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The Language Division in Nevada

For a state of only a few million people, the state of Nevada has its fair share of Latinos. Due to its location in the West, Nevada is one of the many states where Latinos are the largest minority population. Because I live in Reno, I see this minority every day. Of course, I fall into this statistic as well, as a Puerto Rican, but it’s often difficult to relate to the other Hispanics in town.

When I moved to Reno in 2003, my parents settled in an upper middle-class neighborhood in south Reno, only about 30 minutes from Lake Tahoe. There, I rarely saw any racial minorities. All our neighbors were white. That was a culture shock in itself, but I soon became accustomed to it.

In 2010, I moved to an apartment in north Reno near the University of Nevada, and I often saw many Hispanics — generally Mexican-Americans. Now, I often find myself in a neighborhood in which most people on the street are Hispanics and most of them don’t speak English at all.


Source: Speaking Latino, Flickr Creative Commons

The Census reported in 2011 that 12 percent of U.S. citizens primarily speak Spanish at home, and more than half of them speak English very well. This is an impressive statistic, one that’s not easy to observe when I’m in a primarily Mexican area. The local grocery store, Sak ‘n Save, caters to the largely Latino population in the area, to the point where every teller at the Wells Fargo branch there speaks Spanish. I waited at this place one day to meet with a banker and I was surrounded by the cacophony of Spanish. It was fascinating.

It also made sense, considering where I lived. Eight percent of Nevadans speak only Spanish, ranking Nevada fifth in the country in the amount of Spanish-only speakers. I’m Latina too, but I feel abnormally white among these other Spanish speakers. They speak it perfectly, in accents I find hard to understand, and I feel much different than them just because of that very reason — language.

I consider myself fairly fluent in Spanish, but I still speak haltingly. I can read and write fluently, but don’t use the skill often. The bulk of my Spanish is Castilian Spanish, from Spain. I never hear that around Reno. I have a hard time understanding the Mexican accent. Therefore, I sometimes have a hard time relating to them.

Language is one of the biggest cultural divisions we have. If we can’t understand each other, then how can we really be the same? The only real solution for me is to sharpen my Spanish-speaking skills a bit, since I live in an area where they are very useful. Perhaps then I’ll have an easier time, as a Puerto Rican, communicating with others who really aren’t different than I am at all.

Gianna Cruet

Gianna Cruet is a Puerto Rican, Basque and Italian journalist working in California's Central Coast. She has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Reno and is a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.