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Historical Factors and the Future of Spanish Maintenance in the Albuquerque Metro Area

The following study was motivated by an interest in collecting data on the Spanish spoken in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The study was developed by Damián Vergara Wilson, PhD from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of New Mexico, along with his students from Spanish 546/449 Introduction to Sociolinguistics. This study focuses on the communities known as Saw Mill, Wells Park, North Valley and Old Town. The central focus of this research paper is to study maintenance attitudes towards the Spanish language of these communities. A historical background is provided to demonstrate any communal changes that may correlate to maintenance factors. People from communities that operate among a particular speech have belief systems about their language. These beliefs are factors that affect the maintenance and transmission of the language, therefore, this study investigates how members of the community are influenced to develop language attitudes, language maintenance or loss and the interaction of these participants with other members within the community. There were fifteen people involved in this research project: the faculty advisor, Damián Vergara Wilson and his students. Seven individuals conducted the interviews with different members of the community and at different locations. Our objectives were to conduct the investigation through already established contacts. It was desired as a class to be able to establish an “intragroup interaction” which defines a group of people who share the same language and cultural identity (Gonzales 16). This research project benefits society at large by providing an understanding of social interaction and intercultural communication. The project benefits the University of New Mexico by continuing the tradition of scholarly research, and by developing a corpus of data that can be studied by future academics and compared with other regions in the United States in addition to understanding a community in transition to being monolingual.

Our prediction is that community members will have a positive outlook on the future of Spanish maintenance being that they are bilingual speakers themselves, live in what are considered bilingual communities, in addition to their interest in being participants of this study.

All participants with one exclusion fit into the following description, “All of the speakers are native speakers of Traditional New Mexican Spanish, live in extensive contact with English, and are bilingual to varying degrees,” (Brown & Harper 2009). Fourteen participants from both genders, ranging from 18-65 years of age contributed to this investigation. The communities are diverse, thus, anyone regardless of ethnic background was welcomed to participate. Inclusion for the study required the person to be a member of the communities, in addition to them being bilingual and come into contact with both English and Spanish. Participants were found by social networking, making connections with community members as a class, in addition to following Labov’s (1984) methodology by making contacts with social institutions in the community. Interviewees confirmed their participation in the study by having read a consent form, where it is also stated that the interview is recorded lasting at least 45-60 minutes. The interview questions, in addition to focusing on language maintenance included questions regarding community and language history of the communities mentioned above. Our objective was to document the values and opinions of individuals concerning the use of Spanish, English, or both in the communities. As a standard, each member of the class was required to ask if the participant had worked in the Sawmill and where they tended to hear Spanish.
Each interviewer accommodated their own investigation in accordance to their own interviewee’s age, gender, and relevance to the community, for this reason some questions asked were not the same for each interview. Being that each group in the class was studying a different phenomenon and the fact that not everyone discussed language maintenance in their interview, we determined whether the interviewee had a positive or negative viewpoint towards Spanish if they spoke about its maintenance in their interview. Also, even though the attitudinal maintenance question was not specifically asked, several participants made comments about it when discussing historical events and transformations that occurred in the community. All interviews were recorded being that they are essential in order to transcribe and reference. It was the duty of the investigator to guide the participant into the continuous use of Spanish. While listening to the recordings, we focused on listening for which language the participants chose to speak, any attitudinal comments and historical information about the communities language maintenance.

Historical Background
The metropolitan area was once used agriculturally with people owning agricultural animals, alfalfa fields, gardens and vegetation. There are still some who continue to use the land for this purpose. Lumber and trees were brought to this area for the construction of downtown. During the 1920s, participant C states is when downtown boomed, when the soldiers started coming back from WWI and WWII, and settled there because there were job opportunities. Participant B states that during the 1940s, people began using electricity instead of gas. The Sawmill Company in the neighborhood was one in which many members of the community members worked. Therefore, a growing establishment of the neighborhood was seen during this time and many community members came in to work at the sawmill.

