Black Teens And Bilingual Preferred

Black Teens Feel the Chill of ‘Bilingual Preferred’    
Wednesday, 30 April 2008


By Chris Levister

‘Don’t speak Spanish…can’t get the job?’

When San Bernardino High School teens Jazanique Jackson, Ashanae Brown and Kimyen Hawkins decided they wanted to work this summer, they left nothing to chance.

They knew the rules: plan ahead; role play; be positive; adapt; relate and encourage.

So when they hit the streets to start their summer job search they were prepared for virtually every eventuality except one.

¿No habla ingles?  Can’t speak Spanish.

"We were shocked. We applied at places like McDonalds, Burger King and Jack in the Box. We went to shoe stores, pizza parlors and convenience stores. The workers were overwhelmingly Spanish speaking. Pretty much they always ask us, ‘Do you speak Spanish?’ They said we prefer bilingual," says Jazanique. And, as an American who only speaks English, her answer leaves her without the job.

"It’s hard when you can’t even get an interview because you don’t speak Spanish," said Jazanique.

For Jazanique, Ashanae and Kimyen the job hunting experience is both frustrating and sobering. The unemployment rate among African-American teens is shockingly six times the national rate. This according to the U.S. Department of Labor translates into approximately 296,000 African-American teenagers actively seeking employment who are finding it difficult to secure a job.     

It does seem strange to Kimyen who grew up believing jobs are plentiful if you’re flexible, motivated and willing to work hard.

"It’s like three strikes…Black, young and non-Spanish speaking. I’m mad but there is nothing I can do about it. It’s not fair."

Cashier-customer exchanges at four national fast food restaurants located at the busy intersection of Mt. Vernon and Washington Streets in Colton bore out many of the teen’s frustrations.
San Bernardino High School teens Jazanique Jackson, Ashanae Brown And Kimyen Hawkins are feeling the chill from employers who perfer bilingual workers.

Cashier:  "Welcome to McDonalds, can I take your order?"

Customer in Spanish: "Dame dos hamburgesas con queso, un Big Mac, dos papitas fritas y tres sodas."  – Translation: "Give me two cheeseburgers, one Big Mac, two fries, three Cokes."

Cashier in Spanish: "¿Grandes o chicas?" – Translation: small or large fries?

Customer in Spanish: "Grande" – Translation: Large

Cashier in Spanish: "¿Algo Mas? –  Translation:  Anything else?

Customer in Spanish: "¿Puedo usar mi tarjeta?" Translation: Can I use my debit?

Cashier in Spanish: "Si" – Translation: yes

Across the street at the Jack in the Box, the buzz among the all Latino staff was a mix of English and Spanish.

"Necesito mas popotes" That was Maggie Castro, on-duty manager, Saturday, calling for a replenishment of straws in the customer self service bins. "Keep this area clean," said Castro wiping the countertop.

"That’s what we’re up against. It’s a form of discrimination," says Jazanique.

And it brings up the question: is it legal, in America, to require an American citizen to speak a foreign language to get certain jobs?

McDonald’s for example employs 465,000 workers worldwide serving more than 26 million customers daily. More than 80 percent of its 13,700 U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated by local franchisees. The food service powerhouse’s hiring culture is nothing less than emphatic about its commitment to equal opportunity employment.

The chain has been recognized for it’s commitment to diversity by Fortune Magazine, Hispanic Magazine and lauded by Black Enterprise Magazine as one of the 30 Best Companies for Diversity.

A statement on the corporation’s website says: "McDonalds is committed to recognizing the talents and job performance of all employees and values the contributions that come from people with different backgrounds and perspectives. We believe in developing and maintaining a diverse workforce that will strengthen the McDonald’s system."

"I don’t think its discrimination. It’s more about catering to the customers who come through the door," says Elva Gomez a former manager for Del Taco national food chain.

"Of course, you don’t have to learn to speak Spanish to get a job in a fast food restaurant, but in certain parts of the country, like San Bernardino, where you’ve got the impact of immigration, it certainly limits your chances of getting the job you want," said Gomez.

"You better believe Black teens looking for summer jobs are feeling the impact of immigration," said Gomez. It’s worrisome because Blacks are suffering more from the invasion than whites because they (generally) have fewer resources with which to run away from immigration."

"It’s a very stressful and difficult dilemma. Sometimes you feel like you’re straddling two nations, on one hand you strive for diversity, on the other you are forced to hire people who are best equipped to serve your core customer base. Sometimes that boils down to bilingual preferred," says fast food manager Kevin Ellis who is biracial (Latino/Black) speaks some Spanish and does everything from hire workers to taking customer’s orders, cooking food, assembling sandwiches and handing orders to customers.

"I hate to sound so cynical," but the American workplace is turning Spanish very fast. That requires you to learn another language in high school. That’s reality." said Ellis.

For Jazanique, Ashanae and Kimyen that reality comes as more teens prepare to seek summer jobs. Citing rising gasoline and food prices among other things, Junior Achievement released the results of an annual survey showing a 22% increase in the number of teens who want to work this summer, says a spokesperson for the nonprofit.  

