As the child of Cuban exiles, I am ashamed to admit that my own daughter’s Spanish-language skills are . . . ¿como se dice? . . . not good. I’ve spoken to her in Spanish her entire life (okay, more like Spanglish), so she understands the language well, but speaking it is a different story. Carrying on a full conversation exclusively in Spanish frustrates her, and eventually we revert back to English. Sometimes we will continue the conversation in a modified Spanglish that ultimately just hurts my ears.
So I was not shocked to learn that non-Latinos are learning and speaking Spanish at a higher rate than Latinos in the U.S. A Pew Research Center study found that the number of Spanish speakers in the United States is expected to increase to approximately 40 million by 2020. However, among Latinos, the percentage of Spanish speakers is expected to drop from 75 percent to 66 percent by 2020. Many non-Latino parents are urging their children to learn Spanish in order to prepare for their future careers, and many non-Latino adults are becoming bilingual in order to expand their career options. On the contrary, third-generation Latinos in the U.S. seem to be undergoing the experience of other immigrant groups who, as they become more established and “Americanized,” fell further and further away from the language of their abuelitos.
Roxana Soto, author of “Bilingual is Better” and co-founder of Spanglishbaby.com says many of her readers are “non-Latino parents who want their children to grow up bilingual. They are pushing for more dual language immersion schools where kids are immersed in Spanish from day one, ensuring they become bilingual and bi-literate.” Many adults are also seeking to develop Spanish language skills they feel may assist their career development. Frank Gioia, a guidance counselor at Memorial High School in West New York, NJ, states, “I work in a high school where the majority of the kids are Hispanic; it only makes sense for me to learn Spanish. I don’t need Italian; I need to learn Spanish. Spanish is the second-most popular language in the country. It’s important that non-Latinos learn it as well as their kids. I know I want my kids to be multilingual.”
I’ve encountered many people who feel Americans, and those who seek to become American, should speak English only, as if any other language is a disrespectful threat to the English language. That is why I applaud the non-Latinos who take on the task of learning a language that we Latinos have become rather lax about holding onto ourselves. The truth is that we lose parts of our culture as generations pass because we are no longer living in our abuelita’s homeland. Certain customs are sometimes lost simply because we may not have the time or the resources to continue them. But it costs nothing to speak to our children in Spanish and ensure that, if nothing else, the language of our ancestors lives on, at least in our homes.