With increasing border tension, rising rates of illegal immigration may force America to adopt Spanish
The American culture is globally pervasive; our style, fashion and language reach even the smallest corner of the world.
The typical thought process of the American people has always been for others to learn “American” instead of adapting and incorporating languages into our culture; however, the growing Hispanic population may play a bigger part in the linguistic dominance of the “American” language.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study of Spanish speakers, both in Hispanic and non-Hispanic homes, 37.6 million people from ages five and older speak Spanish in their homes, making Spanish the most spoken language in U.S. homes.
Coinciding with the increases of in-home Spanish speakers is the rise of the U.S. population, which has soared to 313.9 million people as of 2012. Besides those 300 million-plus that currently reside legally in the U.S., there are 6 million more residing illegally.
Recently, media outlets and U.S. border agencies have labeled the Rio Grande Valley as an unofficial “ground zero” for border control issues due to immigrants coming not only from Mexico, but also from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, flooding the border at an alarming rate of 35,000 a month.
To put the situation in perspective, the percentage of Hispanic population has grown by 3 million since 2012. In addition, Hispanics — which accounted for 20 percent of the population according to the Texas Department of State Health Services projected 2014 population statistics — were the second largest group in Texas, following closely behind Anglo-Saxons.
As the influx of downtrodden migrants threatens to make the Hispanic minority a racial majority in the U.S., the need for bilingual college graduates will become a requirement — especially in southwestern states like Arizona and Texas that are immediately affected by illegal immigration.
Concerning the language learning, the issues that arise are two-fold, both for the first generation children that are born in the U.S., for the existing residents who are forced to adapt to the incoming culture from a linguistic standpoint and from an employee-to-employer standpoint.
Integrated communications junior Sarah Flores, whose grandparents emigrated from Spain and Mexico in the late ’80s and whose parents grew up near the border on the Texas side said that it is commonplace for parents not to teach their children Spanish, for some even to despise the language they once called their own. However, these parents put their children in a serious disadvantage.
“My dad refused to teach us Spanish,” Flores said. “Everyone except my generation is fluent, with most of my cousins not knowing the language either. Only a couple of my cousins that were either born in Mexico or stayed there for a while know it. When my parents did speak it, they used it in hushed tones, as a kind of coded language to talk about things they didn’t want us to hear.”
Flores said that she believes that not being a fluent speaker has put her at a disadvantage both in interactions with native Spanish speakers and in her future job market.
“I want to be an international translator, so learning Spanish at an early age would have absolutely benefited me,” Flores said. “As far as personal interaction goes, since I am Hispanic, other non U.S.-born Hispanics immediately assume that I speak Spanish because my last name is Flores. When they find out that I don’t, they tend to look down on me.”
UH has been one of the more forward-thinking institutions, as they have applied more stringent and interactive learning programs and online literature. For example, McGraw Hill’s Connect software allows for learning through repetition and employed native-born instructors in an attempt to erase the slight cultural disconnect between the vocabulary use in the book and the vocabulary’s realistic everyday use.
Rosalva Alamillo, a hispanic studies summer adjunct professor from Chihuahua, Mexico, said she believes that there is a specific reason for parents not teaching their children their “maternal lengua” — their mother tongue. She said she also believes there is a greater opportunity for future employment if students are bilingual.
“If a child is born in Central or South America, the parents teach him or her Spanish unless they speak an indigenous languages like Nahuatl or Tarahumara as their first language,” Alamillo said. “For those that have children born in America, there are various reasons why they either refuse to teach their children Spanish or focus more on English.”
Alamillo said that one of most common reasons that encourage parents not to teach their children Spanish is the idea that focusing on English will allow their children to better fit into Anglo culture.
“They are usually not aware of the advantages of being bilingual, so they don’t focus on teaching them Spanish,” Alamillo said. “What they don’t realize is that there are many advantages for bilingual speakers versus monolingual speakers. Being bilingual, especially in Spanish, can allow networking in different circles and allow people to find jobs where they usually wouldn’t simply due to the fact that they know another language.”
Though needs for Spanish bilingualism is pertinent everywhere in the U.S., there are specific areas where being a bilingual Spanish speaker is not necessary but vital, both financially and socially.
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Hispanic Trends Project, the 100 largest counties by Hispanic population contain 71% of all Hispanics and more than of those counties are in four states—California, New Mexico, Florida and Texas.
Susan Mangum — who worked for UH for 20 years as a secretary, academic and graduate advisor and office and financial coordinator — is also a first-generation American. Her parents emigrated from Trinidad, where the language is a mixture of French and Spanish called Patois, to New York in the late ’60s.
Her parents, too, abandoned their native language upon coming to the U.S. She believes that though the drive is not strong in northern states, mostly due to low Hispanic populations in those areas, it is imperative to learn Spanish if you live in border states like Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
“Due to immigration swell from countries like Ecuador and Honduras, there is an unofficial mandate to pay bilingual, mainly Spanish, teachers more,” Mangum said. “From speaking with colleagues that work in the Texas school systems and for the city of Houston employers not only pay more, but may also have a hiring preference to Spanish speakers.”
Mangum said she also believes that the need for bilingualism is area and employment-specific.
“It really depends on the area you’re going into and where that area is. The benefit depends on level of fluency as well but knowledge of another language is an opportunity creator.”
A statement by Christopher Leite, a teaching assistant at the University of Ottawa, in Melissa Baratta’s 2013 Talent Egg article echoes those sentiments.
“Since we are unionized, there’s no difference in pay, but there’s a difference in opportunity. Opportunity is the key word,” Leite said. “I have colleagues in the federal government who officially don’t make more because they are bilingual, but do not have to do a one-year part-time course in a second language, meaning they can actually start their jobs at full employee salary right off the bat — again, a case of opportunity more than actual salary difference.”
Opportunity seems to be the operative word in many of these cases. With not enough agents available to cover the border, not enough funding to support proper security measures and the current political standstill on issues like deportation and residency status, it is likely that the opportunity for Hispanic populations within border states to swell will continue.
The current surge of emigrated persons will likely and eventually force spillage into neighboring states and make it more necessary to learn Spanish and teach it at earlier ages. UH students, who have been given an exceptional language-learning program, now have the opportunity to learn Spanish and get a leg up on their competition — and should.
Opinion columnist Khristopher Matthews-Marion is a print journalism senior and may be reached at [email protected].