A case study of Spanish language use in a Texas border colonia
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This case study reveals a Spanish language marginalization in a South Texas community of mostly Latinos, who are the fastest growing group in the U.S. (Colombi & Roca, 2003); furthermore, approximately 77% of English language learners (ELLs) have Spanish as their heritage language (Hopstock & Stephenson, 2003). Nevertheless, ELLs do not receive much academic literacy support in their first language in many schools (Zehler et al., 2003). Thus, out-of- school social practices play an important role on maintaining a native language (e.g., Burrows-Goodwill, 2009; Reyes, 2006). However, researchers have not explored this phenomenon in Texas border colonias, or unincorporated areas where city services are non-existent (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2005) and where almost half of residents live below the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). This case study examined Spanish language use in the Texas border colonia of El Palmar (pseudonym). I utilized U.S. Census data, linguistic landscape analysis of the neighborhood, participant observations, language use surveys, language logs, and viii interviews to determine the extent that bilingualism and biliteracy have developed in El Palmar and the factors leading to language maintenance or shift in this colonia. I used the framework of New Literacy Studies traditions (Barton, 2007; Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Gee, 2008; Heath, 1983; Street, 2001) to identify literacy practices involving adults and children in El Palmar, as well as the funds of knowledge concept (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005; Smith, 2002) to understand and acknowledge the cultural and literacy resources recent immigrants use in new language environments. I also incorporated Fishman‟s (2001) ideas of language shift to analyze the Spanish language maintenance or loss in the colonia. Biliteracy of the community was analyzed by applying the linguistic landscape concept developed by Landry and Bourhis (1997). The analysis of multiple data sources revealed that Spanish continues to be the most spoken language, but bilingualism has grown in El Palmar because more residents, particularly youth, have learned English. On the other hand, biliteracy has not developed. Even though El Palmar youth are fluent speakers of English and Spanish, they have not developed literacy in Spanish. The factors that help the maintenance or loss of Spanish in the colonia were also identified. This study also made a language compartmentalization evident in El Palmar, where Spanish is seen as the language to communicate and express feelings, and English as the language of power to succeed. The role of children and adults as language brokers (e.g., Orellana, 2009) in between these two language worlds was also analyzed. This study demonstrates the need for an awareness among El Palmar residents to value Spanish, not only as a sentimental language (Kelman, 1971), but as a language that will help them to succeed in high-power spheres, such as education and business (Fishman, 2001). Another implication is for a better communication among parents, schools, and community members to affirm colonia residents‟ linguistic resources and biliteracy.