During the 1950s, participants state that no freeways or sewages existed and it lasted up until the 1970s. During this time warehouses started appearing in the neighborhood. In old neighborhoods is where the warehouses and junk yards were built, which in turn depreciated the land. Community members worked in the warehouses and shortly thereafter started suffering from respiratory illnesses due to contamination. Once it was obvious to the community members that their illnesses were due to sawmills, warehouses and factories, they formed a union to fight against it. Not only did the community have to deal with diseases, they also were affected by the migrating of Californians that brought the drug flow with them. Therefore, at this point sawmill community members were suffering from contamination, pollution, diseases and crime.

During the 1960s Winrock Mall was built, which had a negative affect on the communities because people started moving to the east side of town, taking with them business opportunities. Unfortunately, since the area was viewed as a low income community, people were having difficulties getting bank loans to service their homes. As the people were not funded, their homes became depreciated, in turn depreciating the neighborhood itself. During the early 1980s is when the people finally got together in attempts to change their communities’ future. Eventually they were able to take ownership of their community and clean it up. Other people took notice of the neighborhood’s change and became interested in opening up business in the community. According to the established residents, even though they appreciated the renovations that began illuminating their area and the many gains, they started noticing many losses as well. Renovation meant the demolition of historical buildings and language loss. The churches in the community went from giving mass in Latin/Spanish to English to accommodate the incoming population, and several community members stopped attending because they did not understand the language. People of the community started noticing a rise in value of their homes and land. For the established residents this was beneficial, but not for their future generations since they may no longer be able to afford living in the area. Therefore, when the established peoples’ generations are not able to continue living in the area, according to community members, the community will start to lose its official authenticity of language, customs and tradition. Presently, the community members have organizations and several are fighting to maintain these customs. Community members include immigrants from other Spanish speaking countries which help with Spanish maintenance.

Even though established community members are pleased that they are able to speak their native tongue and continue maintaining Spanish, they face dialectal differences with the new community members, which in turn cause language attitudes. These attitudes affect established community members because they consider their Spanish different from those who are new to the community. Therefore, as a result of new dialects, renovations and views, established community members are faced with new maintenance challenges. As an established community member, participant C states that factors such as their “original” Spanish dialect, customs and views that were unique to them, will vanish once the like people are deceased. The communities themselves, they are still undergoing renovations. Several housings are occupying empty lots. The location of the area is an attractive factor to people. Several new businesses and offices are moving into the area as its location serves to many tourists.

Looking at monolingual and bilingual Spanish speakers on a grander scale, state wide, New Mexico is commonly known for its Northern Spanish versus Southern Spanish. Participants were eager to describe the changes they have seen while living in this area, specifically a gentleman who has lived there for up to sixty years now mentions:

D: Yo vine la primera vez para acá vine como mil novecientos cuarenta seis cuarenta cinco por hay.Y la calle Lomas era—no había pavón era puro gravel

I: ¿La calle Mountain Road también?

D: No tenía más de la calle Dos era… no había pavón era pura gravel también. Y muchos cambios… La vecindad se cambió casas nuevas. La gente que componen las casas. Se ha cambiado mucha gente por acá para Downtown.

D: “I came here the first time in around 1946 or something like that. And Lomas street was—- it wasn’t paved, just pure gravel.

I: “Mountain Road too?”

D: There wasn’t more than just Second Street… There wasn’t pavement and it was pure gravel too. And many changes… The neighborhood has turned into new houses. People fix up their houses. The people have changed a lot here in Downtown.

Furthermore, in the following table we provide information on the language the participants chose to speak, in addition to their perceived future of Spanish maintenance and to which community they belonged. Most participants chose to speak in Spanish with some English with the exception of one participant who chose to speak English with some Spanish. Based on the language they spoke we were able to determine the language they preferred during the interview. We found no correlation between the language spoken and the community itself. In this table, we were unable to specify whether the participant’s attitudes towards Spanish maintenance were positive or negative being that this question was not specifically asked by all interviewers.

Therefore, we were only able to determine Spanish maintenance on whether they opted to continue speaking the language and by any comments they made on Spanish usage in their community, within their family, in addition to their future viewpoint of it.

