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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hispanic Culture: Aquí Se Habla Español

In Hispanic culture, the Spanish language is considered just as important as all other values. Not speaking Spanish, which usually happens with grand kids, is anathema and will incur the title of "Gringo" (a slang term for White American). The idea is that you are forgetting your language (your roots) and do not want to be associated with the Hispanic culture. This is not acceptable in Hispanic culture.

Why is Spanish so important to Hispanics? Spanish is an extension of the Hispanic culture. It is considered the "mother" tongue by which everyone is united and values are communicated. Many parents (like mine and my wife's) and grandparents are monolingual and only speak Spanish and everyone is expected to speak Spanish to them. It is the language of family. It is interesting that, in our case, where both English and Spanish are part of our daily lives, each has a different role. English is used for most day to day conversations and for work. Spanish is usually reserved for more personal communication. It is never used for disagreements or arguments. English is for that!

Spanish is not only spoken to interact with family members, but it is watched on TV. Spanish is the language of novelas (soap operas), news and sports (i.e. fútbol).  It is no wonder that Univisión has one of the best ratings in the United States.  Spanish is also used to listen to music such as your typical folk music mariachi and a variety of genres.

As much as we think that the fact they are in America will make them learn English, the fact is that this isn't the case. In fact, Spanish speaking in the United States has increased and remains the most spoken next to English (Use of other languages have tripled. Chinese is the second most spoken) and almost 39 million people speak it. Most of the people that speak Spanish are from or have their roots in Latin America. Will Spanish decrease as the first generation passes away and subsequent generations become monolingual? It is possible but trends (i.e., immigration) seem to point otherwise. There is also a significant percentage of non-Hispanic Spanish speakers which also has an effect. If Spanish will become less prominent, it won't happen soon.

The implication for the Gospel is that we need to reach Hispanics in both languages. Our churches need to offer services both in Spanish and English. Many churches today have either an English service but nothing in Spanish. The fact is that while this seems adequate to reach English speakers, most English speaking Hispanics do not feel welcome in a church that is culturally distinct. In fact, about 62% are not Christians (They consider themselves Catholics. The biggest group not religiously affiliated are US born ages 19-29 [55%]).They are the biggest non-reached group in the United States.

Then you have Spanish churches that have no English service. They are able to reach the Spanish language speakers but are losing those whose English is their dominant language. I have observed that even those who speak Spanish are not literate in Spanish and often are not fluent readers or writers. Having one church with services in both languages seems to me the most effective way and a better way to use resources. Furthermore, having services in both languages reinforces the cultural distinctive of keeping family together. There is a great harvest to be reaped but it requires intentional and strategic steps to reach all generations of Spanish speakers.

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