The case of maintenance of Spanish as a heritage language in rural areas presents a complex phenomenon: the lack of public places where the language is used, the costly access to Spanish mass media, and the slower arrival of new immigrants makes Spanish maintenance as a heritage language more challenging, and it varies according to the support of the overall community. This support is revealed by the linguistic attitudes held by community leaders such as teachers, personnel at social service agencies, and monolingual English speakers in general. Linguistic attitudes of the community at large become messages for Hispanic families in their endeavor to carry on with their language loyalty and transmission of Spanish to their children. Regarding these students’ attitudes and motivations towards the heritage language, there is a combination of integrative and instrumental attitudes (Baker, 1995: 31-38), which they develop while growing up. Their motivation to maintain Spanish not only reveals instrumental attitudes in their need to succeed professionally, but also integrative attitudes associated with them being agents for social change among the Hispanic community.
“One of my plans is to continue advocating for the rights of the immigrant workers. Since I like helping people, that is what I would like to do in my future… Perhaps, I could be an English teacher for the workers” (Marisa).
Parental educational level and the economic survival experiences students observe at home could be a source of encouragement or resentment toward maintaining the heritage language. The degree of ethnic identity, which is perceived at home and through their social interaction with the small heritage language community, is also a factor of recognition and motivation. The students’ attitude toward the heritage language and academic success in it is deeply related to their social class perception and aspirations for social mobility in the future. In addition, attitudes can affect the chances for social integration to academic and linguistic success.
“During my adolescent years, I changed a lot. I entered these years rejecting my Hispanic heritage and got out recognizing more about my culture. Sometimes I felt like I was so different from my classmates, but at the same time I did not want to identify with them… My parents did not allow me to go out with my friends to have fun because they said that they did not trust them and that the American children’s customs were so different. This is the reason I did not have many friends outside from school. It never bothered me that my parents did not let me go out because I did not want to be like the American kids in my school. I did not like either to be part of a minority in my school because sometimes my classmates disrespected me, saying things to me because I was Mexican. I always defended myself and did not care what they said” (Guadalupe).
Among the rural Hispanic heritage children’s life narratives, it is found that small communities provided them specific opportunities to interact with all community members regardless of age differences. Usually, the narratives report that pre-adolescents start to accompany their parents to the workplace, and they have jobs for themselves with other first-generation adult immigrants. While they are together, second-generation children not only interact in Spanish with older people from the immigrant community and serve as language brokers (interpreters) with non-Spanish speakers, but also perceive social conditions particular to their survival in rural New York.
“During my last year working there, I was also working packing fruit. I liked to work there because there were other women that talked in Spanish and I liked to talk with them. I realized there were some [slang] words and phrases that I did not like. One was ‘orale’ and one phrase was ‘no manches’–to this day I still don’t like them, but because I am with people who say them, sometimes they come out of my mouth, too” (Marisa).
In rural environments the child’s role as a language broker or interpreter becomes necessary because there is no bilingual community that can fulfill this function. Therefore, rural heritage speakers can find themselves more often having the responsibility of facilitating their family’s access to valuable services, information, or material resources.
“I realized that being different could be something good. Sometimes the teachers from school called me because they needed someone to translate for a parent or to translate a document that they needed to send home to inform parents about school activities. This helped me during summer school. They offered me a job in a class to work with a student that did not know English” (Marisa).
“I first noticed that I had changed before entering sixth grade. During that summer I started working with my parents on a farm. One day they decided that it would be good if I were to help them. They woke me up at six in the morning to go with them. They did not want to pay a translator that would go with them to find a job, so at that moment I started to translate for my parents and to work. We started to work with grapes and little by little we started to do different jobs with our boss. During that summer he was remodeling the warehouse, and he gave us work cutting grapes. After we finished, he gave us work at the garden in front of the winery store. That day I realized this was hard work, and that I would have to do it to help my parents. The boss did not pay me, but he paid my parents. We worked by contract, which means that he paid us for what we did every week” (Abraham).
