It was one of those moments that shouldn't be a big deal in this day and age, but unequivocally still was: Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine spoke entirely in Spanish during a speech he gave in Arizona on Thursday. The address marks the first time a member of a major party's ticket gave a speech in Spanish, which is somewhat shocking, considering that an estimated 41 million Americans speak Spanish as a first language. That means the United States is home to more Spanish speakers than Spain is.
An additional 11 million Americans also speak Spanish as a learned language, yet presidential candidates still tend to avoid speaking in non-English languages when campaigning. In recent years, former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John Kerry, who are both bilingual, were attacked in ads that capitalized on American fears of so-called "otherness." This fear seems to have permeated a significant part of American consciousness: In recent years, "English-only" rules in workplaces have inspired contentious lawsuits, and "English-only" laws have cropped up in many U.S. states, despite arguments that they seek merely to demean non-native English speakers.
In the face of this somewhat hostile linguistic climate, Tim Kaine's eagerness to use his Spanish on the campaign trail is all the more impressive. Moreover, it serves as a strong statement against some of the anti-Hispanic rhetoric and anti-immigrant policies that have emerged from within the Republican Party.
In English, Kaine's tweet reads, "Spanish is the language of more than 40 million in this country. Today, I will give the first all-Spanish speech of a presidential campaign."
At the same time, Kaine's use of Spanish on the campaign trail is also a practical acknowledgement of the ways in which America is changing. Hispanic Americans make up one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country, and it is only logical that politicians would reach out to those communities.
After their 2012 presidential loss, the GOP created a report to analyze its failings and concluded that major overhaul of the party's Hispanic outreach was necessary. However, the party has seemed to ignore that advice in 2016. Instead, Republicans selected a presidential nominee who from the first day of his campaign referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and made multiple derogatory comments about Latinos throughout the campaign.
Ultimately, Trump's relationship with Latino voters may cost him the election. In Florida, one of the most critical battleground states, Clinton leads Trump among Hispanic voters by 30 points.
In stark contrast to Trump, Kaine recently told Univision that his Spanish wasn't perfect but that he could "listen in two languages." Hispanic American voters seem to be listening to Kaine, as well.
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