Marine Corps Sergeant Sparks Debate on Speaking Spanish in Military Uniform: ‘Not Unprofessional’
Amid much social media commentary on the subject, one TikTok user recently put it like this: “Addressing your families in their or your primary or native language is not unprofessional.”
The supposed controversy began after a video on TikTok showed Sergeant Major Ruiz addressing his family in Spanish during a ceremony while in uniform. Ruiz, who took on his new post this past August, was born in Sonora, Mexico. Enlisting in the U.S. Marines in 1993 out of Arizona, he has proudly served for decades:
In the video, Ruiz first announces he will take a “break” to speak in Spanish. Then, he directly speaks to his family in his native language, saying: “For my mom, and my dad, and sister… Thank you for the opportunity.”
“All the sacrifices that you have given me for me to be here,” he adds. “For you to be very proud of me, because I am very proud of you. I love you.”
While the moment was beautiful, one reposted video attracted some negative comments. The post shows comments like: “No disrespect [Sergeant Major] but, this is the USMC not the MexicanMC.”
However, as another commenter replied: “It’s about embracing his culture. His personal history and experiences are what got him to where he is. Absolutely zero things wrong with this.”
Sergeant Major Ruiz’s speech opened up a conversation about speaking in Spanish in the Marine Corps
TikTok user Barry Bull, who reposted the video of Sergeant Major Ruiz on his page, recently described how his post garnered some negative comments.
He explained in the follow-up video, “I posted this video, where 20th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Carlos Ruiz, addresses his family in Spanish. And I immediately got a comment like this,” the TikTok user said, pointing to a comment about speaking only English in the U.S. Marine Corps.
However, as Bull explained, Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Jose Luis Montalvan, who was born in Nicaragua, also commented on his video. In his comment, Lieutenant Colonel Montalvan wrote about relating to Sergeant Major’s experience with language.
“My mother understands English but my dad doesn’t,” Lieutenant Colonel Montalvan commented. “I have thanked my family in Spanish during every award and promotion ceremony that I have had since Captain. It is a form of respect and appreciation.”
“And then I translate my comments to English for those in the audience,” he added.
Later in Bull’s video, he explained that he dug around the internet in search of more information on the U.S. Marine’s language policy. Does the Marine Corps really have an English-only rule for members while they are in uniform? At least according to Bull’s research, it isn’t likely.
The document, which clarifies that it “is not a formal paper” and does not have clear authorship, reads: “A rule requiring Marines/Sailors to speak only English at all times on the job may violate Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] unless the Command shows it is necessary for conducting business.”
“Any negative decision based on breaking the English only rule should be considered evidence of discrimination if the Commands did not tell Marines of the rule,” the text also explains.
It is unclear whether the information in the document is 100 percent factual. However, Lieutenant Colonel Montalvan’s own first-hand account supports that speaking Spanish while in uniform is allowed.
Moreover, Bull later described in his video how people should not confuse this topic with the U.S. military’s official operational language. For example, as shown on the U.S. military’s requirements page, non-U.S. citizens looking to join must “speak, read, and write English fluently.”
“Where people get it really confused is, English is the operational language of the U.S. military,” Bull explained. “Anytime you’re unprofessional in any language, it’s not okay. There’s a time and place for everything.”
Over in the comments section of Bull’s video, reposted by Latinos in Uniform, one person wrote: ” As an Air Force Personnelist (HR/Amin) I LOVE to see mis hermanos y hermanas DO THE RESEARCH AND RESPECTFULLY DEFEND THE RIGHT TO SPEAK LANGUAGES OTHER THAN ENGLISH IN UNIFORM 🙌.”
Another wrote, “I speak Spanish every time in uniform,” while noting that “you are required to maintain proficiency in English to perform military duties.”
As yet another user commented, “Bottom line, we need to respect everyone who bravely serves our nation.”