"Habla Espanol?"

That's the question BBC Mundo reporter Jose Baig is asking people he meets on the sidewalk north of Temple Square. It's a project to gauge bilingualism that's taking him to Salt Lake and 12 other cities throughout the country.

"We ask everyone we meet, do you speak Spanish?" Baig says. "It's just a way to start a conversation ... and let people say what they want."

As Baig and cameraman Carlos Ceresole met people in Salt Lake this week, a few just shook their heads or said "no" as they walked past them. But others — with varying levels of Spanish ability — stopped to chat.

Guatemala native Raisa De Leon told Baig that there are a lot of Spanish speakers in Salt Lake. Her friend Penelope Aragon, a Peruvian, said, "I do notice people who speak different languages. It's mostly Spanish."

As the immigration debate becomes increasingly volatile, Baig said the point isn't to raise controversy or to promote the use of Spanish. Instead, the purpose is twofold.

First, it's to "reach out to Spanish-speaking people and know their stories ... and the reality of the language in the United States."

And, in an election year, Baig said, he wants to give people an opportunity to voice their concerns. When the project's completed, a packet will be compiled and delivered to presidential candidates.

This is the second such tour — the first was through border states last year — and Baig said while he has seen some criticism to the project in comments online and has gotten a few "sour faces," the response on the street has been mostly positive.

One surprise has been the number of people who aren't native Spanish speakers but who are learning the language, Baig said.

One of those non-native speakers, 17-year-old Ashley Bracey, has studied Spanish. While being interviewed, she smiled as she said into the camera, "Hola, tenga muy bien dia."

Or, in English: have a great day.


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