Politics, Language, and Cultural Identity: DetroitRicans and Puertoricanness in Detroit

Abstract views: 82 / PDF downloads: 46





language and identity attitudes, linguistic racism, politicization of languages, Puerto Ricans of Detroit, Spanish in the United States


Due to a surge in racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that intensified during Trump’s campaign and presidency, some Americans have reacted to people speaking Spanish in public with hostility as well as verbal and even physical aggression over the last few years in the United States. A particular group of victims of language and identity discrimination has been Puerto Ricans, who are, ironically, American citizens. Drawing on historical perspectives, language and identity attitudes, the politicization of language, and linguistic racism approaches, the present study administered a language and identity questionnaire to 103 Puerto Ricans in Detroit, Michigan (DetroitRicans). Despite the rise of linguistic racism in the United States, 90.3% of respondents said that being able to speak Spanish was necessary to validate their Puertoricanness. In addition, 89% of this study’s participants agreed that not teaching Spanish to children was denying them their Puerto Rican culture and identity. DetroitRicans also identified Spanish as their mother tongue, their roots, and their homeland, whereas they identified English as the language of work, school, and economic advancement. The findings agree with the language and identity perceptions of Puerto Ricans living on the Island and in Central Florida; they diverge from the traditional perspectives of Boricuas in New York, North Philadelphia, and Chicago, who do not generally consider Spanish a vital part of their Puerto Rican identity. 


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Francia Martinez, University of Michigan Dearborn

Francia Martínez is a native of Cali, Colombia. She is an associate professor of Spanish, Hispanic Linguistics, and Foreign Language Teaching Methodology in the Department of Language, Culture, and Communication at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in Michigan. Her areas of research and interest are physical and virtual linguistic landscapes, and Spanish and Hispanics in Michigan in the United States.

Some of her publications include the following: “Una lectura lingüística, visual y cultural del paisaje de ocho ciudades de Colombia” (2021) in Hispanic Research Journal; “English in advertising in Colombia” (2015) in World Englishes; “A sociolinguistic study of a Hispanic colony in Detroit, Michigan” (2014) in the Southern Journal of Linguistics, 38, 83–122; and “Recursos lingüísticos empleados en la prensa popular colombiana” (2012) in Estudios Lingüística de la Universidad de Alicante: Revista de Lengua Española y Lingüística General: ELUA.


Acevedo, G. (2004). Neither here nor there. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Services, 2(1-2), 69–85. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J191v02n01_05

Acevedo, N. (2020, August 25). Puerto Ricans push back on Kimberly Guilfoyle’s “first-generation American” remarks. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/%20latino/puerto-ricans-push-back-kimberly-guilfoyle-s-first-generation-american-n1238042

Acosta, J. (2017, May 30). Speak Spanish in public with pride: Don’t let anyone silence you. Orlando Sentinel. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-dangerous-to-speak-spanish-in-trump-america-20170530-story.html

Aizenman, N. (2018, January 12). Trump wishes we had more immigrants from Norway: Turns out we once did. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/01/12/577673191/trump-wishes-we-had-more-immigrants-from-norway-turns-out-we-once-did

Anthony, M. (2013). Vivir mi vida [Live my life] [Song]. On 3.0. Sony Music Latin.

Arce, J. (2019, August 6). Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was never about legality—It was about our brown skin. Time. https://time.com/5645501/trump-anti-immigration-rhetoric-racism/

Badillo Matos, A. (2018, March 12). Towers and walls against multiculturalism: Hispanics and Spanish in the Trump Presidency. Real Instituto Elcano. https://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/en/analyses/towers-and-walls-against-multiculturalism-hispanics-and-spanish-in-the-trump-presidency/

Baker, S. (2017, October 1). Why doesn’t Donald Trump care about Puerto Ricans? Because they can’t vote for him. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-puerto-ricans-hurricane-maria-doesnt-care-a7976506.html

Ben-Ghiat, R. (2019, January 29). Gutting US foreign language education will cost us for generations. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/29/opinions/duke-professor-mla-report-foreign-language-departments-ben-ghiat/index.html

Bouie, J. (2017, October 1). Why Donald Trump doesn’t care about Puerto Ricans. SLATE. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/10/trumps-poor-response-to-puerto-rico-is-no-surprise.html

Canizales, S. L., & Vallejo, J. A. (2021). Latinos & racism in the Trump era. Daedalus, 150(2), 150-164. https://direct.mit.edu/daed/article/150/2/150/98310/Latinos-amp-Racism-in-the-Trump-Era

Carroll, R. (2016, June 9). “You were born in a Taco Bell”: Trump’s rhetoric fuels school bullies across US. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/09/california-primary-trump-rhetoric-school-bully

Chotiner, I. (2019, January 19). The disturbing, surprisingly complex relationship between white identity politics and racism. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/the-disturbing-surprisingly-complex-relationship-between-white-identity-politics-and-racism

Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33(2), 185–209.

