HispanicVista Columnists

Español, English, or both

By Erika Robles

February 28, 2005

Hispanic children of third and later generations tend to speak only English, making it highly unlikely that they will be bilingual as adults. According to the Census Bureau of Statistics, in 1990, 64 percent of third-generation Mexican-American children spoke only English at home; in 2000, the equivalent figure had risen to 71 percent.

These facts could be construed to mean that these Mexican-Americans have completely assimilated to the U.S. A large part of initial acceptance of anyone into any human group is the "sounds like us". By not knowing or speaking the Spanish language –along with following the American laws, values and institutions- they could be seen as having become Americanized, regardless of their roots. Given the fact that a large percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. would like to be considered part of the American society instead of an immigrant, Hispanics believe that by renouncing their mother tongues –especially later generations- they would be considered assimilated Hispanics, and they are right.  Those who leave their culture and customs behind and who speak English only are considered "assimilated". However, Hispanics who adopt or borrow customs or traits, in this case from the U.S., and are bilingual are considered "acculturated". Second-generation Hispanics could be considered more "acculturated" than "assimilated" given the fact that they are the most bilingual.

"In the stereotypical case of immigrant populations in America, the second generation is bilingual, but the third, generally, is not. By the third generation, increased cultural assimilation means the displacement of the minority language," affirm Barbara Zurer Pearson and Arlene McGee in their academic study Language Choice in Hispanic Background Junior High School Students in Miami: A 1998 Update.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, survey brief, March 2004, only 22 percent of third-generation Hispanics are bilingual, compared with 47 percent of second-generation. "In the United States, there are two Hispanic communities: one is the Spanish-language community, and the other is the English-speaking community," says Roberto de Posada, president of The Latino Coalition. "They have very different views. For instance, on the barrier [in society] issue, for Spanish-speakers, the biggest barrier is language. Among English-speaking Hispanics, it is education. Language ranks very low as a barrier among English-speakers."

We know that language is the most important carrier of culture. It is a fact that for recent Hispanic immigrants to assimilate, they must learn English. However, I don't see why they can't have both languages. If in order to assimilate one must renounce their mother tongue, one should then consider the term "acculturated". It is far more beneficial to be able to speak two languages. Being bilingual is not a burden or a scar that reads "I am a Hispanic." By being bilingual, you are recognizing the importance of speaking a second language, which is extremely important in today's world. In the United States, residents traditionally haven't been eager to learn any language aside from English, which means more opportunities to those who want to have that skill. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world –second to Chinese. Spanish is spoken by almost 400 million people worldwide, which is reason enough to learn the language. But it's even more compelling when you realize that about half of the population in the Western Hemisphere speaks Spanish, making it the primary language for as many people as English in this region of the world.

Take advantage of the possibilities that your heritage brings to you. We need to keep the Spanish language alive. We need to teach our children the beautiful language so they can make use of it in the future. Being able to speak a second language opens the doors to a different world and the possibilities become endless.
Erika Robles, a contributing columnist to HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com), is a writer and translator now living in Eugene
, Oregon. She was educated in Mexico City; London, England; and Melbourne, Australia. Contact at: erobleswords@yahoo.com Web page: http://www.geocities.com/oakspublishing