As discussed by Martinez, et al. (2009), the language broker role can have positive or negative effects on the child with complex consequences. It empowers the child to have an influential role in the family and gives them license to communicate for their parents and be involved in important family decisions. For rural heritage speakers, language brokering situations present an advantage in Spanish language maintenance. There is a need in the family for a fluent bilingual, beyond the familiar private topics. Second generations learn how to negotiate salaries and find job opportunities because they are the only resource for their parents in the process of community socio-economic integration, which is different from the process of acculturation. As explained by Jones (2008:11), integration involves social and economic consolidation with the host society, while acculturation relates to the adoption by the immigrants of host cultural practices such as language, religion, music, and traditional celebrations. These two processes evolve differently depending on opportunities and resources that apply to individual cases. The main barriers to integration are the lack of immigrant community and family resources, discrimination by the host society, undocumented status, lack of incentives to interact with the host society, and absence of a common ethnic network. In the acculturation process, there can occur the adoption of cultural traits that would benefit their integration such as learning the language of the host society, participating in the educational systems and demonstrating hard work; nevertheless, for some groups in rural environments, acculturation processes may develop partially from seeking to reinforce cultural pride and develop strong ethnic identities in a social setting where their differences are obviously highlighted due to the nonexistence of multilingual and multiethnic communities. For example, in some households, the student autobiographies disclose language contact with Mixteco, Spanish, and English. The presence of Mixteco adds to the development of ethnic identity and to the importance of the family language in order to maintain communication, and gives to Spanish the quality of a bridging position between the indigenous language and English between their immigrant community and the mainstream society.
“The language that they speak at home is Spanish, and it is also the official language in Mexico, but the language that we speak in my hometown is Mixteco. Mixteco is a combination of Spanish and other indigenous languages. Mixteco is only spoken by people from my town. I know it because I was born there; however, the language is being lost because some people do not speak it anymore or do not want to speak it. I am also losing it, but my parents encourage me to talk to them in Mixteco, so that I don’t lose it, otherwise it would be more difficult to communicate with uncles, aunts, and cousins who do not speak Spanish or English” (Abraham).
Hispanic parents see moving to rural areas as an opportunity for work in less competitive environments. In addition, they find pressure to remain in one place for their children’s stability and education. However, this often means ethnic and cultural isolation. In order to cope with the sacrifice of being away from family members and a common ethnic community, parents highlight that one of their main reasons for moving to the rural areas of New York state is their children’s education; they do not expect bilingual or ESL programs that support the use of home languages. On the contrary, they consider a “better” education to be a full immersion into the mainstream society that provides their kids with necessary content knowledge and English skills to compete and achieve higher levels of socio-economic success. Some parents seek to balance the lack of native culture and language by using strict language home rules and Hispanic traditional values for their daily family survival and the upbringing of their children; these strategies help them overcome social pressures from the mainstream culture that might discourage their kids from identifying themselves as Hispanics or advancing into higher education. Language and culture loyalty are particularly necessary in rural environments in order to maintain heritage languages, although it might not be successful if there is no support from the larger community. Rural Hispanic parents, interviewed in this study, hope for respect and support of Spanish language use at home by school personnel and state that this support is important as a transitional time from the home language environment to the school/community setting.
It has been observed by the participants’ autobiographies that a prosperous life in small towns for their parents depended on social dynamics in their community integration. If they were part of a family with various siblings, they wanted to remain and integrate into the school system and establish relationships with educational leaders. The friendly welcoming in the schools, the assistance received from some leaders made them develop a sense of belonging to the community. This point is proven by Brisk’s analysis of school environments (1998: 34) “Students can succeed in schools that do not consider their language and culture if parents and students trust that these schools are sincerely interested in providing a good education.” It is also clear from the data collected that networks of immigrants, not only Hispanics, start at ESL programs either for adults or children through the school districts. Integration processes start in the school districts, and educational leaders and ESL instructors are at the front lines in helping all feel part of a community; often these kinds of educational programs surge as immigrants arrive and leaders identify the needs of the population. Community leaders might not have training in ESL, but they learn along with community members. These spaces generate more opportunities for the immigrants to get individual attention and tell their stories, to be heard, and ask questions that eventually help them navigate within the overall community. All this social interaction between leaders and ethnic communities is mediated by language contact. The uniqueness of their ethnic condition in an environment where their race and origin are so clearly distinguished can be a source for cultural exchange with other children belonging to the Anglo-monolingual community.