Dayal, M. (2019, July 12). “I hope Trump deports you”: Customer threatens Puerto Rican woman for speaking Spanish. Yahoo!life. https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/i-hope-trump-deports-you-customer-threatens-puerto-rican-woman-for-speaking-spanish-183528034.html

De Costa, P. E. (2020). Linguistic racism: Its negative effects and why we need to contest it. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 23(7), 833–837. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2020.1783638

de Vogue, A. (2022, April 21). Supreme court rules Puerto Ricans don't have constitutional right to some federal benefits. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/21/politics/puerto-rico-supreme-court-federal-disability-benefits/index.html

Detroit’s NPR Station. (2017). Extremely diverse city council District 6 needs a diverse approach. https://wdet.org/2017/11/01/Extremely-Diverse-City-Council-District-6-Needs-a-Diverse-Approach/

Díez, B. (2019, December 3). “English Only”: The movement to limit Spanish speaking in US. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50550742

Domínguez-Rosado, B. (2015). The unlinking of language & Puerto Rican identity: New trends in sight. Cambridge Scholars. https://www.cambridgescholars.com/resources/pdfs/978-1-4438-8060-2-sample.pdf

Domínguez-Rosado, B. (2017, July 25). The unlinking of language and Puerto Rican identity: New trends in sight [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3clngjVRuJY

Dovchin, S. (2020, August 6). Introduction to special issue: Linguistic racism. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 23(7), 773–777. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2020.1778630

Duany, J. (2003). Nation, migration, identity: The case of Puerto Ricans. Latino Studies, 1, 424–444. https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.lst.8600026

Duany, J. (2010). The Orlando Ricans: Overlapping identity discourses among middle-class Puerto Rican immigrants. Centro Journal, 22(1), 85–115. https://doi.org/10.5149/9780807869376_duany.10

Edwards, J. (2009). Language and identity: An introduction. Cambridge University Press.

Fermoso, J. (2018, May 22). Why speaking Spanish is becoming dangerous in America. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/22/speaking-spanish-dangerous-america-aaron-schlossberg-ice

Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing appropriateness: Raciolinguistic ideologies and language diversity in education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149–171.

Folley, A. (2020, February 2). Jennifer Lopez sings “Born in the USA” while wearing Puerto Rican flag during halftime show. The Hill. https://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/in-the-know/481126-jennifer-lopez-sings-born-in-the-usa-while-wearing-puerto-rican/

France 24. (2019, October 3). US Spanish speakers decry ‘second-class’ treatment under Trump. https://www.france24.com/en/20190310-us-spanish-speakers-decry-second-class-treatment-under-trump

Freeman, R. D. (2004). Building on community bilingualism: Promoting multiculturalism through schooling. Caslon.

Gass, N. (2015, September 2). Trump attacks Jeb for speaking Spanish. Politico. https://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/donald-trump-jeb-bush-attack-speaking-spanish-2016-213276

Goldmacher, S. (2016, September 23). Trump’s English-only campaign. Político. https://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/donald-trumps-english-only-campaign-228559

Gómez Avella, C. E. (2018, June 24). Speaking Spanish: A risk in the United States. LatinAmerican Post. https://latinamericanpost.com/21746-speaking-spanish-a-risk-in-the-united-states

González-Rivera, M. (2021). Language attitudes towards Spanish and English in Puerto Rico.

Revista de Filología y Lingüística de la Universidad de Costa Rica, 47(2). https://doi.org/10.15517/rfl.v47i2.47006

Gumperz, J. J., & Cook-Gumperz, J. (1982). Language and the communication of social identity. In J. J. Gumperz (Ed.), Language and social identity (pp. 1–21). Cambridge University Press.

