Language, Identity, and Cultural Awareness in Spanish-Speaking Families

By Guardado, Martin | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview
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Language, Identity, and Cultural Awareness in Spanish-Speaking Families

Guardado, Martin, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


There exists a wealth of research in the areas of heritage languages in the United States. Over the last two decades, the rapidly growing work on Spanish, particularly, is making important strides in the understanding of this research area. Yet, there is only minimal work focusing specifically on language socialization and Spanish maintenance in Canada. In this article, I describe qualitative research examining the contextual factors of the linguistic socialization of Spanish-speaking families and their children in Vancouver, Canada. Analysis of the data indicates that cultural awareness and identity, familism, and home language practices are key factors that cut across a variety of aspects of first language maintenance, both as agents and outcomes.


II existe une riche base de recherche sur les apprenants de langues d'origine aux Etats-Unis. Lors des deux dernieres decennies, des etudes sur I'espagnol en particulier, ont permis de grands progras dans ce domaine d'etude. Neanmoins, le hombre de recherches examinant la situation canadienne vis-a-vis de la socialisation linguistique et le maintien de I'espagnol reste infime. Cet article rapporte les resultats d'une etude qualitative, laquelle examine les facteurs contextuels de la socialisation linguistique de families et de leurs enfants de langue espagnole a Vancouver au Canada. L'analyse des donnees indique que la conscience culturelle et I'identite, le famillisme, et les habitudes linguistiques au foyer sont des facteurs critiques qui affectent une variete d'aspects du maintien de la langue maternelle, autant comme agents que comme consequences.


The presence of Spanish-speakers in Canada is not new. Small numbers of Spaniards immigrated to Canada following the end of the Civil War in Spain (Hoffman 2004). However, the first major influx was triggered by the 11 September 1973 coup d'etat in Chile, a period that also saw other South Americans, especially Uruguayans and Argentines, arrive under a special federal program. A second major wave of immigration began in 1983 with the intensification of the political instability in Central America--most notably, in E1 Salvador--and Ottawa's introduction of a special refugee program for Salvadoreans (Griffin 1993). Today, the Spanish-speaking population in Canada has reached 345,345, or 1.1 percent of the total population (Statistics Canada 2006), making Spanish the fifth largest non-official language in the country, with the highest concentrations in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

It is not surprising, given the type of recent population increase described above, that the majority of research on Latin Americans in Canada has focused on refugees (Ajdukovic and Aidukovic 1993; Young and Evans 1997). Although many professional immigrants face difficulties integrating into the larger Canadian society, some studies have found professionals are able to integrate almost immediately (Xiao 1998). Thus, because the Chilean immigrants generally came from a higher socioeconomic and educational background than those from Central America, the research to date has more frequently addressed the issues facing Salvadorean refugees (e.g., Jacob 1992; Thomson 1986). These studies have dealt with issues critical to this population, issues that no doubt will continue to attract the attention of researchers and other concerned individuals.

Another line of research has addressed educational issues facing immigrants and their children in general, uncovering important insights. Drever (1996) highlighted the fact that the Spanish-speaking population in Toronto-area public schools faces many academic challenges, including high dropout rates. Pacini-Ketchabaw et al. (2001) discussed the lived experiences of Spanish-speaking parents attempting to raise bilingual children in greater Toronto. They reported that, from the perspective of parents, fostering family unity, Latin American identity, and future professional advancement are important reasons for maintaining Spanish.

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