Some Spanish-speaking communities in Sonoma County are feeling pressure to suppress their native language, citing the modern political climate under President Donald Trump. That’s according to Lupe Calvillo, a bilingual Sonoma State University (SSU) alum.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people from the undocumented community, and they are afraid of speaking Spanish in public because they feel that they can be a potential target,” Calvillo said.
The suppression of Spanish isn’t the only source of concern for the Hispanic community, said Dr. Ronald Lopez, associate professor of Chicano and Latino Studies at SSU. He said language discrimination can be a common occurrence — even in California.
“While California’s view on diversity may be more open-minded compared to other states, this is actually very regional, and discrimination can happen anywhere,” Lopez said. “Even within California, it depends greatly on where you live. Language discrimination even happens in places where speaking Spanish (or any other language) is common.”
Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S. with more than 40 million speakers, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center report.
“Many immigrant groups have been targeted in the past, including Italians, Irish, Jews, and of course Chinese, Japanese and other Asian and South Asians,” Lopez said. “From the 20th century to the present, Mexicans have been the most consistent target of anti-immigrant discrimination, leaving many feeling vulnerable about speaking their first language in public.”
Viral videos have spread awareness of discriminatory incidents toward non-English speakers. In May, a widely shared video showed New York lawyer Aaron Schlossberg telling employees and customers who were speaking Spanish to speak English because “This is America!”
Hispanic people make up an estimate of 26.6 percent of the population in Sonoma County, according to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau report.
Several schools in Sonoma County — including Cali Calmecac Language Academy, Flowery Elementary School and Cesar Chavez Language Academy — offer dual immersion programs, which encourage students to learn Spanish at a young age.
Rebekah Rocha, principal at Cesar Chavez Language Academy, sees the bilingual program as an opportunity for students to grow up maintaining the Spanish language regardless of their ethnicity.
Rocha said there has been a noticeable shift in interest around the dual immersion program, with more English-speaking parents enrolling children than their Spanish-speaking counterparts.
“It’s interesting because we found this year that there are less Spanish speaking parents that want their kids to come to dual immersion schools than English speaking parents,” Rocha said. “We had more applicants for our kindergarten class of English speakers wanting their kids to speak Spanish than we did of native Spanish speakers.”
Although Spanish can be tough to retain for some native speakers, it’s also key for holding onto a cultural identity, said Dr. Mariana Martinez, manager of the College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP) at Mendocino College.
“Growing up (speaking Spanish) is important for communication because it facilitates keeping certain traditions alive,” Martinez said.
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