"The job chill is not limited to the fast food industry," insists Miki Nelson who had to apply at 19 different businesses before he got a summer job stocking books at a national retailer.

"In most cases I was asked. ‘Do you speak Spanish’? We are being pushed out of minimum wage jobs on every front. Employers are under intense pressure to capture every dollar that comes in the door. Customers want cheap, fast, hassle free everything. What happens to Black inner city kids – whether they get summer jobs or not – is not on their radar," said Nelson.

 "When we look in the want ads for jobs we qualify for, they say ‘Bilingual, bilingual, bilingual preferred’!" said Nelson. Which he and other Black teens have learned translates into, "If you aren’t bilingual, don’t bother applying."

  1. Yeah Right

    I think it is beneficial to learn a second language, however it should not be a requirement. I really don’t care how many immigrants move here, this is the United States and our language is english. English is supposedly a universal language, so when they come here they should make it their business to learn the language if you want to live and work in this english speaking country. Americans can’t go into the spanish speaking countries and tell the people to learn english, so why when they come here, the rules all of a sudden change to make things convienient for them?

  2. Joseph

    We actually do not have a set language like other countries even though English is widely spoken in the U.S.

  3. Keita Fennick

    That shit aint right. This is supposed to be an English speaking country. Don’t you think it should be the other way around?

    Blacks have contibuted the most to this country America but are the last in line to get anything, if anything. And people wonder why so many blacks agree with Reverend Wright.

    As for Latinos, I thought we were supposed to be brothers and sisters and allies. If so Latinos should look out for black like we look out for them. No, it’s not like that. We are always speaking up for them, marching for them, and hiring them but they refused to do the same for us.

    I keep telling black people who support illegal immigration and think that Latinos (Mexican, PR, & DR) are our friends to wake up!!! They have proved over and over and over again that they don’t give a damn about blacks.

    Lastly, as far as blacks getting jobs. I found out what the key to survival is? Entreprenuership. Yes. Blacks, the good ones, must create their own jobs because nobody else cares.

  4. Joseph

    I’ve not heard of blacks looking out for latinos but I’m of the opinion that they have no care for American blacks, even if they are black latinos. Not sure why, but it is what it is.

  5. Yeah Right

    “I keep telling black people who support illegal immigration and think that Latinos (Mexican, PR, & DR) are our friends to wake up!!! They have proved over and over and over again that they don’t give a damn about blacks.”

    I’ve been saying this for years. when it comes down to the niddy griddy…they all look out for themselves. When things can benefit them, they jump on the black train. but if not, they could care less about us

  6. Denise

    This is America, and we should not have to be forced to speak a different language to accommodate anyone. It is ok to learn how to communicate with various people,but still this is an English speaking country. I agree with yeah right, some Latino relate to the black culture, but many of them will deny that they have any black blood in them.

    Latino is a culture not a race and it is a shame that people like Dominicans for example, most of them would be considered as dark skinned or caramel skinned in the black community, but they will deny having any black in them to the death.

    In the Dominican Republic, it is an offensive term to say that someone look like a Haitian; the women in the Republic straighten their hair so much, because the kink in the hair is a dead giveaway of their black ancestry.

    Black Americans also straighten their hair so that it can look more European, but they still acknowledge being Black and will defend it in a heartbeat.

  7. Joseph

    DR has alot of mulattoes too. I’m not a fool to be like a black Dominican is not black cause Latin is not a race, but a black person could be part of the Latin community. But I must add, the term latin seems to be a substitute for mulatto for many people who use the term. I also hate the “straightening” people do with their hair who do not have straight hair. People make fun of Michael Jackson bleaching his skin, but people are trying to make those same changes, to a lesser extent, when they straighten their hair.

  8. Chance


    Many whites, Asians, Native Americans, mestizo Latinos, etc straiten their hair even those they have strait hair already. Many whites, Asians, mestizo Latinos, and other ethnic groups put perms and curls in their hair and they are not taken to task (criticized) for it. They already have strait hair so they don’t need it. They do it because of the wanting to have a different hair style. Blacks do it also for the same reasons and also when people get their hair done or cut it looks nice.

  9. Arthur Ward

    Why is it that Black people always fight for the right to be dumb. As much as we were restricted – legally to learn anything during our first 400 years over here, it would seem like we would be the most literate and intellectually oriented group in the country! Many of us barely know American English, much less venturing into another language. The only things my people like to read when they do are the sports pages or the Bible – thats it! Being bi and tri-lingual enables us to be more competitive than whites in the job markets and the world.

    My wife is an African-American, like me. She is bilingual (spanish), pretty, dark-skinned and dreadlocks. She grew up in a primarily Puerto Rican neighborhood and took advanced Spanish in college. She does not LOOK like she speaks spanish. But I love the unexpected look on the faces of Mexicans and other spanish speakers when she busts the lingo out on them, fluent and inflected.

    She has been hired at some places with no other qualifications (“We’ll teach you.”) only because she has a degree and is bilingual.

    I am now taking a course in Japanese.

    Literacy is power brothers and sisters. That is why our former slavemasters and their children never wanted us to READ AND WRITE.
    Other languages under your belt enables you to communicate with more people and expand the database of your mind. Let us stop boxing ourselves in.

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