By Adrianna Alejandro
Pulse Staff Reporter
Many people assume that just because someone looks like they speak Spanish, they know how to speak Spanish. But for many Hispanics, that’s not always the case.
“We were living in an area where we didn’t need Spanish,” said Allison Huerta, a post-grad Biology student at Palo Alto College.
“I was partially raised here in the South Side, and I still [wasn’t] taught Spanish. And then I moved to the North Side…Everyone around us was just [speaking] English, so I guess my parents didn’t think to teach us Spanish. We never had enough exposure to it growing up,” said Huerta.
The majority of third-generation Hispanics who were born in San Antonio also have parents who were born in San Antonio or somewhere else in the U.S. In many cases, the chances of their parents teaching them Spanish is less likely because they grew up in an area where English is the dominant language.
On the other hand, Hispanics whose parents came from Mexico or from another Spanish-speaking country are more likely to grow up having Spanish spoken to them. They then learn English once they enter grade school.
Only 13.3 percent of Hispanics over the age of five speak Spanish at home. Alternatively, a study conducted by the Census Bureau predicts that the share of Hispanics who solely speak English at home will rise from 26 percent in 2013 to 34 percent in 2020, meaning a drop in Spanish literacy at home.
“I can’t speak for all people, but I think that it’s easier for [bilingual second generation parents] to speak English to their children if they are more commonly speaking English around other people,” said Oziel “Ozzy” Treviño, executive officer of Academic Success for the Student Government Association at Palo Alto College.
“I think nowadays, people mainly stick with English because we think living in America…people want you to speak English, but it shouldn’t be that way,” said Treviño.
But what might be the main cause of Hispanics not knowing Spanish could go as far back to when discrimination was an issue. About 50 years ago, speaking Spanish was completely frowned upon and schools even punished children if they were caught speaking Spanish.
This eventually led Hispanics to be under the impression that Spanish was not going to be needed in the future, thus refraining from teaching their children Spanish to avoid harm that might come their way.
“Right after the 1950s and 1960s, there [was] social pressure on families and people. You would go to school and they would be pressuring the school for those kids who were speaking Spanish not to use the language. And that was very common here until the ‘80s,” said Vicente Guillot, chair of the English, Communications and Foreign Language Department at Palo Alto College and former professor of Spanish.
A continuously debated topic is whether taking foreign language classes alone would be an effective way to be proficient in the language. With many high schools only requiring taking two years of a foreign language, Treviño says classes can be effective, but only to a certain point.
“I don’t think it’s effective to just take Spanish classes. I mean it is for one point, but you really have to experience the culture of what you’re learning,” said Treviño.
Times have changed since the ‘50s. Companies now strongly embrace and encourage diversity. Not knowing Spanish could place Hispanics in a predicament in the future, since many companies would prefer a candidate who is bilingual.
“There’s a loss of job opportunities because a lot of places, like in the medical field, most companies want you to be at least bilingual because you’re going to be have to be able to communicate in some way,” said Huerta.