Gurdus, E. (2016, October 19). Trump: “We have some bad hombres and we’re going to get them out.” Yahoo!finance. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/trump-bad-hombres-were-going-013144840.html

Hernandez, D. (2021, January 20). Here’s what Jennifer Lopez said in Spanish at Biden’s inauguration. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2021-01-20/biden-inauguration-jennifer-lopez-performance

Horowitz, J. M. (2019, May 8). Americans see advantages and challenges in country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/05/08/americans-see-advantages-and-challenges-in-countrys-growing-racial-and-ethnic-diversity/

Hunt, K. (2012, March 16). Santorum: English quote wrong: Didn’t say Puerto Rico must ditch Spanish for statehood, he asserts. The Associated Press. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2012/mar/16/santorum-english-quote-wrong-20120316/

Ingraham, C. (2019, May 8). Nearly half of white Republicans say it bothers them to hear people speaking foreign languages. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com


Jaffe, M. (2012, March 15). Rick Santorum defends call for Puerto Rico to adopt English after delegate defection. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/03/rick-santorum-defends-call-for-puerto-rico-to-adopt-english-after-delegate-defection

Jones, B. S., Sherman, J. W., Rojas, N. E., Hosek, A., Vannette, D. L., Rocha, R. R., García-Ponce, O., Pantoja, M., & García-Amador, J. M. (2019). Trump-induced anxiety among Latina/os. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 24(1), 68–87. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430219889132

Joseph, J. E. (2016). Historical perspectives on language and identity. In S. Preece (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of language and identity (pp. 19–33). Routledge.

Killough, A. (2015, September 3). Jeb Bush on Trump: “You’re damn right I’m going to fight back.” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2015/09/03/politics/jeb-bush-donald-trump-fight-back

Krogstag, J. M., & Noe-Bustamante, L. (2021, September 9). Key facts about U.S. Latinos for National Hispanic Heritage Month. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/09/09/key-facts-about-u-s-latinos-for-national-hispanic-heritage-month/

Lamboy, E. (2004). Caribbean Spanish in the metropolis: A study of the Spanish language among Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans in the New York City area. Routledge.

Lamboy, E. (2011). Language and identity construction: Can we talk about a new Puerto Rican in the United States. In L. A. Ortiz-Lopez (Ed.), Selected Proceedings of the 13th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium (pp. 70–80). Cascadilla Proceedings Project. http://www.lingref.com/cpp/hls/13/abstract2476.html

Lemon, J. (2022, August 18). GOP is most “dangerous” political force in world, Michael Hayden says. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/gop-most-dangerous-political-force-world-michael-hayden-says-1734884

Lilley, S. (2012, March 15). Santorum’s “English” comments in Puerto Rico cause a stir. NBC LATINO. https://nbclatino.tumblr.com/post/19359245772/santorums-english-comments-in-puerto-rico-cause

Lopez, M. H., Gonzalez-Barrera, A., & Krogstad, J. M. (2018, October 25). More Latinos have serious concerns about their place in America under Trump. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2018/10/25/more-latinos-have-serious-concerns-about-their-place-in-america-under-trump/

Lopez, M. H., Krogstad, J. M., & Flores, A. (2018, April 2). Most Hispanic parents speak Spanish to their children, but this is less the case in later immigrant generations. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/02/most-hispanic-parents-speak-spanish-to-their-children-but-this-is-less-the-case-in-later-immigrant-generations/

Marcano, I. (2012). Fortuño’s plan for English proficiency in Puerto Rico. Council on Hemispheric Affairs. http://www.coha.org/fortunos-plan-for-english-proficiency-in-puerto-rico/

Martinez, G. I. (2012, Mar 22). Guillermo Martinez: Santorum's ignorance of Puerto Rico rule costs him plenty in primary. South Florida Sun-Sentinel. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/fl-xpm-2012-03-22-fl-gmcol-satorum-puerto-rico-martinez-0322-20120322-story.html

Morris, N. (1996). Language and identity in twentieth-century Puerto Rico. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 17(1), 17–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434639608666257

Noe-Bustamante, L., Gonzalez-Barrera, Edwards, K., Mora, L., & Lopez, M. H. (2021, November 4). 1. Half of U.S. Latinos experienced some form of discrimination during the first year of the pandemic. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2021/11/04/half-of-u-s-latinos-experienced-some-form-of-discrimination-during-the-first-year-of-the-pandemic/

Padilla, D. S. (2020, January 12). Reclaiming Spanish: Social pressures cause many immigrants to stop speaking their first language, losing an aspect of cultural identity in the process. Some families are trying to keep those ties alive. The River. https://therivernewsroom.com/reclaiming-spanish/

Peralta, E. (2012, March 14). Santorum: Puerto must adopt English if it wants statehood. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2012/03/14/148624140/santorum-puerto-rico-must-adopt-english-if-it-wants-statehood

Potowski, K. (2014). Ethnolinguistic identities and ideologies among Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and MexiRicans in Chicago. In R. Márquez-Reiter & L. M. Rojo (Eds.), A sociolinguistics of diaspora: Latino practices, identities and ideologies (pp. 13–30). Routledge.

