‘No other choice’: Immigrants continue to face language barriers in daily lives

ORLANDO, Fla. — The University of Central Florida estimates that more than 400-million people speak Spanish worldwide.


Despite its status as the second-most spoken language in the United States, Spanish-speaking immigrants say they still run into language barriers in their every-day lives.

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Kiana Leon says, as a child, she was the key communicator for her Spanish-speaking mother, Maribel Andino, for everything...including her breast cancer diagnosis.

“I had no other choice but to try my best,” Leon said. “I had to be there for every single chemotherapy, radiation, doctor’s appointments, even for a B-12 shot. I would have to be there just to make sure there wasn’t miscommunication.”

Data shows Leon is not alone. The 2021 census found 29-percent of people in Florida speak a language other than English in their homes. In Osceola County alone, it’s 52-percent, and in Orange County, 37-percent.

Leon says she didn’t see representation at resources her family needed after moving to Florida from Puerto Rico.

“I had to take charge very, very young, 16 or 17 years old,” Leon recalled.

Leon now works with the Clinica Mi Salud, helping 800 patients. She says 700 of them need help understanding registration forms and documents from doctors.

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One of Central Florida’s main health providers, AdventHealth, didn’t specify how many Spanish speaking medical professionals it has, but claims there are dozens. Orlando Health officials say they currently have 37 on staff.

Leon says her patients also come to the medical clinic to get help understanding legal documents, citations, fines, and documents from law enforcement.

All of Central Florida’s law enforcement agencies say they have Spanish-speaking employees and officers on staff with the City of Orlando leading the way with 136.

Kiana Leon says she still feels the impacts of her role in her mother’s life.

“Them telling me things, how serious it was, and me having to translate it was hard as well, because I’m so young,” Leon said.

When asked what she thinks when her daughter has to speak English on her behalf, Maribel says she feels proud.

“Because she knows two languages, and she helps me,” Andino said. “I speak English, but very little, and when it’s interactions with doctors, with such complicated words, she’s the one who helps me understand what it means.”

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It’s a feeling Leon says causes depression and anxiety in 500 of her patients from the challenges of moving to a new country and being unable to verbally navigate.

“We’re not asking anyone to speak strictly Spanish for us, because we’re coming,” Leon said. “We just ask that there’s some sort of communication and understanding.”

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