Independent Bookstore Restricts Spanish Speaking Outside of “Dishwasher Area”

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

As if independent bookstores don’t already have enough to worry about, Fidel Martinez at Guanabee writes about a language controversy at Atticus Bookstore in New Haven:

Atticus Book Store and Cafe, located in New Haven, Connecticut, has caused a controversy over a recent policy decision to require all Hispanic employees to only speak English within a customer’s earshot.

The staff is allowed to speak Spanish, but only in restricted areas.

A document from the bookstore states:

Spanish is allowed in the prep area, the dishwasher area and the lower level. Let’s make our customers feel welcome and comfortable.

“Let’s make our customers feel welcome and comfortable”? Yeeeeouch. (And yes that stuff about “the dishwasher area” is plain unfortunate.)

I’m sure I’m not the only one on this site who feels happy, or even relieved, when I hear multiple languages being spoken in a space – even though I’m a filthy monolinguist myself.   Places where people are welcome to bring their culture with them, are places where I feel comfortable.  So you have to wonder just who Atticus is referring to, when they imagine customers who feel uncomfortable when they hear Spanish.

And despite when I might’ve been led to believe by The Great Gatsby, it doesn’t sound like New Haven is some enclave of pearl-grabbing ethnocultural anglo purists.  Martinez goes on to report:

This new directive has pissed off members of Yale University (Atticus is located next to Yale’s British Arts Center) and the New Haven Workers Association. The latter sent out an email to local community groups like the New Haven Labor Council and Unidad Latino En Accion protesting what they deem to be racism in the workplace.

Apparently though, Atticus is within their legal rights to demand its employees speak English.

This is just a little news piece, but I can’t help but feel discouraged by things like this, because they seem to evidence to me how wide the gaps are, when it come to how different folks think about race and culture in America.  I imagine that the body responsible for the language rule at Atticus has no concept of the fraught history of language bans.   It just seems like good business sense, right? An English bookstore should have English-speaking employees.  Even though Martinez says

From our own personal experience, the Hispanic waitstaff at Atticus speak English well enough that it doesn’t impede them from taking an order properly.

But at schools and in the workplace, the restriction of language has a long ugly history in our country.  Almost any group of colour or marginalised linguistic group in this country has a history of their language, or access to language, being suppressed at one point, for the sake of cultural comfort and good business.  I’m sure Atticus Bookstore carries history books that could tell us all about these things.

So apart from the fact that it’s just inherently not right to restrict people’s culture, there is also a historical context for the abusive relationship that business has with language.

This just reminds me of that pretty poor episode of Seinfeld, where Elaine get’s George’s dad to spy on the Korean women who do her nails, because she knows they’re talking smack about her.  Is that why Spanish makes customers uncomfortable? Because I’m pretty sure that kind of thing only – well almost – happens on Seinfeld.

Photo credit: Aaron Gustafson

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.

Use the "for:racialicious" tag in to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.

Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.

Follow Us on Twitter!

Support Racialicious

The Octavia Butler Book Club

The Octavia Butler Book Club
(Click the book for the latest conversation)

Recent Comments

Feminism for Real – Jessica, Latoya, Andrea

Feminism for Real

Yes Means Yes – Latoya

Yes Means Yes

Sex Ed and Youth – Jessica

Youth and Sexual Health


Online Media Legal Network

Recent Posts

Support Racialicious

Older Archives


Written by: