Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, October the 12th was a celebration of the Discovery of America, but around the 400th anniversary (1992) of Columbus’s famous voyage the Spanish-speaking countries on the American continent rose up in protest with the obvious conclusion that they hadn’t needed to be discovered, thank you very much. The Inca, Aztec and Maya empires had already existed in splendour, if at different times and with a variety of influences on their neighbours, when Spain was still in the Dark Ages.

The fact that Don Cristóbal and the hordes that followed him decimated the native population through tricks, disease and gunpowder would have undoubtedly had some impact on the latter day protests from the Americas. Nevertheless, Spain is proud of its ‘discovery’ and the riches that made it the most powerful ‘European’ empire of the XVII Century.

These days Spain’s trade with Latin America accounts for a very large proportion of its income, however. Language, history and a largely Mediterranenan temperament have also created strong links to all the Hispanic countries from Mexico in the North to Argentina and Chile in the South. But there’s an interesting extrapolation to this.

According to conclusions reached at a seminar for journalists, academicians, diplomats and intellectuals from Spain and Latin America held recently in San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja, there will be some 100 million Spanish speakers in the US by 2025, which projection will represent 25% of its population. This would make the United States of America the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. Hispanics, as they’re called there, are already the largest minority, having overtaken African Americans some while ago. And the US is the second-largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world right now.

There is some irony in the fact that if you tell the average only-speak-English American (Northern, that is) that you’re Spanish, they will automatically pigeon-hole you with their neighbours to the South. Indeed, most of them seem to have no idea that Spanish comes from Spain. But then, most of them have never heard of Spain, either, and certainly couldn’t place it on a map (which conjures up a farcical image of a Mexican-American schoolkid pointing to Chicago when asked to identify Spain on a blackboard).

Native Americans (I use this term for lack of another), North or South, are known for their infinite patience, something that might account for their having been downtrodden for so many centuries. But patience, we are told, is a virtue, so I can’t help feeling there is a certain cosmic justice to those statistics. Many if not most of the immigrants from the South to the US, legal or otherwise, have more ‘native’ blood in them than Spanish, but they carry their common language with them. So the justice offers a double-whammy: ‘we were conquered once and now its our turn’.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2008

(Related links: Spanish in the World; Wikipedia; Instituto Cervantes)