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
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
England; and Melbourne,
Australia. Contact at:
firstname.lastname@example.org Web page: