How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Are you less 'authentic' for not speaking your family's native language?

Screen shot from pewresearch.org

NBC Latino contributor Raul A. Reyes has an interesting opinion piece today on the by now much-publicized fact that San Antonio mayor and rising Democratic party star Julian Castro isn't fluent in Spanish. Which begs the question: As a third generation thirtysomething from Texas, is Castro expected to be?  

If you consider how language progresses through immigration generations, no. Castro is the third-generation descendant of a Mexican immigrant grandmother, and according to the Pew Hispanic Center, Castro falls right into the norm. From Pew:

 

Half of the adult children of Latino immigrants speak some Spanish at home. By the third and higher generation, that has fallen to one-in-four.

If Castro were bilingual, it would place him in a relatively small minority of third-generation Latinos who continue speaking Spanish. But do his language skills or lack thereof make him less culturally Latino? No to that also. Here's what Reyes writes:

The truth is that he is fully emblematic of his generation of Hispanics. It is not unusual for a Latino politician to not speak Spanish. Like the rest of us, some do, some don’t. 

While passing along a native language can be an important part of a family's cultural legacy, language is just one aspect of it. But even in in the third generation, ancestral culture persists. It can include those seemingly insignificant bits of language that children and grandchildren of immigrants pepper their speech with, for example the “Que dios te bendiga” (May God bless you) that Castro used last week in his Democratic National Convention keynote address, a familiar phrase he attributed to his grandmother. These descendants of immigrants may not be bilingual, but language remains part of their broader cultural portfolio.

The full Pew report on language through generations can be viewed here.

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