Texas: The Battle for Spanish Comes to El Paso from the Cervantes Institute | Culture


A Mexican family participates in the campaign
A Mexican family participates in the “Hugs, not walls” campaign on the border between Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and El Paso, United States, in June 2021.JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ / Reuters

From El Paso, one of the most vibrant cities on the US-Mexico line, a huge X can be seen to the south rising out of the land of neighboring Ciudad Juárez. 83% of the population of this Texas town speaks Spanish. The work of the sculptor Sebastián, more than 60 meters high, recalls the heritage and the enormous weight that Hispanic culture has in the region, just one point in more than 3,000 kilometers of common border. It is in this city where the Instituto Cervantes, created to promote the teaching and use of Spanish, has decided to open its first extension in the vast State of the Lone Star.

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The Cervantes lands in Texas. And it does so in a city that celebrates the union of two cultures in a country that has 40 million Spanish speakers. Luis García Montero, the director of the institute, today inaugurated the extension, which depends directly on the center that the Cervantes operates in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and which will be housed free of charge at Southwest University. “Teaching a language is more than a vocabulary. It is also teaching a set of values ​​and the value of an identity ”, says the poet in a telephone interview. “We are interested in an inclusive, open identity and respect for multiculturalism,” he added.

The El Paso extension will offer classes to learn Spanish, but also to improve it. Being a site with many people who already speak the language, it will also offer tools to expand your domain. It will offer writing workshops and activities like those organized by central New Mexico. Among these stands out a program called Pride and Heritage, pride and heritage. “It delves into mixed culture and analyzes Chicano literature as a way to reflect on the use of language and a way to confront culture,” explains Silvia Grijalba, the Albuquerque director who will also oversee the outreach in the border town.

View of the Rio Grande-United States-Mexico border at the Bridge of the Americas in El Paso, Texas, in April 2021.
View of the Rio Grande-United States-Mexico border at the Bridge of the Americas in El Paso, Texas, in April 2021.Bill Clark / Getty Images

García Montero has become the first director to visit Albuquerque since the center was created in 1999. On Tuesday, he met with the Democratic governor of New Mexico, the Hispanic Michelle Lujan, who has decreed that June 22 will be the day for the city. of the Cervantes and the Spanish language in the city. The El Paso authorities have done the same for June 23, which will become one more holiday to honor Hispanidad.

The arrival of Cervantes in Texas comes at a time of intense cultural debate in the United States. A discussion that has left its mark in a conservative region that in last year’s elections endorsed the work of Donald Trump. The former president attacked diversity during the four years of his Administration and used hostile language against Latinos, especially Mexicans. The official speech permeated the population. Attacks against Spanish speakers were filmed in several places. Racist massacres were also recorded, one of them precisely in El Paso. Trump’s departure from the White House provides a new opportunity to build a new relationship with Hispanic Americans, who have made the North American country the second with the most native speakers after Mexico.

“We must fight to give prestige to Spanish as a cultural and scientific language and avoid the caricature that has been made of it as a language of the poor … Second-generation Hispanics are beginning to be in the middle classes and with significant purchasing power” , points out García Montero, who believes that promoting bilingualism as a wealth “will prevent Spanish from disappearing in a second or third generation” and “will prevent a child from feeling ashamed for speaking Spanish at school.”

The Cervantes, created by Spain in 1991, has centers in New York, Chicago and New Mexico. It also has an observatory to study the language situation at Harvard University. By the end of the year the institute hopes to finally open the center in Los Angeles, announced in 2019, which would reach the city with the most Spanish speakers in the United States. The director of New Mexico, the journalist and writer Silvia Grijalba, has also requested to open an extension in Santa Fe, which will become a center once budgets allow.

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