According to the 2020 Census, about one in three households in New Mexico speak a language other than English at home — higher than the national average of about one in five.
Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world, after English, yet not everyone is speaking the exact same kind because language is alive and evolves over time. There are different dialects spoken in different areas, each with unique pronunciation, slang, and colloquial versions of words and phrases.
This Tuesday’s It’s (Probably) Not Rocket Science (IPNRS) episode, “How do you put words to Spanish heritage?” talks about Spanish and the 400-year-old dialect that is disappearing, why languages are not passed down to younger generations, and the students working to reclaim a heritage language they did not learn as children.
Carly Bowling, IPNRS host and investigator of the hot topics and issues facing society today visited a level three Spanish Heritage language class at The University of New Mexico, where students learn Spanish, though it is no foreign language to them. There, she interviewed Damián Ortiz, one of the students taking the course. He said that each student has a cultural connection to Spanish.
“I grew up hearing some Spanish from my mom and my grandparents; we would have family get-togethers with extended family and they would be speaking primarily Spanish, and I couldn't understand any of it,” Ortiz said. “Being Hispanic and growing up around the culture, there's a different level of familiarity that you already have with it. Even if you don't understand it, it just feels nice to have a sense of community where you can go into a class of people who are also in the same type of situations.”
Damián Vergara Wilson is a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and Director of the Spanish As a Heritage Language program. He spoke to Bowling about the desires of many students to further retain the language of their community and families.
“They all have what we call the heritage motivation. They want to get the language back,” said Vergara Wilson. “They might be uncomfortable speaking. They might be reacting to some kind of language trauma that they suffered that could be associated with a school event [...] And yet, if you ask them, ‘is it important to you?’ [...] it becomes very evident that it's a part of their identity, whether they consider themselves fluent speakers or not.”
Above all, Vergara Wilson and others involved in the program want students to know they are not deficient in Spanish.
“Our circumstances have been brought about by forces much larger than us and that affected our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. We try to delve into those to dismantle them to a certain degree, especially in the minds of the students, because really, one of the best things you can do for Spanish As a Heritage language students is to remove these attitudes,” Vergara Wilson said.
For more information, visit podcast.unm.edu.