5. Ethnolinguistic identity
Contrary to what is frequently imagined by many monolingual Americans, maintaining a non-English language in the United States is an extraordinarily difficult task. In the case of Latinos, in spite of the continuing arrival of new, Spanish-speaking immigrants, the shift toward English is unmistakable. Among Latino professionals, the shift is extremely rapid and appears to take place by the second generation (Valdés, Fishman et al. 2006).
If Fishman (1991) is correct about the importance of intergenerational transmission for minority language maintenance, Spanish will only be maintained in the United States if parents commit to speaking Spanish at home with their children; however, the development of high-level, literacy-related proficiencies in Spanish, cannot be brought about by parents alone. This development will require the direct involvement of educational institutions. Unfortunately, the American educational system – in its present configuration – has not been designed to involve itself in the maintenance and development of non-majority languages.
This paper examines the ongoing journey of two sisters (now 10 and 13 years old) who have developed their English/Spanish bilingualism primarily through American schools. It presents data on the characteristics of both their Spanish and their English language development and on their evolving sense of identity as Latinas. It also presents information about the school contexts in which the girls developed their bilingualism, the challenges faced by these schools in providing instruction in a minority language, and the dilemmas facing other Latino families in maintaining Spanish for another generation.