February 15, 2006

Americans not waiting for mañana to learn Spanish

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - America's reputation as an
English-only nation is fading, and not just because cartoon
character Bart Simpson says "Ay, Caramba!" and California Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger recycles his old movie line "Hasta la
vista, baby."

Across the United States more people are mixing Spanish
into conversation, and American parents are fighting to place
their kids in bilingual schools.

In Washington, parents used to camp out on the sidewalk for
days to enroll their children in Oyster Elementary, the
capital's only public bilingual school. After changing to a
lottery for admission, it has a waiting list of 120 kids for
each grade.

"We have children from poor families sitting next to
congressmen's children. That's the beauty of the program," said
Marta Guzman, principal of the school, considered a model for
teaching Americans Spanish and helping immigrants learn

Now 11.5 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 30
million people, speak Spanish at home, U.S. Census data show,
and Hispanic immigrants are feeling at home in their adopted

"My mother doesn't know more than three words of English,
but when she comes to visit she's happy," said Mexican-born
Susana Johnston of Hoboken, New Jersey. "There are a lot
Latinos but also a lot of Americans who speak Spanish."


New Yorkers call their corner store a "bodega." Border
towns know that a transnational factory is a "maquiladora."
Small children learn from cartoon character Dora the Explorer,
who uses Spanish in her adventures.

Encarta Webster's Dictionary of the English Language lists
some 50 words that its general editor calls "post-NAFTA,"
referring to 1994's North American Free Trade Agreement linking
the economies of Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Among them are Amexica, a blend of America and Mexico
referring to the U.S.-Mexican border region, and Amexican,
meaning English as influenced by Latin America.

There are English terms like bridge town -- a pair of
cities separated by the river marking the U.S.-Mexican border
-- and Spanish ones like matricula consular -- an identity card
issued by Mexican consulates to Mexican nationals in the United

Anne Soukhanov, Encarta's U.S. general editor, said Spanish
some day may surpass French as a source of words in English.

"I don't see why not. I can't predict how long it will
take, but I will say that the influence of Spanish is
continuing as we sit here," Soukhanov said.

Some defenders of Spanish in the United States resent the
way Schwarzenegger uses the language. Carmen Fought, a
linguistics professor at Pitzer College in California, calls it
"mock Spanish" and suggests the country has a double standard
when it comes to speaking Spanish.

"It's perfectly fine for white people to say 'Hasta la
vista, baby' to each other, but there is no tolerance for
Spanish speaking co-workers who say 'hasta la vista' to each
other," Fought said. "There's a lot of negativity attached to
the use of Spanish. It's associated with poverty and a lack of

That backlash seems to have faded in the small town of St.
Helena in California's wine-producing Napa Valley, a magnet for
Mexican farm workers. The elementary school offers "dual
immersion" schooling in English and Spanish.

"We've seen an upswing in the number of English-only
parents who value giving their child a second language,"
principal Robin McCrae said. "There are a number who don't want
their children just to be citizens of a small town, but
citizens of the world."