The following is based mainly on Dr Beverly Tatum’s excellent book, “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” (1997). She talks only about Spanish-speaking Latinos who grow up in America (the U.S.):
Being Latino is not a matter of nation or race. It is a matter of culture, of belonging to a Latin American culture. After all, you can be black or white or Indian or mixed and still be Latino. You can be Mexican or Cuban or American and still be Latino.
Three stages that Latinos (and other people of colour) go through growing up in America:
- unexamined ethnic identity – your ethnic identity is not a big deal, you barely think about it.
- ethnic identity search – it becomes a big deal, mainly because of experiences at school. You come to terms with what it means for you to be a member of your ethnic group. This can take years.
- achieved ethnic identity - you have a clear, positive sense of your ethnic identity.
“Ethnic” here can mean “racial” as well. Some Latinos find themselves at stage #2 because of race, but all find themselves there because of language. (Tatum talks about growing up black and growing up Latino but not about the two together.)
Anglo Americans mock Spanish and shame its use. Some Latinos internalize this shame and stop speaking Spanish – or hide their knowledge of Spanish in a bid to be accepted by Anglos. Most schools teach only in English. Some teachers punish the use of Spanish, some even ask parents to speak English at home.
Growing up, Latinos have to come to terms with their feelings about Spanish and its use. And that in turn lies at the heart of coming to terms with their ethnic identity – stage #2.
There are four possible outcomes:
- assimilation – become Anglo
- withdrawal – become Latino
- biculturalism – become part Anglo and part Latino
- marginalization – become neither Anglo nor Latino
Assimilation, favoured by most schools, distances you from your family and ethnic group. Families are a big deal in Latino culture: where Anglos believe in individualism, Latinos believe in familism. Note that assimilation does not assure that you will be accepted by Anglos, especially if you cannot pass for white. Nor does it allow you to reach stage #3. That can lead to self-hatred.
Withdrawal allows you to reach stage #3 but cuts you off from the broader American society. (On the other hand, the U.S. has 10% of the Spanish-speaking world.)
Biculturalism allows you to move easily in both Latino and Anglo worlds but it is hard to achieve and can lead to alienation from both worlds: marginalization. The marginalized are stuck in the middle, accepted by neither side. They become alienated and lost and may join gangs.
Bilingual education: Tatum says that in the long run it is best to teach Latinos mainly in Spanish until their English is good enough for schoolwork, which generally takes five to seven years. Better Spanish now means better English later.