Understanding identity among Spanish heritage learners

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The present chapter presents a general overview of the main advancements in understanding the relationship between the Spanish language and Spanish heritage learners’ identity, and explores the significance of Spanish heritage classes for the students’ identity formation process. Following the conviction that what we teach can only be meaningful if we understand to whom we are teaching, I argue that scholars and educators in the field have come to rely progressively on an interdisciplinary perspective on identity to inform their theoretical frameworks and pedagogical practices. I propose that this interdisciplinary approach has broaded our understanding in four main areas: (a) the importance of the community in shaping Latino ethnolinguistic identity; (b) the impact of the pressures of assimilation to mainstream culture; (c) the significance of so-called “Spanglish” in the construction of Latino identity; and (d) the importance of considering commonalities and individual differences when seeking to define our student body. As more programs for Spanish heritage learners open around the country, I suggest two pedagogical frameworks aligned with the interdisciplinary perspective on identity to support and nurture students’ identity formation in our classrooms: Latino studies and global education. To conclude, I reflect on the road ahead and on the importance of promoting open dialogue between teachers and researchers, while encouraging expert and novice teachers to continue augmenting the resources available to help Spanish heritage learners develop a strong and creative sense of ethnolinguistic identity.


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