By Awilda Pomales-Diaz, ’18
Language, for many, is an essential part of cultural and racial identity. For young Latinos who do not speak Spanish, many feel that they are missing a part of their identity.
Jersey City is unique because of its demographics. As the most diverse city in the nation, 28.6% of the population is Hispanic, according to the US Census. Students at Saint Peter’s University represent a large percentage of U.S. Hispanics, who do not speak Spanish fluently.
Saint Peter’s University is one of the 10 Hispanic-serving institutions in the state, with the majority of students, 36 percent, identifying as Hispanic.
“I can speak Spanish but I don’t always speak it very well. I understand everything that Spanish people tell me but I can’t have a full conversation with them,” said Natasha Pichardo.
Pichardo is a second generation Dominican-American student from Jersey City, who attends Saint Peter’s as a junior.
She is one of many U.S. Hispanics who do not speak Spanish at home. That number has risen to 40% in recent years, according to a Pew Research Study.
“Other Dominicans or even other Latinos tend to make fun of me. They call me white, they call me a non-Hispanic,” she said.
Pichardo recounted attempting to interview a Colombian restaurant owner on Bergenline, a predominantly Latino area in Hudson County, New Jersey for a school project. She was denied the interview because the business owner did not want to speak with her since she was not fluent in Spanish.
Hispanics account for about 17 percent of the United States population, making them the largest minority in the country according to CNN.com.
Although Pichardo does not speak the language fluently, she is heavily involved with many Latin-American student organizations and events on campus.
Johnny Cabrera a sophomore at Saint Peter’s is among the students involved in many cultural organizations. He believes his biggest exposure to the language began at the university.
Growing up in Camden, a predominantly black area of New Jersey, he accredits not learning the language due to the lack of usage in his community.
“I don’t feel left out of the culture. Although I don’t speak Spanish I’m still involved in the music, the food, and anything related to that culture,” said Cabrera.
Gabrielle Villar, a junior at Saint Peter’s University shares a different experience.
“I miss out. It sucks feeling you’re not a part of the conversation,” she said. “I feel like I can’t fully appreciate what my language and what my heritage has to offer me because I can’t fully understand it.”