Questions From Our Readers

Will Latinos in the U.S. assimilate?Michael writes:

I enjoyed your article [Hispanic heritage runs deep in the USA], and wondered if Latinos in the U.S. would assimilate as many French Canadians of New England have done.

Julie answers:

Good question.

Linguistically speaking, almost all second-generation Spanish-speaking immigrants in the U.S. assimilate, as did the second generation of the French-speaking who migrated to New England in the 19th and 20th centuries.

But there are some big differences between the groups. The most important one is scale. Roughly a million French-Canadians emigrated to the U.S. At the moment, the U.S.’ Hispanic population is estimated to be around 52 million. Not all “Hispanics” living in the U.S. actually speak Spanish. But even so, that figure represents 11% of all the Spanish-speakers in the world!

The other difference is one of clout. Whatever the number of actual Spanish-speakers in the U.S. is, it’s enough to support a growing Spanish-language media – newspapers, radio and TV stations. French Canadians never had those kinds of resources on anything near the same scale as Spanish speakers do. There are many areas where it is possible to live only speaking Spanish – we saw it when we lived in Phoenix Arizona in 2010.

Also, native Spanish-speakers continue to migrate to the U.S., though at a slower rate in the last few years. So the basin of Spanish-speakers in the U.S. is constantly being replenished.

Finally, the roots of Hispanic culture in the U.S. are so deep. No matter what pro-English lobbies argue, Spanish is a national language of the United States. It’s perceived as a natural, useful language to learn. Some 6.4 million Americans attend Spanish classes, including 850 000 college students.

Personally, I don’t think Spanish will disappear as a widely spoken language in the U.S. any time soon – if ever.

The Story of SpanishMore information about the history of the Spanish language can be found in our new book, The Story of Spanish, (to be released in April 2013, St. Martin’s Press).