Many bilingual people in the United States have been told the phrase, "Speak English! This is America!" or something of the sort. That mentality is what led to two Mexican-American women being detained by a border patrol agent.
Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez went to a gas station in Havre, Montana and were having a conversation in Spanish as they were buying eggs and milk. This was supposedly so suspicious that a border patrol agent, named Agent O'Neill, decided to stop and question them. He asked them where they were born and Suda was taken aback by the question so she asked him if he was serious, to which he responded, "I'm very serious."
The conversation was then taken to the parking lot of the gas station and the agent asked the women for their identification. As Suda recorded the encounter on her cell phone, she asked O'Neill what his reasoning was for asking them for their IDs and he stated,
"Ma'am, the reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here, and I saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here."
Obviously, his excuse makes absolutely no sense because hearing someone speak a language other than English does not mean that they are an immigrant. Suda also recognized how ridiculous his justification was and asked O'Neill if she was being racially profiled, but he said,
"It has nothing to do with that. It's the fact that it has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store, in a state where it's predominantly English-speaking."
Many Americans tend to equate being American with speaking English and that is why another common phrase told to someone not speaking English is "Speak American!" However, English is not the official language of the United States. There is no official language. This is a fact that many people tend to gloss over because they want to use the English language as a weapon against someone who either does not know the language or was not speaking it at the time. English is typically associated with whiteness and when some people hear a language other than English being spoken in the United States, they see it as not only an attack on the language but also an attack on white people.
Agent O'Neill may have felt annoyed or uncomfortable hearing Suda and Hernandez speaking Spanish in a state where English is mainly spoken, so he attempted to prove that the women were undocumented immigrants as a way to justify his annoyance. He ended up finding out that the two women were actually U.S. citizens. O'Neill then handed them back their documentation and told them they were free to go after keeping them in the gas station parking lot for about 35 to 40 minutes.
One of the most upsetting parts of the entire encounter is that when Suda's daughter saw the video of the agent questioning her and Hernandez, her daughter asked, "Does that mean we can't speak Spanish anymore?' That's very sad." Nobody should ever be made to feel ashamed of their heritage.
Being fluent in more than one language should be celebrated, not hidden. Suda told her daughter that she is intelligent for being fluent in two languages and that she should be proud of it. She then explained why she gave that response to her daughter and said,
"I want her to know she can speak Spanish in whatever place she wants and nothing happens and no one is going to stop her just because she speaks Spanish."
The conversation that Suda had with her daughter inspired her to reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union to see if anything could be done about her experience with Agent O'Neill. So far, they have tweeted their support.