Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Speaking Spanish in Los Angeles and San Antonio: Who, When, Where, Why

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Speaking Spanish in Los Angeles and San Antonio: Who, When, Where, Why

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This paper discusses ways in which Los Angeles, California, and San Antonio, Texas, differ with regard to Spanish language use by means of anecdotes and insights from the author's point of view as a community insider in both. Relevant background is presented regarding the two cities' Spanish heritage populations, including current demographics, settlement histories, and linguistic treatment. While the Los Angeles Hispanic/Latino population of about 4 million is the result of much recent immigration (49% foreign-born), only 16.2% of San Antonio's 745,000 Hispanics/Latinos are immigrants. Interview excerpts show that immigration has created a factioned community in Los Angeles, but the San Antonio Mexican American community appears to be more cohesive, with a clear allegiance to Spanish as a marker of ethnic identity. Interestingly, it seems that the increase in recent immigration from Spanish-speaking countries to Southern California has meant a revitalization of Spanish for Los Angeles, whereas the lack of the same to San Antonio may mean a gradual shift to English. *

INTRODUCTION. It is an honor for me to be giving this Presidential Address in the place of my birth--Los Angeles, California. No, strictly speaking, this is Pasadena, and I was born in Los Angeles, and then moved to Montebello when I was a baby--or rather, to Simon's brickyard off of Vail Avenue where my grandfather worked. But my formative years were spent in Pico Rivera, just 20 miles down Rosemead Boulevard from here--a world away at the time. It was a post World-War II bedroom community for the industrializing Los Angeles area. I lived in Pico Rivera through middle school and high school, and then attended college at Occidental in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles, just a short distance away from where we are now.

I now live in San Antonio, Texas, another 1,300 or so miles to the east on Interstate 10, and have been there for about 14 years--long enough to feel a part of the local Mexican American community and to be accepted by it. In the years since I have been living in San Antonio I have interviewed and have made friends with long-time residents of the city. Although I do not share personally in the local collective memory of its Mexican American population I know it withstood a long period of geographical segregation and prejudice against speaking Spanish, as the same community in Los Angeles did at the same point in time. So by virtue of my mestiza Mexican background. Spanish-language heritage, and because I share the socio-political legacy of my ethnic group, I belong to that community as well.

So what does all of this mean for speaking Spanish in the two communities? In Pico Rivera at the time I was growing up, you didn't speak Spanish at all outside of the home. There was an unwritten edict that dictated that English was the language of commerce and everyday communication, unless the Mexican group was in the majority in the immediate area. Romo (1988:159) reports that by 1950, most second-generation Mexican Americans lived on the East Side [of Los Angeles], '... either by choice or as a result of exclusion from Anglo communities', and at the time my neighborhood was just at the edge of the invisible demarcation line between Anglo and Mexican. By the same token, at the same time in San Antonio, the Mexican-origin population was relegated to its own part of town, and English was the language that was used outside of that area. This community, too, was geographically and linguistically segregated by the English-speaking elite. In both cities, class prejudice had as much to do with the segregation of the two groups as did racial and linguistic prejudice.

So we see that the socio-politically dominant group in each city saw Spanish as the societally inferior language and English as the prestigious language at the time, in the 1950s and 60s. Now, in 2002, the status of Spanish has improved in both communities, and its use in public domains has increased in both locales, but are they, in fact, similar speech communities? …

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