How second and third generation Latinos are reclaiming the Spanish language (2023)

When Christina Mangurian's Abuelita was diagnosed with leukemia, Mangurian and her mother became very involved in the elderly woman's care. Mangurian sat next to her Granny in the hospital, and when he was released, he stayed at Mangurian's parents' house.

Mangurian's native language is English, and his Granny's native language was Spanish.

"Her English was maybe as good as my Spanish, so our relationship was very loving, but I never got to ask her things like 'Tell me what you were like when you were younger' or 'What do you think will happen after you die?' Mangurian said.


She wished she could have really known her Abuelita. But that would require a fluency she didn't have.

Mangurian is a professor of psychiatry, epidemiology and biostatistics and vice president of diversity and health the University of California at San Francisco. The nuances in communication that he missed in his Abuelita are also absent in his conversations with his Spanish-speaking patients.

Growing up in a bicultural family, with an Ecuadorian mother and an Armenian father, in Miami in the early 1970s, she learned Spanish by speaking with her Ecuadorian grandparents. At the time, Mangurian said, her family members and other immigrants were trying to make sure her children were very "American," which to them meant "speaking only English."

For some Latin Americans, such as Mangurianos, not being fluent in their family's native language, the language spoken at home and distinct from the country's dominant language, hinders but breaks their connection to their culture. For others, however, speech loss can be an embarrassing experience. This has led to a recent resurgence of Latin Americans seeking to recapture their language.

How second and third generation Latinos are reclaiming the Spanish language (1)

Not being fluent in a native language does not mean that you are not connected to its culture.

(Steph Medeiros / Para el Times)

how to lose language

The Mangurian language experience is common among second and third generation Latin Americans.

Verónica Benavides, Founder ofdas Language Preservation Project,She said her parents did not communicate with her in Spanish because they were physically punished as children for speaking the language at school in South Texas. They were later told that teaching her children Spanish would confuse them in the classroom.

Pew Research Centerfound that in 2021, 72% of Latinos ages 5 and older were fluent in English, up from 59% in 2000. This increase is due to the increase in US-born Latinos.

The survey also showed that the percentage of Latinos who speak Spanish at home has fallen from 78% in 2000 to 68% in 2021. Among the US-born population, it has fallen from 66% to 55%.

“Although the proportion of Latinos who speak Spanish at home has decreased, the number has increased from 24.6 million in 2000 to 39.3 million in 2021,” the Pew Center wrote.

The departments of human development and family sciences at Oklahoma State and Iowa State Universities have published aStudy 2021This type of loss among second- and third-generation immigrants is known as "common language erosion." This is the process in which adolescents improve their English skills and at the same time lose or do not develop their native language; At the same time, their parents learn English much more slowly.

The study found that communication is a "mechanism by which families are formed and defined, and by which children are influenced and guided." It also acts as a symbol of a person's identity, promoting a sense of belonging and connection.

Loss of language skills can weaken these connections. When "adjusting to a new culture (a process known as acculturation) changes a person's proficiency in one or more languages, it can alter feelings of connection to culture and people, including connection to family," he reported in the study.

Not being able to communicate affects the way a person builds and maintains relationships, since speaking the same language is essential for sharing thoughts and feelings. The study found that the erosion of common language leads to deterioration of parent-child relationships due to linguistic and cultural misunderstandings, limitations in parents' ability to communicate their life wisdom and to effectively monitor and discipline their children, as well as as an aggravation of pre-existing disabilities Parent-child bond.


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The Language Preservation Project conducted a study of Denver-area Latinos who had lost their native language, and Benavides said they found two main themes: people were proud when they could speak their native language and ashamed when they couldn't.

The study informed his organization's work with parents and educators on how to preserve and pass down the source language to future generations.

Benavides said it is important to them that program participants understand that language loss is not due to an individual's personal lack, but rather to prevailing and historical systemic barriers.

Before delving into language learning methods and materials, participants are taught about Native American boarding schools, English law, and classroom assimilation. "We help participants understand how language restriction is a colonialist tool of control and access to power," she said.

"We're also helping participants explore how viewing some languages ​​as 'more prestigious' is an insidious cultural phenomenon rooted in racism."

Lizdelia Piñón, an advisor to the Texas State Board of Education and a former bilingual preschool teacher, often reminds her students and their parents of the importance of speaking Spanish at home.

The Linguistic Society of Americasays that the assumption that being bilingual in Spanish and English would be a disadvantage for immigrants and their children is not correct. In fact, the society says, research shows that being bilingual has a number of potential benefits, such as "more flexible thinking."

2016 hat Patricia Gándara, Co-Director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project,published a studyon the economic value of bilingualism in the US, which found that employers prefer bilingual candidates in all sectors of the economy.