As seen from above, only one interviewee is strictly from the North Valley, and the only one who chose to speak in English. Yet, there is not enough data to make this interviewee a representative of their community, for this reason, as researchers while gathering our data, we decided to derive from using a strong noun such as “attitude” to determine the participant’s viewpoint of the Spanish language. Instead we determined their perceived future outcome of the language based on their comments about the language. For this reason, based on whether or not the participant commented on Spanish maintenance or any future use of it, we categorized them into positive, negative or neutral. Positive signifies that the participant stated Spanish usage will continue and will not be affected. Negative signifies that the participants claim the Spanish language is susceptible to loss due to communal changes. Neutral signifies that no comment was made relating to Spanish maintenance. Again, we opted to avoid from using ‘negative’ for these neutral participants being that ‘no comment’ signifies that the topic was not discussed, and
would be misleading to state them as negative as they may have an opinion on the subject.

For the A through C interviews, similar results were found. Interviewees spoke about the changes that came along with settlements from new community members. Participant C spoke about the Anglo population, that much like the past “conquest brought about many changes” and these changes leave people with “intrusive language and culture” for this reason as mentioned in the Historical Background, the language of the people of the community changed to accommodate new incomers (Gonzales 14). Participants A through C compare in that they code-switched, which is “the alternation of two languages within a single discourse, sentence or constituent” (Poplack 583). Their primary language used during the interview was Spanish and words that they may not have been familiar with in this language were stated in English. Being that participants spoke of Spanish loss, the phenomenon of code-switching can then relate to what Poplack states, is a derivative “of contention in assessing community identity” (588). This contention that exists is a “norm” in communities considered bilingual. As briefly mentioned above, participants B and C spoke about language loss. For this reason they were classified as having negative opinions on language maintenance. Their reasons for language loss relates to the factors that contribute to attitudes, such as “identity formation, language planning, foreign language learning, language maintenance and language death” (Anderson 224). These patterns are considered to lead to stigmas, stereotypes and attitudes held by the community members themselves. Therefore, even though the participants spoke mainly in Spanish, this does not correlate with preconceived notions they may have about Spanish maintenance being that their notions also relate to communal and personal experiences. It is stated that when English language and North American culture coincide, “the erosion of Spanish” will occur, causing Spanish or in accordance to participants “New Mexican Spanish” to slowly vanish as no dialectal inflow is observed in distinction to “Mexican Spanish” (Bills and Vigil 56). Although participants D through G were all bilingual participant F spoke English for the majority of the interview. This may have been influenced by the interviewee conducting the interview mostly in English and code-switching frequently. Even though participant F spoke mainly in English, she did share her personal experience of the shift from speaking Spanish to primarily speaking in English as well as seeing this trend in her son and the younger generations. Participant F provided that a positive future of Spanish maintenance is not in site when she made comments about not being able to teach her son Spanish as he would get mad and not reply when spoken to. Participant D is an interesting case because although his son, daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren live in the Sawmill community they do not speak Spanish. He also comments on his grand children’s inability to roll their –r’s showing that he is presently experiencing the effects of the Spanish maintenance as being lost. Participant E’s view is negative for the comment made discussing how because Spanish is not used by the younger generation, they soon will not be able to communicate with their elders and when the elders pass away she believes Spanish will be lost. When participant G was asked whether it was beneficial to teach Spanish in school and her opinion of those who are against it, it was mentioned that Spanish should be taught in schools for children who speak primarily in Spanish. Moreover, a non confrontational view was observed on the following question as she responded, “That is what they think”. This shows her having neutral views.

Consequently, being that the communities united in order to maintain their rights, they were able to keep their lands and prevent colonization, yet this does not exclude “internal colonization” which is a phenomenon described as involving “psychological effects. Attitudes established toward the colonized people [that can be] passed on from generation to generation” (Wilson 4). This is observable as participants B and C mention that their language is at risk of complete loss since the future generations in their surroundings are not continuing with the language. Therefore, Spanish maintenance is at risk with future generations according to participants. The communities’ language began changing early on when people started speaking English in order to propagate business deals during the construction of the metro Albuquerque area. Additionally, the usage of English was also required when community members united to fight for their rights against government injustices to better their communities. Furthermore, English was again essential when enforcing sector plants in the community to new comers. Therefore, it is obvious, as it was to the participant’s that being “un-American” was non-beneficial for the people and their communities. For this reason since New Mexicans were able to foresee the “Americanization [that was taking] place as rapidly as possible, [then] their children needed to be exposed immediately to English” in order to keep up with the mainstream and not be held behind due to language barriers (Gonzales-Berry 178).

