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'No habla Espanol' - The Mexicans who don't speak Spanish

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 27th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Mexican immigrant suffers a stereotype in American culture. Mexican immigrants tend to be poor, they tend to be laborers, they tend to be resourceful, religious, and share strong family values. They enjoy lavish celebrations filled with music and color. And of course, they speak Spanish. Also, we'd be wrong to believe this.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - National Geographic recently shattered this stereotype for its readers with the publication of an article entitled "The Other Mexicans." The article points out a very simple reality - that Mexico also has indigenous people who do not share the mainstream Mexican culture.

In the United States we have several Native American populations. Each one is distinct with its own system of beliefs, language, traditions, and styles. The same holds true for Mexico. The indigenous people of Mexico have their own cultures and languages that are very distinct from mainstream Mexican culture.

While in Mexico, these people have the support of their communities, often living in traditional villages and following the customs of their people. However, these people also migrate, and many come to the United States where they seek work and a better life.

In the United States, the assumption is often that all people from Mexico speak Spanish, but this isn't always the case. National Geographic mentioned the case of Jaminez Xum, an indigenous day laborer from Guatemala who spoke neither Spanish nor English. Police shot and killed Xum after he failed to respond to commands given in both languages. Xum wasn't seeking to act criminally, he just didn't understand, and the police had no idea he spoke a language they didn't know.

In California, there are some 200,000 indigenous Mexicans, many who do not speak fluent Spanish, and no English whatsoever. There are tens of thousands living in other states as well, mostly in the American southwest.

The dual-language barrier means many are subject to more abuse than even their fellow Mexicans. States tend to be very good about providing at least a minimal level of services to Spanish-speakers, including bilingual documents and signage as well as readily available translators. Mexicans have also done well to organize and serve the immigrant population in the United States, but indigenous Mexicans still have difficulty accessing even these support services.

Indigenous Mexicans report higher rates of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse. Children in schools report being teased and bullied by both English speaking and Spanish speaking students. With few faculty and staff able to communicate, these kids can be neglected and fall behind.

It isn't just language that gives indigenous Mexicans a shock. It's everything else as well. Many come from small tribal communities where elders make decisions and there are no jails or cars. According to National Geographic, people in these communities are accustomed to growing their own food and even fetching their own water.

One native said of the difference, "Back home, before you cut a tree you ask permission of the Earth. Here there are no trees."

Religious differences abound too. While many indigenous Mexicans are Catholic, they tend to blend their ancestral religious practices with their Christianity. This creates yet another barrier to integration. Even in the faith, where they should be comfortable, there are barriers.

As a society, we need to understand that Mexican culture is anything but homogenous. Just as in the United States, culture is unique to various regions and ancestries, so too Mexico is a rich tapestry of diversity.

The sooner we recognize this and drop the stereotypes, the sooner we can appreciate all of its myriad colors.

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