Lodi News-Sentinel

How second- and third-generation Latinos are reclaiming Spanish

- Karen Garcia

When Christina Mangurian’s abuelita was diagnosed with leukemia, Mangurian and her mother were very involved in the older woman’s care. Mangurian would sit by her abuelita’s side in the hospital, and when she was discharged, she would stay at Mangurian’s parents’ house.

Mangurian’s first language is English, and her abuelita’s first language was Spanish.

“Her English was maybe as good as my Spanish, so our relationsh­ip was really loving, but I could never ask her things like, ‘Tell me about what it was like when you were younger,’ or ‘What do you think happens after you die?’” Mangurian said.

She wished she could really have gotten to know her abuelita. But that would have required a fluency she did not have.

Mangurian is a professor of psychiatry, epidemiolo­gy and biostatist­ics, as well as the vice chair for diversity and health equity at UC San Francisco. The nuances in communicat­ion that she missed with her abuelita are absent as well in her conversati­ons with her Spanishspe­aking patients.

Growing up in a bicultural household — with an Ecuadorian mother and Armenian father — in Miami during the early ‘70s, she learned Spanish from speaking to her Ecuadorian abuelitos. At the time, Mangurian said, her family members and other immigrants were trying to make sure their children were very “American,” which, to them, meant “speaking English only.”

For some Latin Americans, like Mangurian, not being fluent in their family’s heritage language — the language spoken in the home that’s different from the dominant language in the country — hinders but doesn’t sever their connection to their culture. For others, though, language loss can be a shameful experience. That has led to a recent resurgence of Latino Americans who want to reclaim their language.

How language is lost Mangurian’s experience with language is common in second- or third-generation Latino Americans.

Veronica Benavides, founder of the Language Preservati­on Project, said her parents didn’t communicat­e with her in Spanish because they were physically punished for speaking the language in school in South Texas when they were kids. Later, they were told that teaching their children Spanish would confuse them in the classroom.

Pew Research Center found that in 2021, 72% of Latinos ages 5 and older spoke English proficient­ly, an increase from 59% in 2000. This increase is driven by the growth in U.S.-born Latinos.

The research also showed that the percentage of Latinos who speak Spanish at home declined from 78% in 2000 to 68% in 2021. Among the U.S.born population, it has decreased from 66% to 55%.

“Even though the share of Latinos who speak Spanish at home has declined, the number who do so has grown from 24.6 million in 2000 to 39.3 million in 2021,” the Pew Center wrote.

The human developmen­t and family science department­s of Oklahoma State and Iowa State universiti­es published a study in 2021 calling this type of loss among second- and third-generation immigrants “shared language erosion.” That’s the process of adolescent­s improving their Englishlan­guage skills while simultaneo­usly losing or failing to develop their heritage language; at the same time, their parents acquire English at a much slower rate.

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