Hola, Señor DJ

Why can’t you understand the top DJs in Los Angeles and Houston? Because you did badly in high-school Spanish. That’s OK. I flunked English as a Second Language in high school in Mexico. That didn’t stop me from coming to the U.S. to try to make a living.

I have learned enough English to understand the data coming from Nielsen and Arbitron: The No. 1 radio stations in L.A. and Houston, the No. 2 station in New York and the No. 1 TV stations in L.A., Miami and Las Vegas are all Spanish-language stations. Miami you expected. Maybe L.A. But Vegas? Sin City? Are we taking over the U.S.?

Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in this country; they should surpass African Americans to become the largest minority overall by 2005. There are now over 35 million Hispanics in the U.S.—12.5 percent of the population. I’m happy about this because I still have 20 years of mortgage to pay, and I need a job advertising to Hispanics.

The question everybody asks me is, “Will Hispanics continue speaking Spanish?” Are we like other immigrant groups to the U.S. that have assimilated over time? Or are we like the French in Canada?

The short answer is I do not know. I do not think anybody knows. Data show second- and third-generation Hispanics tend to speak English. Still, more people now speak Spanish in the U.S. than at any point in our history—even when big chunks still belonged to Mexico. After years of assimilation, we are still talking to our kids and our sweethearts in the language of our parents.

When I came to the U.S. in 1983, Hispanics talked to me in English. In part, it’s a curse I have always had: I’m blond and 6’2″, and strangers in Mexico would always assume I was a “gringo” and ask me if I needed a taxi. Since—as you remember—I flunked English, I didn’t know what they were saying and got really irritated.

But Hispanics are more likely to speak in Spanish to me now—and not just because I’m balding and have less blond hair. There is a pride that didn’t exist before. When I arrived, it seemed kind of shameful not to speak English. That has changed. People I meet are not embarrassed to show me their “Mexican-ness” or their “Central American-ness.”

Clients ask me if I know of good bilingual personnel. I see the classifieds looking for Spanish speakers. I see the top radio stations in a number of markets broadcasting in Spanish.

I believe we are reaching a critical mass in certain areas of the country, where if you speak Spanish you can make more money because your language skills are in demand. That’s the bottom line—and why most of us came here. And if people can make money speaking a certain language, that language will tend to thrive.

A generation ago, parents did not want their kids speaking Spanish. They wanted them to integrate as quickly as possible. Parents still want their kids to integrate. But more and more they see the advantages of keeping a second language. If you can understand what the top DJs are saying, you can make money off it.