Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Spanish-English or English-Spanish in California: The Dialectics of Language in a Sociocultural Historical Context

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Spanish-English or English-Spanish in California: The Dialectics of Language in a Sociocultural Historical Context

Article excerpt


In present day California schooling and bilingualism as opposing mechanisms, can be discerned as social political constructs that has existed since the formal institutions of schooling in English were implemented in California (1849-50). In the particular case of the Spanish language it is primarily due to the historical antecedents of relegating the language and culture to second-class citizen status historically and in the schooling process. Spanish/English bilingualism persists and grows in spite of the lack of institutional support and the deliberate attempt politically to set up Americanization and English Only policies for schooling. . The Spanish language was the language of law and policy in what is now the State of California before the war with Mexico (1846). In order to consider the events that have created the debate over language and the persistence of Spanish and other languages in the region that is now California, it is necessary to provide a cursory view of historical events that have propagated conflict over language use and the aggressive implementation of English as an official language. The shifting of official language from Spanish to English in California is an historic dialectic, which has served to repress the use of native language for generations of Spanish speakers.

The Roots of Spanish Language Culture in Early California

English Only policies are not new to the State of California nor are the issues of immigration recent. California in fact could be considered, just as the rest of the United States, an immigrant State. The exploration and colonization of California by the Spanish military, Franciscan missionaries and Jesuit priests follows a historical pattern that commenced before the sixteenth century. Most Spanish speaking Mexican Americans trace their roots to 1519, when the Hernan Cortez landed in Mexico and thus a unique tradition of mestizaje was initiated. Moreover, the majority of Latino and Mexican Americans trace their ancestry back much further than the Spanish Conquest. Latino identity is based upon not only mestizaje, but also pre-Columbian roots in the Americas, indigenous roots among Indian peoples who called the land home well before 1492. In modern day perspectives the meaningful differences that may distinguish a people--such as language, culture, religion, and the like--appear to be ignored or it may be that because in California history books adopted for schooling the history before the English language was imposed as the language of public schooling is not at all represented. For generations of Latinos growing up in California schools and possessing the capacity for being bilingual, biliterate it is indeed a complex cognitive process that requires a life long transition to overcome constant identity conflicts. (1) "In reality, Latinos have diverse racial and ethnic origins and are attuned to questions of class and wealth, not merely race or ethnicity" (Ruiz Cameron 1997:273).

It is imperative to recognize that the immigration model fails to account for the Latino condition in the U.S. As Ruiz-Cameron states,

The immigration model that evolved in the Southwestern United States is unlike the history of the Europeans who came "by invitation only" to the U.S. Many present-day Latinos are not the descendants of immigrants, at least as we commonly use the term; rather, they are the children of ancestors who had settled the New World centuries before Anglos first arrived in the Southwest. Whereas the ancestors of most European Americans voluntarily came to the United States, the ancestors of Latino Americans in the old California, New Mexico, and Texas territories for instance, involuntarily had the United States come to them through the forced annexation of their homelands. Even Latinos whose ancestors immigrated here after the Texas Rebellion of 1836 or the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War by transferring one-half of all Mexican homeland to the U. …

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