Friday, September 26, 2008

Language – I am continuously amazed at my faith tradition’s repeated excuse for failing to successfully reach-out to the Latino community. So often congregations want material in Spanish or want to hold services in Spanish and failing those claim to not have the resources to serve that community. What they fail to acknowledge is that most of the Latino population in the United States is bi-lingual, often with English being dominant. This is not really a result of assimilation over the generations (as historically with other groups) but a result of adaptation. Typically the first generation retains a strong preference for Spanish however they begin to add English since this is needed for work and life in the United States. However this generation will typically still speak Spanish at home.

The second generation grows-up with Spanish at home and English outside the home. They are truly bi-lingual. As they progress through the educational system English begins to dominate; again following the old immigrant/assimilation patterns. However it is in adulthood that there is a change. This generation often seeks to regain what they had in the Spanish dominant culture. Bi-lingualism and access to Spanish reinforces the Latinos cultural identity.

Why is this pattern different: proximity to ancestral countries and continued population growth. In the old patterns the immigrant’s country of origin was far distant for travel in those eras. Furthermore while many of the groups came from a particular country, the Latino population in the United States can come from South America (12 countries with a total population of almost 380 million), Central America (7 countries, 41 million) or North America and the Caribbean (16 countries). What many people in the United States of America forget is that Mexico is a part of North America. Furthermore many people in the United States frequently travel to or vacation in Spanish speaking countries. Lastly much of the United States was at one time part of Mexico or a territory claimed by Spain and these areas often retain their Spanish names. Lastly there are places in the United States where Spanish culture and language predominate.

So Unitarian Universalists and others who wish to reach-out to the Latino community should remember that we retain Spanish because we want to. However those who would be attracted to our faith are typically bi-lingual, often with advance degrees and not necessarily former Catholics. Often we have children who are also bi-lingual to some degree or have taken Spanish in school. We don’t assimilate we adapt to our surroundings and in so doing transform our surroundings. So if you want to reach-out to the Latino community be prepared to be changed.

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