In an absolute melting pot scenario, many third-generation ethnic groups would lose their mother tongue and completely assimilate into American culture. Some ethnic groups have followed this trend.
Others have held onto their native language through generations. One such group is Hispanics, who tend speak Spanish through the third generation, according to a study by researchers at the State University of New York in Albany.
Twenty-eight percent of third-generation Hispanics in the United States still speak Spanish.
In contrast, only 8 percent of third-generation Asians speak their native languages.
The ratio is higher with most other third-generation ethnic groups. For example, about 90 percent of third-generation Asians speak only English at home.
LSA sophomore Xavier Segura, who is a second-generation Hispanic, said bilingualism might be higher among Hispanics than other ethnic groups because there is widespread access to Spanish-language programs. He added that Spanish language skills are cultivated in schools and in the workplace.
“You don’t have that with other immigrant groups,” Segura said.
Education junior Elizabeth Davila, a third-generation Hispanic, stressed the importance of preserving one’s native language.
“I think it’s important to carry on tradition and a piece of your culture,” Davila said. “(Language) is one of the main ways to pass down cultural identity to future generations.”
Segura said knowing Spanish helps him communicate with older relatives and connect to his heritage.
Sociology Prof. Robert Ortega said some scholars perceive Spanish as “integral to preserving culture and psychological well-being.”
“It is through their own language that people express their true self,” Ortega said in an e-mail interview.
Statistics also show that location has an effect on bilingualism.
LSA sophomore Cordaro Vasquez grew up in Bridge Port, Mich. He said he believes he grew up speaking English at home largely because of limited ethnic diversity in Bridge Port.
The language is what defines Hispanics. “Hispanic” means those who come from Spanish-speaking countries.
“There’s definitely a trend to be more of a U.S.-acculturated Latino, then a nationalistic ‘I’m Puerto Rican’ or ‘I’m Mexican Latino,'” Segura said. “It starts to divide communities even further if they just try to associate purely on nationalistic lines.”
Ortega said that at the same time there is discouragement to speak Spanish. When students speak Spanish in the classroom teachers often doubt their literacy in English, he said.
“Third-generation Latinos have a strong emphasis to demonstrate mastery in the English language,” Ortega said.
Although bilingualism is diminishing as generations pass, Ortega believes it will continue to thrive in the United States.
“When you lose a language, you lose a world,” he said.
Ortega cited U.S. Census projections that, by the year 2050, there will be more than 100 million Hispanics or about 24 percent of the total U.S. population.
Ortega said that currently one in eight Americans are Latino and that Latinos have the largest child population, about 15 percent, in the United States.
Davila said she believes bilingualism is not emphasized enough among some Latinos and mentioned that one of her best friends, who is Latina, does not speak Spanish.
“I think parents want their children to feel as comfortable a possible in the U.S. and feel as little discrimination as possible and the one way to do that is to learn the language of the country you live in,” she said.