STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Many Americans have been following the debate over immigration by tuning into this newscast in Spanish.
(Soundbite of Spanish newscast)
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
INSKEEP: That's the Nightly News on Univision. On a recent evening when the U.S. Senate voted for a triple fence along parts of the border with Mexico. About two million people tune in, putting the newscast well behind NBC's Brian Williams, but ahead of most anything on the cable TV news networks.
One of the anchors is Jorge Ramos, who is also a best-selling author, and who was part of our conversations this week on immigration. Ramos has been watching the effort to tighten English language requirements for immigrants, even as millions of Hispanics spread a different language through this country.
Mr. JORGE RAMOS (Author and News Anchor on Univision): What we are seeing right now, it's an incredible demographic revolution. And Spanish probably will become as important as English. It's really difficult to imagine that right now, but there are places in the United States in which you see they do not speak English.
INSKEEP: As you know, there are some leaders in this country who would look upon that development with horror. And they would say they have nothing in particular against immigrants or Hispanics, but they just feel - and they in fact voted in the United States Senate - to say that English should be the national language of the United States.
Mr. RAMOS: You know this is the only country in the world in which there are people who believe that to speak one language is better than to speak two languages, or three languages.
My daughter, an American citizen, was brought up in Spain. And she speaks Spanish, English, and French, just like everybody else in Europe. To consider English the national language, it's a sign of resistance. And it's completely irrelevant. No law can stop the spread of a language in any country. And the United States is no exception to that.
INSKEEP: Although other countries, European countries, are defensive of their languages. Spain has an academy that looks after the language and decides what words are in or out. The French are very proud of French. I mean, that's not that unusual, is it?
Mr. RAMOS: What's different is that the United States, as we all know, it's a country of immigrants. And what distinguishes the United States from other countries is its diversity. So we are in a multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial society. So in that sense, it is just logical to think that if this is a multicultural society, that we might be multilingual.
INSKEEP: George F. Will, the conservative columnist, argued that there was a problem here, because, in his words, the national conversation is in English. And if you are not able to follow that debate thoroughly, in English - not just on the surface, but thoroughly - you really can't be fully, you really can't participate, fully, as a citizen.
Mr. RAMOS: We are participating in the debate, in English, with an accent. But we are participating in this debate. Let me stress the fact that nine out of ten Latinos are completely bilingual. That I haven't met a single Latino who believes that it is not important to learn English in this country. This is…
INSKEEP: We should qualify that, shouldn't we? There are plenty of people who have a degree of English, but maybe not a great depth in English?
Mr. RAMOS: Yeah, but what I'm saying - yes, I completely agree with you - these 90 percent of Latinos who are bilingual, some of them are completely fluent in English, some of them can just say a few words, and some of them are taking lessons. But the fact is that the majority of Latinos can perfectly communicate in English.
Not only that, second generation Hispanics feel much more comfortable in English than in Spanish. And here my son and daughter, they definitely feel more comfortable in English than in Spanish. And third generation Latinos tend to marry outside the Hispanic community. So, in other words, we are assimilating very fast into this society.
It is completely irrelevant to say that English is the national language in this country. Who establishes that? A law cannot establish what people speak at home or what people listen to at their offices or in their cars when they're driving. In many places in this country, Spanish and English have an equal footing.
INSKEEP: Could you envision a future in which English disappears in the United States?
Mr. RAMOS: In many streets, it already has disappeared. I mean, if you walk in Little Havana, in Gayuochu(ph), in Miami, or in some places - in Pilson, in Chicago, or even in New York or in Los Angeles - English has disappeared. I mean, it doesn't mean that you cannot find people who communicate in English, but in many communities, English simply is not needed.
INSKEEP: Could you envision a world in which English and Spanish disappear and blend into some form of Spanglish? Some…
Mr. RAMOS: Hopefully not. Hopefully not. It's, linguists would kill us for saying that Spanglish should be the official of the United States. But no, what I envision is a country…
INSKEEP: But, hold on, hold on. What's wrong with that, if that's what the people want? Why is it so awful?
Mr. RAMOS: No, I mean, linguistically and grammatically, it just is so difficult. No, I wouldn't say it sounds awful, but it's what people are speaking so I'm all for it, of course.
INSKEEP: Now wait. It's okay. It's okay to be against it, if you are. I'm just curious what the distinction is.
Mr. RAMOS: No, no, no, no. No, as a matter of fact, I speak Spanglish all the time. I can say, maybe our - the audience who is listening to us in English might not understand - but if I have a problem with my roof, and I have a leak, and I need someone to help me. I might say in Spanish, necessito consegeed(ph). I need to get a roofero(ph).
Roofero is a word that means someone who's going to take care of my roof. It's - in Spanish it sounds awful. It's simply Spanglish.
INSKEEP: is it just that it sounds ugly to your ears?
Mr. RAMOS: I mean I was, I was brought up in Mexico, and then I am, I got a masters degree in the United States. So I have, as many people who had the opportunity to go to college, I had this idea of certain grammatical rules and how languages should be spoken. So, yes, of course, to speak Spanglish, you might say it is a deformation of both languages.
INSKEEP: When you've been on your newscast in the evening, and trying to broadcast to a diverse group of people, speaking both Spanish and English, and sometimes Spanglish, do you ever find yourself dropping English words into the Spanish language newscast?
Mr. RAMOS: All the time. Because, how do you explain to a Spanish language speaker what social security is? We simply say social, which means nothing in Spanish. But instead of saying what social security is, or to define it in Spanish, we say social. Or, instead of saying green card, the resident alien's card in the United States, we say grinca(ph), with this pronunciation.
INSKEEP: So even as some English speakers are worried about the increasing influence in Spanish, English is having its influence on Spanish in this country.
Mr. RAMOS: Completely. There's no purity in the United States, which is fine. It's fantastic. This country is marvelous simply because of that - because this is the most diverse country in the world, and we have to cherish that and be proud of that, and not, instead of trying to fight every single signal of our diversity.
INSKEEP: Univision news anchor and best-selling author Jorge Ramos, and you can hear him discuss his family's hyphenated identities by going to our website npr.org.
Our conversations on immigration continue tomorrow, when we meet author Juan Enriquez(ph), who's asking if the United States, could someday, break apart.