Jenna Ortega is an American actress who has recently risen to fame for her starring role as Wednesday Addams in the Netflix series Wednesday. As a Latina actress, many fans have wondered about Ortega’s ability to speak Spanish. The question of whether or not Ortega speaks Spanish has sparked debate online.
Ortega’s Latina Heritage
Jenna Ortega was born in Coachella Valley, California, in 2002. Her mother is Mexican, and her father is Puerto Rican. With this mixed Latina heritage, some expected Ortega to be fluent in Spanish. However, in multiple interviews, Ortega has admitted that she does not speak the language fluently.
In a 2022 interview that went viral on TikTok, Ortega struggled to record a promo clip for Wednesday in Spanish. She was unable to smoothly invite viewers to watch the show’s Spanish dub, titled Merlina. This interview gained over 10 million views and led many fans to openly question Ortega’s Latina identity since she couldn’t speak Spanish.
The Complexity of Latina Identity
Ortega’s lack of Spanish fluency sparked a debate over whether language ability should be a prerequisite for Latina identity. Some fans argued that not speaking Spanish made Ortega somehow “less Latina.” However, many pointed out the complexity of Latina identity for those raised in the United States.
Latina identity exists on a spectrum and is not defined solely by language ability. As actress Rachel Zegler argued, “We need to stop gatekeeping the Latina identity.” Factors like family, culture, heritage, and lived experience all contribute to Latina identity beyond just language fluency.
Ortega has proudly embraced her Mexican and Puerto Rican roots despite not speaking Spanish growing up. As she explained, “I am Latina, I am Mexican and Puerto Rican.” For Ortega and others, participating in Latinx traditions and honoring her heritage make her fully Latina, regardless of her Spanish fluency.
Ortega’s Experience Learning Spanish
While Ortega is not fluent in Spanish, she has made efforts to learn as an adult. In interviews, she has been open about the language being new to her and described it as a “work in progress”.
Ortega began studying Spanish in preparation for her first major role in the Mexican sitcom Elena of Avalor in 2016. Though she was not required to speak Spanish as part of the role, Ortega wanted to better connect with the Latin American culture of the show.
Since then, she has continued to study Spanish and work on her fluency. When filming the Netflix movie The Fallout in Spain in 2020, Ortega brought her Spanish tutor along to help her practice conversing. She has also done various interviews in Spanish to improve through immersion.
While still insecure about her Spanish skills, Ortega is actively taking steps to learn the language more fluently. She has described Spanish as “something that I want to perfect and really become fluent in.” For Ortega, connecting with her cultural roots is a lifelong journey.
The Realities for Latinos in the U.S.
Ortega’s experience reflects the language diversity among Latinos raised in the United States. A 2019 Pew Research study found that only around one-third of U.S. Hispanics are proficient in Spanish.
There are many reasons Latino Americans may not learn Spanish, including family assimilation, lack of bilingual education programs, and prioritizing English for school and work. Critics of Ortega fail to acknowledge these systemic barriers that prevent Spanish fluency.
Ortega’s story represents the authentic experience of many Latinos in the U.S. who navigate a bicultural identity. As actress Camila Cabello argued, Ortega’s experience is “the story of a lot of Latinos here.” Just because someone isn’t fluent in Spanish does not make their Latina identity any less real or valid.
While Jenna Ortega is not fully fluent in Spanish, she proudly embraces her Latina heritage. She has made continuous efforts to improve her Spanish fluency as an adult and connect with her roots. Ortega’s experience reflects the diversity of Latina identity and the realities of Spanish language learning for many Latinos in the U.S. Though the debate continues, Ortega serves as an inspirational role model for embracing one’s cultural background, regardless of language ability.