Local Stories

The barrier that divides: One city, dos lenguas

The barrier that divides: One city, dos lenguas

By Valorie Vasquez
Borderzine

borderzine

EL PASO – Blue-eyed, brunette, and light-complexioned Michael Alden has called El Paso his home for nearly all his life.

Alden, 24, was born and raised in El Paso, graduated from Franklin High in 2007 and attended UTEP before leaving to live in California. Although El Paso is recognized as a bilingual and bicultural community, Alden does not speak fluent Spanish, the language that many of us hear on a daily basis.

While he is not Hispanic, he has on more than one occasion been in a situation where Spanish speakers assumed he spoke Spanish.

“It is difficult sometimes,” Alden said. “Just knowing a second language would be a plus, it would be nice, but I don’t,” he added.

Situated on the US and Mexico borderline, El Paso is made up predominately of people of Hispanic background. According to research conducted by UTEP, the University had 22,460 students in the year of 2010. Out of those students, 17,535 were listed as Hispanic. Hispanic students at the University in that year made up 77 percent of the school’s population. El Paso in general is mostly made up by Hispanics. According to city data, El Paso is 80.7 percent Hispanic.

Alden is one of the many who live in El Paso and list English as their only language. Alden recalls his frustration at not speaking the language especially in the workplace.

“I have encountered it before where they (co-workers) have said I need to learn Spanish. No, I don’t. We don’t have a national language.” Alden said.

Alden says that when communicating with Spanish-only speakers there are a lot of hand gestures and signs used to substitute spoken word. He can recall many times when he has heard “You’re Mexican looking so you must speak Spanish.”

The Mexican presence in El Paso is strong. Stores, restaurants, schools, parks, and other public services and businesses get much of their revenue from visitors from across the border. Many employers rely on bilingual employees to communicate effectively with buyers from Mexico.

Josiah McC. Heyman, Department Chair of Sociology and Anthropology closely studies the border and has written several books and edited journal pieces that report his findings concerning the US-Mexico border. Heyman has found that here in El Paso, private employers tend to favor those that are bilingual, especially private employers that deal with the public on a daily basis.

Heyman says employers that tend to favor bilingual applicants are low level entry jobs. He says that the biggest issue with employment here is the ever growing Ft. Bliss in which spouses look for work in El Paso. They often find themselves unable to find work due to the need of bilingual applicants.

Heyman strongly believes that racism if still a contributing factor in the hostility many American’s feel to the Spanish language.

“There is that assumption that language comes with your looks. Spanish is often time associated with old people and marginal people which causes this hostility toward it. Spanish gets viewed as a language of servitude, while there is that assumption that English is the prestige language” Heyman said.

Heyman looks forward to what the future has in store for El Paso. He says that El Paso will see a rise in bilingual education for the youth.

“I think it’s changing and that’s exciting” said Heyman.

According to the 2010 census, El Paso was the largest city in Texas in which people spoke another language other than English in the home. El Paso, in 2010, had 72 percent of people speak another language other than English at home. In the state of Texas that number drops to 34.4 percent. Heyman states that in places such as El Paso, there are people who hold on to the Spanish language longer than three generations.

The PEW Research Center which gathers information, statistics and facts about issues and trends found that immigrant Hispanics are most likely to be proficient in Spanish. Second generation Mexican-Americans are mostly bilingual however speak primarily in English. Third generation Mexican-American’s are almost all completely English-only speakers.

María-Soccoro Tabuenca, Department Chair of Languages and Linguistics at UTEP, says that many Hispanics do not speak Spanish due to the colonization of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the United States who were forbidden to speak their native language. She says that many parents who were forced to speak English only did not want their children to face the same hardships and dilemmas they faced during colonization.

“We are fighting to be English-only, [make it] the ‘official language’. That to me is being very ignorant on the part of the government,” Tabuenca said.

Tabuenca states that one of the biggest issues in El Paso is that most people assume that everyone speaks Spanish…

Finish reading The barrier that divides: One city, dos lenguas

Click to add a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Local Stories

More in Local Stories

Hunger-07-Spoon-Full-A-Day

Tackling hunger one ‘Spoon FULL’ at a time

Latina ListaSeptember 3, 2015
DSCF2047

BOOKSHARE prepares for Texas school year with English and Spanish ebook library

Latina ListaSeptember 2, 2015
paul-rodriguez-960x600

Latino comic Paul Rodriguez and The Pitch

Latina ListaSeptember 1, 2015
Jorge-Ramos-Hair-Portraits

Op-Ed: Why Hispanics Are Cheering For Jorge Ramos

Latina ListaAugust 31, 2015
4d42da9435093.preview-620

In search of the great New Mexico chile pepper

Latina ListaAugust 27, 2015
rwb-donkeysplit

Three Connecticut Latino Incumbents Fight Democratic Party Machine

Latina ListaAugust 26, 2015
150824-bined_6

Border economic officials: ROOT CAUSE OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IS POVERTY, INSECURITY AND LACK OF OPPORTUNITY

Latina ListaAugust 25, 2015
CMeP8WMWcAA-glg

Visualizing Illinois’ Cook County Jail’s population

Latina ListaAugust 24, 2015
google-inc-starts-work-on-fiber-optic-network-in-san-antonio-texas

San Antonio says ‘Bienvenidos’ to Google Fiber

Latina ListaAugust 20, 2015