“We moved that year in December to a little town called Margaretville. By that time school had already started. When I came to school for the first time, everyone looked at me badly because all of them already had time to get to know each other. There was only one person that was good to me. Later when time passed, I became friends with everyone. During second grade, I remember that they took us out of class, but later I realized that they did this only to the Hispanic kids from my class. I remember that they took us to a class to improve our English. This was not much help, but because we were bilingual this was mandatory. I was in the class until my last year of elementary school, but it did not bother me to attend because when I was a child, I used to be closer to the other Hispanic kids” (Carmen).
The institutional leadership that each rural town has in order to develop and build a multicultural society is determinant in welcoming immigrants to these environments. A concrete example of a rural upstate New York Community that views community integration as a net positive is presented in the documentary, “Welcome to Fleishmanns” (Vecchione, 2009). The excerpt presented above belongs to a student from the community researched by Vecchione. As immigrants seek to integrate and adjust to the host society, they also perceive the value of human and social capital that they contribute to this area. When the conditions for integration are promoted by the institutional leaders, immigrants see that they bring diversity and vitality into the school classrooms and the socio-economic well-being of the town. When there is recognition for their contribution, they seek to maintain aspects of their social capital, such as language and ethnic cultural practices that may be integrated with the overall community, constructing multicultural environments for all.
“Although I was one of the only Latinas at school, it was not negative because I was able to make friends with diverse kinds of people. I was able to see other people’s culture and share with them my family’s culture. When they did the Mexican independence party at a town near my house, I would bring my friends so that they could see the folkloric dances. They were even more interested than I was because I used to dance those dances. I loved this because I learned more about my roots and my cultural traditions” (Marisa).
The maintenance of heritage languages is observed in the formation of social networks for survival, adaptation and conservation of ethnic identity (Milroy 1980; Mines and Massey 1985; Paris Pombo 2006; Grim-Feinberg 2007; Vergara Wilson 2012). Moreover, Alba, et al. (2002) suggest that there are some differences from the linguistic assimilation experienced by past immigrants and Hispanics today. Their analysis demonstrated some staying power for Spanish, especially when familial and communal contexts are supportive in regions where bi-ethnic culture has emerged. The authors recommend further research seeking the geographic effect in maintaining Spanish as a home practice. The question is whether the maintenance of Spanish in the U.S. is solely based on the arrival of new immigrants that keep revitalizing the use of Spanish, or whether there are other factors at play in determining whether the forces supporting Spanish differ depending on geographical region.
“Growing up in a town all surrounded by my family was the best. I had my uncles and aunts, my cousins, my nieces and nephews and everyone. I lived with my parents and my two siblings also lived with us, and my sister and her child were at home also. Her son, John, is my age, so we got along well” (Carmen).
Brisk (1998:51) states that: “In the United States assimilation is seen as a precondition for social, political, and economic participation. Although most immigrant groups aspire to social and economic incorporation, they do not all have the same options. Some succeed in assimilation into mainstream middle-class America, others are socialized with poor native-born Americans, and still others choose to incorporate into an established ethnic community.” Participants in this study showed cultural assimilation into the dominant English mainstream to varying degrees, depending on the community integration experienced by the entire family. Nevertheless, these families never neglected the importance of the heritage language as a family value and the home environment proved to be a main motivation to preserve the native culture and language.
“My parents gave us good advice. They taught us that the family values are to remain close, to have faith and trust. Without doubt, I also believe in these family values. I loved that they always made us talk in Spanish at home. I like a lot that my house was very spiritual because I always feel confident in any place” (Adriana).
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