After San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivered the keynote address during the Democratic National Convention last week, part of the conversation afterward revolved around his lack of fluency in Spanish. Yet as a third-generation Texan of Mexican descent, is someone like Castro really expected to be fluent in the language of his immigrant grandmother?
Not so, if you look at the way language evolves across immigrant generations. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, native language fluency drops off with each generation; among Latinos, only one in four among the third generation are fluent in Spanish. A post earlier this week discussed this, as well as whether not being fluent in the language of one's immigrant ancestors makes one any less culturally "authentic" as a member of that group. After all, while language serves as a cultural bridge, there are other aspects of ancestral culture that get passed on.
As far as historic moments during national political conventions go, the second night of the Democratic National Convention yesterday racked up a couple of them. Number one was what is perhaps the most public appearance ever by an out-of-the-closet undocumented immigrant, 27-year-old Benita Veliz, a college graduate and former high school valedictorian brought to the U.S. as a child who spoke of having "to live almost my entire life knowing I could be deported."
That one took it away. But for people who follow such things, there was another minor milestone, this one involving the speaker Benitez introduced, former TV talk show host Cristina Saralegui.
As the Associated Press pointed out in a piece yesterday, there is a generally accepted blue-red divide between two of the nation's largest Latin American immigrant groups, Mexicans (the largest, who traditionally lean left) and Cubans (the third largest, who traditionally lean right). There is also a stark immigration policy divide. Mexicans who arrive illegally are typically deported if caught, while most Cubans who make it to U.S. soil can legalize thanks to policies rooted in the early days of the Fidel Castro regime. The rise to prominence this year of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, especially as rumors circulated that the Cuban American senator might become a running mate for Mitt Romney, further fueled discussion of the political differences.
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San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivers his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 4, 2012
It's been a week of immigrant stories tied to the 2012 election, starting with the many related by GOP politicos (along with candidate Mitt Romney's son) at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week. But the one related last night by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina has so far topped them all, in part because of where he placed it in his convention keynote address.
Castro dedicated a large chunk of the beginning of his keynote to the story of his grandmother, who arrived in the U.S. as an illiterate orphan in the early 1920s and made her way in her adopted country. A highlight:
The unlikely journey that brought me here tonight began many miles from this podium. My brother Joaquin and I grew up with my mother Rosie and my grandmother Victoria. My grandmother was an orphan. As a young girl, she had to leave her home in Mexico and move to San Antonio, where some relatives had agreed to take her in.
She never made it past the fourth grade. She had to drop out and start working to help her family. My grandmother spent her whole life working as a maid, a cook and a babysitter, barely scraping by, but still working hard to give my mother, her only child, a chance in life, so that my mother could give my brother and me an even better one.
...By the time my brother and I came along, this incredible woman had taught herself to read and write in both Spanish and English. I can still see her in the room that Joaquin and I shared with her, reading her Agatha Christie novels late into the night.
Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators hold signs supporting undocumented immigrants during a rally in Charlotte, NC ahead of the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 2, 2012
As its national convention commences, the Democratic party is pushing a platform that again calls for comprehensive immigration reform. As expected, its tone is far different from that of the stricter, enforcement-based platform embraced by the Republican party.
But it begs the larger question of whether comprehensive immigration reform is politically feasible, even now. As recent history has shown, it's one thing to discuss it, but getting this through Congress is a very tough sell.
In 2006 during the Bush administration, the imminent promise of broad immigration reforms, coupled with stringent proposals that didn't take, drove hundreds of thousands to rally for immigration reform in cities around the country. When it didn't materialize, the immigration reform lobby regrouped, with different factions pushing for smaller changes that have manifested themselves as policies like deferred action, a new plan that promises temporary legal status for qualifying young people.