Say What?! Growing Number of U.S. Mexicans Don’t Speak Spanish

Many Mexican immigrants migrating to the United States are assumed to speak Spanish, but that assumption is wrong, reports NBC Latino. Many immigrants come to the U.S. speaking indigenous languages, and a workshop by The City University of New York's Institute of Mexican Studies is hoping to shed light on the diversity of languages spoken by Mexican communities in the United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the number of Central and South American language-speakers in the U.S. was baout 13,500 between 2005 and 2009. But it's hard to pinpoint just how many people speak these langages. 

“It’s hard to pinpoint numbers, because one of the challenges of the indigenous Mexican community is that there’s a lot of stigma of being indigenous,” said Leslie Martino-Velez, Associate Director of CUNY Institute of Mexican studies. “So when they come here, they may not say they are indigenous or teach their kids their language and culture.”

“One of the reasons we are doing a program like this is to dispose of the myths and misconceptions of indigenous Mexican people, as well as to expose individuals to the wonderfully diverse languages and cultures within the Mexican community.”

One of the largest (or far-reaching) indigenous languages (at least in the New York area) is the Nahuatl, which spreads out over the five boroughs, says Daniel Kaufman, a director of the Endangered Language Alliance. A population from Oaxaca migrated to New York about 20 years ago and brought their langauge of Mixteco with them.

“Mixteco is almost like a language family — it has group of languages within it. Each area has its own dialect," he said. 

David Escobar, an indigenous activist in northern California, says he’s seen a lot of increased immigration of indigenous people over the years.

“You’re going to have an increase of indigenous languages and enclaves,” said Escobar. “So, the next time you think you see a ‘Latino,’ keep in mind he or she may or may not even speak Spanish.”