Potowski, K. (2016). Inter-Latino language and identity: MexiRicans. John Benjamins.

Potowski, K., & Matts, J. (2008). MexiRicans: Interethnic language and identity. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 7, 137–160. https://doi.org/10.1080/15348450801970688

Pousada, A. (2017). Being bilingual in Puerto Rico. In A. Pousada (Ed.), Being bilingual in Borinquen: Student voices from the University of Puerto Rico. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Repke, L., & Benet-Martinez, V. (2017, March 31). Conceptualizing the dynamics between bicultural identification and personal social networks. Frontiers in psychology. Accessed January 12, 2018. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00469/full

Rieger, J. M. (2018, October 23). “It’ll be like, perfecto”: When President Trump dabbles in Spanish. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/23/itll-be-like-perfecto-when-president-trump-dabbles-spanish/

Rúa, M. (2001). Colao subjectivities: Portomex and Mexirican perspectives on language and identity. Centro Journal, 13(2), 117–133. https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=37711308009

Schwartz, J. (2018, October 1). Trump to reporter: “I know you’re not thinking. You never do.” Politico. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/10/01/trump-reporter-insult-854870

Seddiq, O. (2020, August 25). Kimberly Guilfoyle cited her Puerto Rican mother in her RNC speech to highlight her immigrant experience, but Puerto Ricans are US citizens. Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/kimberly-guilfoyle-rnc-speech-puerto-rican-immigrant-us-citizenship-2020-8

Shugerman, E. (2017). Donald Trump uses “Spanish” accent to pronounce “Puerto Rico” three times at Hispanic heritage event. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-puerto-rico-spanish-accent-video-white-house-hispanic-heritage-event-a7987446.html

Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2015). Linguicism. In C. Chapelle (Ed.), The encyclopedia of applied linguistics (pp. 1-6). Wiley.

Sonmez, F. (2012, March 14). Puerto Ricans slam Santorum for saying the territory should adopt English if it wants statehood. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/post/santorum-says-puerto-rico-should-adopt-english-if-it-hopes-to-be-state/2012/03/15/gIQAAeBKFS_blog.html

Sumagaysay, L. (2019, August 18). Minorities in the Bay Area grapple with racism, anxiety in Trump’s America: Some residents of the mostly inclusive Bay Area feel unwelcome in their own country. The Mercury News. https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/08/18/minorities-in-the-bay-area-grapple-with-racism-anxiety-in-trumps-america/

Sutter, J. D., & Hernandez, S. (2018, February 21). ‘Exodus’ from Puerto Rico: A visual guide. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/21/us/puerto-rico-migration-data-invs/index.html

Thompson, S. (2021, May 27). The U.S. has the second-largest population of Spanish speakers: How to equip your brand to serve them. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/soniathompson/2021/05/27/the-us-has-the-second-largest-population-of-spanish-speakers-how-to-equip-your-brand-to-serve-them/?sh=38f481b7793a

Torres, L. (1997). Puerto Rican discourse: A sociolinguistic study of a New York suburb. Erlbaum.

Torres, L. (2010). Puerto Ricans in the United States and language shift to English. English Today, 2(3), 49–53. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0266078410000143

Villanueva, D., Bonet, J. M., & Andreu, J. (2018). El español en Estados Unidos. Es necesario desarrollar políticas que secunden la defensa del bilingüismo [Spanish in the United States. It is necessary to develop policies that support the defense of bilingualism]. EL PAÍS España. https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/02/15/opinion/1518724319_998468.html

Walton, E. (2019, December 16). Trump and Stephen Miller capitalize on white America’s fear its racial identity is losing value. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-stephen-miller-capitalize-white-america-s-fear-its-racial-ncna1102081

Zentella, A. C. (1990). Returned migration, language, and identity: Puerto Rican bilinguals in Dos Worlds/Two Mundos. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 84, 81–100. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470753538.ch14

Zentella, A. C. (1997). Growing up bilingual: Puerto Rican children in New York. Blackwell.




How to Cite

Martinez, F. (2022). Politics, Language, and Cultural Identity: DetroitRicans and Puertoricanness in Detroit. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 9(4), 1–41. https://doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/1260



Original Manuscript