Therefore, interestingly we are unable to confirm our hypothesis that Spanish maintenance in the community has a positive outcome within the communities. Specifically, as the results indicate, established community members claim the loss of their particular dialect. This dialect is one what was spoken by community members since their arrival and has been defined by Wolfram as “used to refer to any regional, social, or ethnic variety of a language,” (Wolfram, 1997). As stated, the Spanish language itself is one that will continue due to inflow from Spanish speakers from other countries, yet the particular dialect known to established community members, they fear is at risk of loss being that they do not relate to the incoming Spanish dialect. Furthermore, this fear from community members is also due to any silencing their future generations may have experienced when attempting to speak it with other “newer” members of the community or in a formal setting. For example, by being told that their Spanish was “incorrect”, this caused embarrassment of them speaking their dialect, in turn deriving them from speaking it all together.

We can prevent the loss of Spanish in these communities by promoting awareness in town meetings; presenting these studies and showing that the Spanish department of the University of New Mexico is interested in Spanish maintenance and the Spanish Heritage Language Program. The schools in this area also need to be presented with the desires of the community and provide programs that give children encouragement and the opportunity to learn the language of their parents and grandparents. The goal for maintenance of Spanish and the history of these communities is feasible and with more community awareness and research of the younger generations we can find more methods to ensure Spanish persists.

The next step of this study is to speak to younger generations and learn how their attitudes mirror or contradict those of their elders. Using this data will enable us to answer the question of what actions can be taken to maintain the language and history of their community. Much of Downtown is undergoing renovation which is appealing to the modern ideas of the younger generations so perhaps the interview will also be beneficial for them by reminding them of their communities’ history.

Even though we were unable to establish a concrete conclusion on Spanish maintenance in the studied communities to due lack of insufficient material to analyze, we were able to observe how English influences affects changes in communities that were once Spanish dominant. As Bills and Vigil mention, “the most significant external impact on New Mexican Spanish has been the 150 years of contact with the English language” (Bills and Vigil 54). This of course includes linguistic changes in addition to communal changes. Studies relating to the Bills and Vigil’s study show similar results in which people are confronted with changes in language due to English contact. Primary reasons for this change relate to the English language associating with “economic, political, and cultural power” (Bills and Vigil 55). As some Spanish maintenance was lost due to the communal changes that were experienced throughout the time, attempts to maintain Spanish prove to signify its importance to the people of the communities and the government. Currently, “due to the boom in the Hispanic population, beginning in the 1970’s college and universities began incorporating SHL classes into university level language programs” (Beaudrie and Ducar 2). People in these programs are those who have been exposed to the Spanish language at home, within the community, or have some understanding of the language. All levels are bilingualism whether spoken or not are inclusion for the consideration of being an SHL learner. This program then provides a positive future for those people who have experienced language loss due to external factors. Therefore, while our results do not support our hypothesis, such factors mentioned above provide a positive future of Spanish even if certain dialects may be at risk.

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Added May 13, 2011

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Nominated by Dr. Damian Vergara Wilson, Spanish 546/449, Introduction to Sociolinguistics:

“Diana and Camille coneducted interviews in the Sawmill/Wells Park with bilingual Spanish/English speakers in order to document narratives by speakers of the traditional New Mexican variety of Spanish. They did an excellent job of looking at the body of interviews collected in order to talk about Spanish maintenance in the Albuquerque Metro Area. Their analysis is very informative for me, a researcher in the circumstances effecting Spanish. Also, their work took place in a neighborhood that is often overlooked by researchers. Many have looked at Barelas and Martineztown, but this is the first time that research of this type has been conducted in the Sawmill/Wells Park area.

They conducted this research with high fieldwork standards. This research has approval of the IRB office at UNM (HRPO #10-480).”

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