No, Latinos don’t speak “Mexican,” and Mexicans don’t all speak Spanish.
The City University of New York’s Institute of Mexican Studies is hosting a workshop today called “Mexico’s Forgotten Languages,” to educate others on the diversity of languages spoken in Mexican communities in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of Central and South American Indian language-speakers in the U.S. was about 13,500 between 2005 and 2009.
However, Leslie Martino-Velez, Associate Director of CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies, who has been studying the Mexican indigenous community for nearly a decade, says that the numbers are most likely more but are hard to precisely decipher.
“It’s hard to pinpoint numbers, because one of the challenges of the indigenous Mexican community is that there’s a lot of stigma of being indigenous,” she says. “So when they come here, they may not say they are indigenous or teach their kids their language and culture.”
Martino-Velez says after that so many years of having indigenous members in our community, it’s important to create awareness.
“They are regular people who actually blend into the community and may be hidden,” she explains. “One of the reasons we are doing a program like this is to dispose of the myths and misconceptions of indigenous Mexican people, as well as to expose individuals to the wonderfully diverse languages and cultures within the Mexican community.”
Teacher Rebecca Madrigal, who has been working in a school in Manhattan, specifically with the Mixteco students for 14 years, will speak about how the kids respond after moving to the U.S., and a Mixteco mom will give her personal account. Daniel Kaufman a director of the Endangered Language Alliance will present his work documenting the different indigenous languages in NY.
“The largest is probably Nahuatl spread out over the five boroughs,” he says, also explaining that a large population from Oaxaca migrated here about 20 years ago bringing the language of Mixteco with them. “Mixteco is almost like a language family — it has group of languages within it. Each area has its own dialect.”
He says migration paths are based on area and family and village.
“Zapotecos migrated more to Los Angeles than New York,” says Kaufman. “Minorities within minorities don’t speak out for themselves so it’s a big problem in like places like California where there are large settlements of farm workers uncounted by the Census.
He says he’s heard of entire communities of indigenous Mexicans checking off “white” and some “other,” causing a lot of confusion with ethnicity and race. Organizations like Mano a Mano have started giving Nahuatl classes to preserve their culture, and El Centro del Inmigrante have been giving classes in Spanish and English to the indigenous communities to help them assimilate into everyday American life.
David Escobar, an indigenous activist in northern California, says he’s seen a lot of increased immigration of indigenous people over the years.
“You’re going to have an increase of indigenous languages and enclaves,” says Escobar about what we should continue to expect. “So, the next time you think you see a ‘Latino,’ keep in mind he or she may or may not even speak Spanish.”