As he stresses the importance of building the southern border’s wall, words and phrases like “illegally,” “pouring and destroying their youth,” “poisoning the blood of their youth,” ultimately bring him to his potent conclusion: “...one of my first acts will be to get all of the drug lords, all of the bad ones- we have some bad, bad people in this country that have to go out…” and, finally closing in on these unnamed culprits, “we have some bad hombres here and we’re gonna get ‘em out” (my emphasis) (Bush & Desjardins, 2016). Interestingly, neither Wallace nor the audience audibly acknowledges Trump’s racially-charged uttering of “bad hombres.”
Rather, Wallace thanks Trump and moves onto Clinton’s response. Clinton’s begins by referring to the people-at-hand as hard-working “undocumented people” a term widely recognized as less alienating to immigrants. Words like “citizen,” “children,” and “families” are scattered throughout her response; she, like her opponent, includes some violent language, repeating that she believes mass deportation would only work to rip families--and, later, our country--apart (Bush & Desjardins, 2016). Still, Clinton’s far less aggressive naming of undocumented people provides a crucial contrast not only in opinion, but also in linguistic behavior and affect.
By using and mispronouncing a Spanish word, “hombre,” meaning either man or, more negatively, “punk,” Trump not only takes it from its Latinx community within which it is often used endearingly but also uses it incorrectly and against its people. Trump utters “hombre” in a context in which his speech already works to maintain his ideal America--expelling the “bad ones” and reproducing the dominance of Whiteness--and employs Spanish as added mockery toward Spanish-speaking communities, a practice resembling what linguist Adam Schwartz calls “...‘Gringoism’, which involves the active celebration of a White, monolingual (un)consciousness through particular linguistic and cultural performance” (Schwartz, 2008).
In light of Trump’s “bad hombre” comment, it is crucial to examine what linguists call speech communities and what it means to cross their borders. While a speech community is generally defined as a group of people who share the same language and rules for interacting linguistically, it also involves linguistic behaviors--what one does with language, what appropriate or inappropriate uses of that language exist for that community; however, this also means there are rules for outsiders: just as any speech community must understand these particular linguistic behaviors, so do those who do not belong. Therefore, breaking the rules as an outsider not only reproduces one’s status as an outsider to the community, but also establishes or maintains one’s power in regards to that community.
Adam Schwartz (2011) highlights what mockery of Spanish reveals about Whiteness and White perceptions of Latinx people:
- “Native speakers of English and those identifying with the White majority often actively aid in subordinating non-White, non-English speaking Others. The appropriation of Spanish vocabulary and phraseology into English discourse, for example, not only allows Anglos to reference Spanish as linguistically imperfect and therefore representative of imperfect peoples; it also suggests an elevation of Whiteness and reinforcement of larger patterns of social and economic domination.”
Donald Trump’s subordination of Spanish-speaking people--particularly undocumented people in America--is a negative appropriation of a Spanish word against its own people in a way that neither explicitly communicates that they are powerless, nor explicitly reasserts his (White) power, but rather implicitly reinscribes his power and communicates to them that his status is higher. By uttering and mispronouncing “hombre” in place of its English equivalent, and given the meaning of “hombre” to Spanish speakers, Donald Trump distances himself from a racialized group he believes to be detrimental to America, to the ideal of Whiteness and White dominance which he ideologizes.
- Bush, Daniel & Desjardins, Lisa. (2016, October 18). Watch the final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. PBS Newshour.
- Schwartz, Adam. (2011) Mockery and Appropriation of Spanish in White Spaces: Perceptions of Latinos in the United States. The Handbook of Hispanic Sociolinguistics (ed M. Díaz-Campos), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. 649.
- Schwartz, Adam. (2008). Their language, our Spanish: Introducing public discourses of ‘Gringoism’ as racializing linguistic and cultural reappropriation. Spanish in Context. 2008, Vol. 5 Issue 2.
- Washington Post Staff. (2015, June 16). Full Text: Donald Trump announces a presidential bid. The Washington Post.
Melanie is a student in the introductory sociolinguistics course at Swarthmore College.