that's sort of the way it's going."

Luna: "Yeah, and it's not going to take so long. ... If you want to keep your job at this network, you're going to have to learn Spanish."

O'Brien: "Yes, 'cause the country, it's all changing over."

Luna: "Forty-seven million people speak Spanish today, and we like having sex, so multiply that for eight in 10 years, another eight in another 10 years."

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I ripped Luna for pushing the narrative of hypersexualized Latinos and suggested he check the Pew Research Center for accurate data before shooting off his mouth. That's because, like all other immigrant groups before them, Latinos get up on their English skills pretty quickly.

The same year Luna made these comments, a Pew blog post noted that "A record 31 million Latinos now speak English proficiently, up from 8 million in 1980. ... Our studies show that among Latinos born in the U.S., significant majorities get their news in English, watch television shows in English, listen to music in English and even think in English."

Even though the number of Latinos who speak Spanish at home continues to increase due to the overall growth of the Latino population, the share of Latinos who speak the language has declined over the past decade or so, according to 2015 data from Pew, the most recent available. Just 73 percent of Latinos spoke Spanish at home in 2015, down from 78 percent in 2006, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data.

When I started teaching in 2005, all of my Hispanic students were native Spanish speakers. This year, many of my students are native English speakers who nonetheless require help understanding and internalizing the intricacies of the language because they've grown up in a household where English is only spoken as a second language.

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