Mr. Tobar reminisces:
Like millions of Latino kids educated in California public schools, I never took a class in Spanish grammar or Spanish literature, nor was I ever asked to write a single word with an accent or a squiggly tilde over it. In the ’70s, Spanish was the language of poverty and backwardness in the eyes of some school administrators, and many others.
In the eyes of administration, Latino children became “smarter by forgetting Spanish,” but the consequences of losing one’s heritage language are long-lasting and detrimental to child’s personal identity. To Mr. Tobar, he felt as though he “had lost something priceless,” his loss of heritage language fracturing his identity with the Latino community and stunting the relationships between him and his Spanish-speaking family members.
Growing up in a house full of books that he could not read, Mr. Tobar was unable to appreciate the successes of Latino writers until much later when he learned Spanish as an adult. Mr. Tobar’s experience speaks against educational environments that are not culturally-sustaining or that do not diversify their curricula with works by people of color. In allowing students access to works by people of color, we expand the traditional canon and teach a new generation of students to be more tolerant of other cultures and experiences. Mr. Tobar, as a fluent Spanish speaker, speaks to this newfound appreciation:
“Shakespeare and Cervantes now live in my frontal lobe. Seinfeld and the Mexican comedian Cantinflas, too. Bob Dylan and the Chilean songwriter Violeta Parra. I have sought to master the Anglo-Saxon language spoken by Lincoln and Whitman, and also the Latinate language of Pablo Neruda and of the Angeleno street vendors.”
The systemic expurgation of Spanish and other heritage languages and cultural histories from U.S. education underserves our student population. For example, to Mr. Tobar, the enactment of Proposition 227, a California law that passed with 61% of the vote and which enforced English-Only classrooms, amounted to “cultural erasure… a shortsighted act, born of ignorance and intolerance.” Proposition 227 was recently repealed, but the generations of communities whose first language is not English will have to actively counter the erasure of their culture and heritage language.
The road to recovering language is a long and arduous process, but the results open so many doors:
“For Latino immigrant children, Spanish is the key that unlocks the untranslatable wisdom of their elders, and that reveals the subtle truths in their family histories. It’s a source of self-knowledge, a form of cultural capital.”
As members of TWIN-CS, we support bilingual education, but we also support the many cultural identities and histories of our students. By opening our curricula to this wide world of multilingualism and multiculturalism, we are creating a new generation of culturally-tolerant, socially-aware, and globally-minded students.
Please continue to follow the blog to hear more about the benefits of multilingual education!
-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Student Researcher