But because maintaining a native language other than English in a child's K-12 education is not normally encouraged, there are very few bilingual teachers in the United States. This is also true for California school districts recently reported by the Learning Policy Institute.a shortage. There are some dual immersion schools of choice in California to encourage bilingualism, andhigh school standardsinclude the requirement to learn a language other than English, but only for one year and can be circumvented through art classes or vocational technical training.

“So [we are] trying to systematically change that deficit mindset everywhere, from legislation to the county level, to the school, to the classroom, [and] even how a teacher talks to a student,” Piñón said.

"We must make our children bilingual at all costs because we are only giving them future capital," he added.

How second and third generation Latinos are reclaiming the Spanish language (3)

There are 62.1 million Latinos in the US, says David Hayes-Bautista, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, "which means there are 62.1 million forms of to be Latino".

(Steph Medeiros / Para el Times)

How language affects identity and mental health

Although the lack of knowledge of Spanish is widespreadSecond and third generation Latinos, can often lead to ridicule from family and friends. Verbal abuse, for example, calling someone pocho, gringo, or “too American to be Mexican,” can often be passed off as endearment or endearing jokes.

But it can manifest itself in shame, and sometimes that shame can discourage a person from practicing the language or pass it on to future generations.

All of these different sentiments can make Latinos who are not fluent in Spanish question their connection to their Latino culture or identity.

Tips to improve language skills

Montemayor and Piñón exist in some proposals:

  • To usea program like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone.

    Createa community of language learners in your neighborhood and practice together.

    Meetcommunity events such as B. attend a poetry contest in Spanish.

    Practicewith the support of friends and family.

But what does it mean to be "Latino enough"? David Hayes-Bautista is the director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA, and this is one of his main research topics.

“I can guarantee that in 2020 there will be 62.1 million Latinos, which means there are 62.1 million different ways to experience Latinos,” he said.

Hayes-Bautista reminds Mexican Americans that Spanish was not the primary language in Mexico until the country was colonized by Spain. Today, the most widely spoken languages ​​in Mexico are Spanish and Nahuatl, an Uto-Aztec language.

For the record:

17:38 January 31, 2023An earlier version of this article stated that the official languages ​​of Mexico are Spanish and Nahuatl. However, the Mexican constitution does not specify an official language; Spanish and 68 indigenous languages ​​are recognized as national languages.

Hayes-Bautista says that your history, the history of your family and the role you play in it make you Latino.

If she decides to study Spanish again, part of the job will be understanding why English became her first language and allaying the feelings of shame and doubt that come with a lack of fluency, said Aurelio Montemayor, Family Engagement Coordinator.Ass. Research on intercultural development.

"You are perfect just the way you are, and if you want to learn more Spanish, there is a way," Montemayor said. There is a way.

How second and third generation Latinos are reclaiming the Spanish language (4)

"I got my soul back, my culture, and that's the truth," says a therapist about learning Spanish.

(Steph Medeiros / Para el Times)

community and language

Six years ago, Wendy Ramírez and Jackleen Rodríguez foundedPeña Espanhola,a safe place for adults to learn Spanish at their own pace.

Once a student logs into the platform, Ramírez and his team assess the student's level of Spanish proficiency and provide support and guidance on how to independently access recorded lessons. Students can also sign up for other virtual opportunities, such as a book club, grammar classes, small group conversation practice, culture classes, and guest speaker groups.

"One of our favorite quotes from one of our students is, 'Come, learn this language and stay for group therapy,'" Rodriguez said.

They are not mental health professionals, but they have created a community where students can be vulnerable in their relationship with language. As students share their stories of shame, guilt, and insecurity, others in the group can relate.

"There are so many other people who may or may not feel Latina enough and have mixed feelings about their identity, and it can seem like a lot of unpacking when you never really sit down to think about it," Rodriguez said.


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Judgment-free space is what the somatic therapist gave you.andrea bayona, one of the first students of Spanish Sin Pena, found the courage to try to master Spanish.

"I never thought I could do that [because] I felt like my window closed," she said.

In the past, when Bayón spoke Spanish with her family and made a mistake, her relatives' quick corrections would make her “tremble”. She still makes mistakes, but now she is not ashamed to speak Spanish with her family, or with her children, who attend a dual immersion school in Spanish and English.

In addition to learning the language, Bayón said the program helped her reconnect with her identity.

"I got my soul back, I got my culture back, and that's the truth," he said. "Because words are just words, but the access I've had to find my roots [with his help] is what I'll always be grateful for."

Ramírez and Rodríguez say the goal of their program is not necessarily for students to be 100% fluent in Spanish. They want their students to go home feeling more secure.

That confidence may never be 100%, but it's enough to motivate them to reach their goal. "It's more like you do the work, you learn, you grow, you keep growing," Ramirez said.

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