Over the past several weeks I have been reflecting about things that could change the cultural trajectory of the southwest. I grew up in a small town located in Southern Colorado; in fact, my hometown is located in a part of the US that was once Mexico called the San Luis Valley. The demographics continue to reflect its history as evidenced by a large percentage of Latinos, or as the large majority prefers to be called, Spanish. Our culture and language, for the most part, have survived the generations as we moved from Mexican to US Citizens.
My father started school in the early ‘60s. His story is like so many of Spanish-speakers’ stories in the southwest during that era. He primarily spoke Spanish and was consequently beaten by the nuns. In those days, the belief was that learning more than one language would confuse children. This shameful abuse of my people resulted in a neurosis about our language that could only be fixed by English Only. As a result, my brother, sister and I were never taught Spanish in order to avoid the distress that befell our parents.
In an effort to recapture that piece of culture I feel so isolated from, I since have learned to speak Spanish. I’m not completely fluent but pretty darn close. However, the fact remains that that the language of my people is slowly dying. This continues to haunt me. The Spanish spoken in that area is a rare mixture of 17th century Castillian Spanish, mixed with indigenous vocabulary, as well as new words that were invented to describe new technology, like troque for truck for example.
In fact, the Spanish of the Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico is a distinct dialect that cannot be located elsewhere. Thus it stands to reason that the culture is quite unique as well due to the Native, Mexican and American influence over several generations. There are things from culinary traditions to oral folklore that are unique to that area. All these things will fade away if we don’t make an effort to hold on to these traditions.
Many relocated valleros have expressed their concern about the loss of culture we face. There have been studies that show the connection between culture and language. Furthermore, there is a distinct fear of losing culture along with the loss of language. This is where my urgency lies. I don’t want my children, my nieces and nephews, or any child feeling further isolation from who they are and where they belong. I believe in a world where all children have a strong sense of themselves, their families and their culture.
We need to start taking steps before our elders are gone, and we have nowhere to go.