November 16, 2017
The Importance of Bilingualism within the Hispanic community of Hartford
The city of Hartford is a unique place that represents many groups of people from different backgrounds. Hartford, despite being the poorest community in Connecticut, has the richest and most diverse cultural backgrounds that any outsider can distinguish by simply taking a stroll down Park Street. It is incredibly easy to explore the city and discover that there is a huge Hispanic community that is difficult to avoid. Although there are varying racial and ethnic backgrounds within Hartford, the Hispanic community embraces the cultural and linguistic differences from residents and non residents. In particular, there are many areas where Spanish is the only language spoken, but there are also places that embrace both Spanish and English. Speaking both Spanish and English has positively impacted the Hispanic community and has been embraced by the city of Hartford. Thus, there is a direct relationship between the Hispanic community and Hartford through the unapologetic presence of bilingualism.
Even though the Hispanic community mainly speaks Spanish in Hartford, there are also individuals that firmly believe in the strong existence of bilingualism. The manager at the Hartford Public Library Branch on Park Street truly sees the value in embracing bilingualism in Hartford. Graciela identifies as a Hispanic woman or Latina, which is a big part of her identity. She is a part of the Hispanic community and has lived in Hartford for the last twenty years. She has embraced speaking Spanish and English and is proud to do so. According to Graciela, “bilingualism is very present in Hartford and it should be more present. My kids are both bilingual. It was my personal choice to be fully bilingual. We only speak Spanish at home. My daughter learned English at school, and my son of three years is fully bilingual” (Graciela). She finds this to be extremely beneficial because the ability to speak to others in both languages can cause people to learn more about other present cultures. This encouragement amongst the Hispanic population towards its youth allows for better communication This acceptance and awareness of other languages and cultures causes the different communities in Hartford to coexist in positively.
The apparent bilingualism amongst the Hispanic community positively influences the youth, despite the inequalities that are faced while residing in Hartford. Specifically, even though the education system, unfortunately, is not favored by many residents whose children attend the public schools, there is still awareness that bilingualism is important for the youth. Graciela mentioned her dislike towards the education system in Hartford. However, she recognized that “their school doesn’t provide any bilingual oriented program but some teachers are bilingual and can teach and encourage it to the students in order to provide a foundation to learn another language. [Bilingualism] is not part of the school curriculum” (Graciela). She was aware from her own experience and her children’s, so far, that bilingualism was encouraged socially and academically, despite it not being officially part of the public schools’ curriculums. This encouragement from the teachers towards the youth allows the idea of speaking both Spanish and English within Hartford can ultimately benefit them through social, academic, and economic opportunities.
Throughout Hartford history, the Hispanic community has dealt with the rise of bilingualism, even if English was imposed at the Hispanic population at first. In particular, the Puerto Rican community became the majority after many families migrated after the 1950s. In 1956, there was a place created that was named the San Juan Catholic Center in Hartford, and within three years, the center was offering family counseling and help in writing letters and translating documents and giving its clients referrals to other providers. The opening of the center did not preclude more modest initiatives, however, such as Mille Marchese’s program for non- English-speaking children at the Barnard-Brown school, also begun in 1956, when only five Puerto Ricans were enrolled there. (Cruz 51)
English was starting to be taught in community centers and schools in Hartford sixty years ago. Fast forward to today, there is not a current bilingual curriculum within the public schools in Hartford. Bilingualism mainly rose through social and economic interactions within the communities of Hartford. The Hispanic community has to adapt to the present school systems and their curriculums, as well. This has caused residents, such as Graciela, to view bilingualism in a positive and necessary form of communication. She emphasized that Hartford is diverse, welcoming, and that people of different backgrounds navigate around the city easily. She notices that people are not always bilingual with the English and Spanish languages, and that they should not feel discouraged or have trouble surviving in Hartford. Graciela states, “language and cultural differences affect Hartford in a positive way, overall. I believe I am open-minded, and I like learning new things and meeting new people of different cultural backgrounds. It creates opportunity for Hartford to learn from one another” (Graciela). She notices apparent cultural differences within Park Street and in her own neighborhood in Hartford that is two minutes away from Park Street. She actually has a mix of Portuguese, Brazilian, Jamaican, and Puerto Rican neighbors. Therefore, the variety in languages and the strong influence bilingualism has over the Hispanic community within Hartford causes people to positively learn more about one another and bond over those varying qualities.
To conclude, there is a direct relationship between the Hispanic community and Hartford through the positive influence of bilingualism. The the history of language differences within Hartford through community centers and public schools, and the personal perspective of Graciela from the Hartford Public Library Branch on Park Street, bilingualism is an essential aspect of this particular society. The differences within these groups of people are celebrated socially and encouraged academically despite the education system not having bilingualism instilled in their curriculums. It is important to recognize the limitations that are placed for residing within Hartford, particularly because it happens to be the poorest community in Connecticut. However, bilingualism is a positive factor that rose from generations within the Hispanic community in the city of Hartford that causes the communities to flourish.
Cruz, José E. “ Identity And Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the Challenge of Ethnicity.” Puerto Ricans in Hartford: From Settlement to Collective Behavior, 1998, 37-66.
Graciela. Personal interview. 6 Nov. 2017.