Hilaria Baldwin and Why It Matters (OPINION)

Dec 31, 2020
5:27 PM
Originally published at Medium

Hilaria Baldwin in 2019. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

“So she adopted a Spanish accent, who cares? It’s not like she pretended to be Latina,” said a Facebook commentator.

It has been nearly 72 hours since the story of Hilaria Baldwin broke in la twiteratura, with Bequitas getting their yoga mats in a twist. And you really can’t blame them. The exotic mommy thinspiration they knew, is a fraud. The defense team has quickly mobilized to come to Hilaria’s aid, with some quacking that those who are coming down hard on her are just jealous haters unable to duplicate what Hilaria has achieved: picking up a second language, bagging an A-list celebrity and remaining string-thin despite having five kids, all while building a yoga-mommy brand as a social media influencer.

Many are going the extra mile to dismiss Hilaria’s lies as the product of embracing the bicultural lifestyle she was apparently immersed in. At the forefront of the myriad justifications is the fascination of a White woman being so fluent in Spanish, her “perfect” Castilian accent has earned her the title of linguistic genius by another Facebook defender. Even a lawyer was quick to offer his anti-cyberbullying services, as he could no longer bear the level of hatred and trolling toward this beautiful and talented woman.

*Laughs in Spanish*

I don’t intend to write an exhaustive manifesto on why Hillary’s forged identity is wrong on so many levels. Culture vulturism has been discussed and written about extensively. And while we can all agree that this is a case of a certain type of Caucasian (regular White American girl from Boston) purporting to be another type of Caucasian (Spaniard immigrant with an accent), we need to delve into the linguistic implications of this story.

There are about 41 million Spanish-speaking people in the United States. However, its unfortunate marginalized status also makes Spanish a racialized language and frequently weaponized against the majority of individuals who speak it, U.S. Latinos and Latin American immigrants. “It’s the language of the help,” I once heard someone say.

Hillary replicated what most Latinos already do, which is being bilingual and bicultural. However, Latinos are not afforded the enchantment Hilaria has received. In fact, I reckon that bending over backward to excuse Hilaria’s lies has nothing to do with her bilingualism and everything to do with her being a White woman who has once again leveraged her privilege for capital gain. This time, she packaged herself as a Spaniard, the most palatable of Spanish speakers. And now that the lie has been uncovered, she has transitioned into the exotic White person who has learned to fluently speak another language. Hence, this story doesn’t seem like a big deal to some because of America’s fascination with its White speakers of a foreign language. The hypocrisy is evident: Spanish from Spain, good; Dominican Spanish, bad; Bilingual U.S. Latino, bad; Bob I-Studied-Abroad-For-A-Semester, worshipped.

Dr. Nelson Flores and Dr. Jonathan Rosa, both associate professors at UPenn and Stanford, respectively, have written extensively about raciolinguistic ideologies, including the notion that bilingual Latinos are deemed less intelligent than their Caucasian counterparts. They write:

“We argue that people are positioned as speakers of prestige or non-prestige language varieties based not on what they actually do with language but, rather, how they are heard by the white listening subject. Valdés and Geoffrion-Vinci (1998) provide us a point of entry into illustrating this claim through their description of Estela, a second-generation Chicana from Texas who grew up speaking English and Spanish, has a BA in Spanish, and is a ‘doctoral student in a Spanish literature department at a prestigious university’ (p. 473). Despite these bilingual experiences and academic credentials, some of Estela’s professors described her Spanish as ‘limited’ and question the legitimacy of her admission to the doctoral program. Meanwhile, some of her fellow students laughed when she spoke Spanish in class. Valdés and Geoffrion-Vinci face significant difficulty when they seek to identify the specific linguistic issues involved in the stigmatization of Estela’s Spanish: When pressed to describe what they perceive to be her limitations, Estela’s professors can give few details . . . Most of the faculty agree that Estela’s written work . . . is quite competent. Still, there is something about her speech that strikes members of the Spanish department faculty as not quite adequate and causes them to rank her competence even below that of Anglophones who have acquired Spanish as a second language. (p. 473). Estela has clearly enjoyed a great deal of academic success, and yet her professors continue to ‘hear’ her as having linguistic deficits that they cannot quite identify.’”

In my own professional experience as it pertains to the Spanish language, I look no further than academia to observe how being Spaniard or a Spanish-speaking White American will get you hired before any bilingual U.S. Latino who is equally qualified. Thus, the fascination extended to Hillary is only perpetuating a racially linguistic bias that favors some individuals at the expense of others. The bilingual competence of Latinos will always be questioned, as underscored by Flores and Rosa (2020).

For some of you, the lies of Hillary Baldwin may be of no consequence, worth un pepino. But for those of us who have struggled with linguistic insecurity, contended against the mocking of having an accent and the perpetual skepticism about our bilingual education, Hilaria is not only a farce, but a painful reminder of how our society glamorizes some, while marginalizing others.


Luana Y. Ferreira tweets from @lingodom and shares more thoughts on her Medium page.