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Identity and Resilience in US Hispanics

The Observatory Cervantes analyzes the conservation of the cultural identity of Spanish speakers in the United States

Cambridge, November 14, 2014. The Observatory of the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University held a seminar within the series "Conversations in the Observatory." The talk, given by María Margarita Carreira, Professor of Spanish at California State University, focused on the nature of resilience, and led to a debate analyzing the current situation of heritage language speakers in the United States. Hispanic heritage speakers are those who come from a Hispanic family, but have grown up in another culture and language.

Resilience is defined as a “positive adaptation to an adverse situation.” Professor Carreira uses the idea of resilience to connect the different aspects that shape identity for a bilingual person or a heritage speaker. This process is both intrinsic (influencing personality, intelligence, and talent) as well as extrinsic (affecting “the quality of the relationships during childhood or school environment or neighborhood.”)

An individual with strong resilience is able to assimilate a dual identity through bilingualism and often benefits from greater critical awareness, increased empathy, and a successful academic career. However, Carreira also describes several populations considered “at risk.” These individuals are those who speak Spanish too well to integrate into American society or, on the other hand, speak English too well to fully be part of the Latino population in the U.S.

During a debate on the role of teachers throughout the assimilation process, Carreira suggested that teachers should recognize their students as “a talent to develop and not as a problem to be solved.” The discussion encouraged an exchange of ideas on how to improve the situation of heritage speakers in the United States, with a particular focus on expanding professional development opportunities without neglecting social skills and personal growth. According to numerous studies, heritage speakers do not consider their identity to be “complete” until they successfully harmonize the duality of both languages and, therefore, the assimilation of the two cultures they represent.

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