Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

LA millennials: Bilingual, for the most part



Elden Navarra, a 31-year-old service manager, picked up Tagalog from his immigrant parents, and fine-tuned it during trips back to the Philippines.
Elden Navarra, a 31-year-old service manager, picked up Tagalog from his immigrant parents, and fine-tuned it during trips back to the Philippines.
Josie Huang/KPCC

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At the Cycle Depot in Eagle Rock, 23-year-old mechanic Julian Ruiz Hernandez often has to roll out his Spanish.

Like ¿Cómo te podemos ayudar? How can I help you?

Or ¿Ocupas llantas? ¿Cuál es la medida? You need tires? What size?

Census numbers released Thursday show metropolitan Los Angeles has one of the largest, most multi-ethnic groups of millennials in the country, and that most of them are bilingual.

Nearly 58 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds in the area can speak a language other than English — one of the highest rates in the country, according to five-year estimates from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

But some of these young adults, who came of age near the year 2000, have stronger skills than others in their second language. Ruiz Hernandez is the first to admit his Spanish could be better.

"People who are really good at Spanish call me a pocho," Ruiz Hernandez said, referring to "gringo-fied" Mexican-Americans.

So he’s most comfortable talking in Spanish to younger kids.

"My little cousins are 10, or 12... they don’t know every word yet, when I’m saying stuff wrong," he said.

The multilingualism of L.A. has to do with heavy immigration, but not by the millennials themselves. A Pew Research study found they're more likely to be the children of at least one immigrant parent than other generations. 

Gen X, the generation that preceded millennials, had a larger foreign-born segment. In 2000, nearly half of young adults in metropolitan L.A. had been born in another country. Today, just under a third of millenials are foreign-born. 

Ruiz Hernandez was born in the U.S. So was his co-worker, Elden Navarra, the shop's 31-year-old service manager who can speak Tagalog.

Navarra picked it up from his immigrant parents, and fine-tuned it during trips back to the Philippines. But he doesn’t advertise it to his Filipino customers.

"They come in and will ask me for a discount if they know I can speak the same language, so I say 'No, I don’t speak it,'" Navarra said.

Really?

"I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding," he added, laughing. "I talk to them."

But in all seriousness, he won’t hook you up with a discount until he gets to know you better.