Anti-Latino Discrimination Created the ‘No Sabo’ Generation

    Latinos in the United States have a cultural identity that is rich and diverse, with characteristic elements, such as food, traditions, music, and language. Spanish plays an important role in their identity and is the second most spoken language in the country. According to recent estimates, nearly 40 million Latinos in the U.S. speak Spanish at home, reflecting the importance of this language in their daily lives and in their communities. The use of Spanish in social, educational, and professional settings is a testament to its role in shaping Latino identity in the United States.

    However, in recent years, the number of Latinos who are not fluent in Spanish has increased significantly. This group is known as the “No Sabo” generation. Being labeled as a “No Sabo” child or adult can carry some degree of stigma in a Latino community that prides itself on its Hispanic heritage. According to The Pew Research Center, approximately 24% of all Latino adults say they are not able to hold a conversation in Spanish.

    This increase in the number of “No Sabo” adults is the cumulative result of anti-Latino discrimination against previous generations of Latinos in the country. For decades, school systems in California and other states segregated Mexican-American students. In the 1940s, a significant number of students of Mexican descent in California had to attend segregated schools, which were poorly maintained and under-resourced. These schools prioritized “job skills” over academic subjects. This discriminatory practice severely limited the educational opportunities of Mexican American students, perpetuating systemic inequality and hindering their social and economic mobility.

    Stephanie Martinez, a fifth-generation Chicano, revealed to CALÓ News that her grandmother made a deliberate decision not to teach her mother Spanish. Her family, she said, identifies as “truly Mexican-American.” His migrant worker great-grandparents were “harvest followers,” a term that describes farmworkers who traveled from state to state, working on different crops as the seasons changed.

    As she grew older, she began to ask more questions about her heritage. Martinez’s grandmother often became emotional as she recalled her experiences in the public school system. “In elementary school, my grandmother and the other immigrant students had to take classes in the housekeeper’s room,” Martinez said. “They weren’t allowed to be with the other students,” In several cases, immigrant students were locked up for speaking Spanish. That was part of the reason he dropped out of school after fifth grade.

    Martinez’s grandmother wasn’t the only one. Many young immigrants grew up fearing the consequences of speaking Spanish or showing any hint of accent in a xenophobic society. Prejudice against Latino Americans generated negative stereotypes and led to incidents of violence, especially against those of Indigenous descent.

    The experience of Latinos like Martinez’s grandmother is a poignant indictment of the struggles waged by many immigrants and their descendants. And it also explains why a lack of fluency in Spanish is common in younger generations.

    However, many Latinos refuse to be “No Sabo” as it often has a negative connotation. “I don’t like the term,” Long Beach resident Nathaly Gamino, who was originally born and raised in Chicago, told CALO News. “I think we’ve all had very different experiences,” he said. “When it comes to speaking Spanish, Latinos in California have a very different experience than those in Chicago [Illinois] and Texas.”

    Gamino grew up as the daughter of immigrants; Her parents separated when she was young. His biological father was the one who spoke the most Spanish at home. When she left when she was five, Gamino was raised by her Mexican mother and Cuban stepfather. From then until she turned 18, she lived in a three-story apartment building in Chicago with other multigenerational families. His parents spoke perfect English, though their home, which included people from different generations, was diverse. .

    Unlike Martinez, Gamino didn’t move to California until she was an adult. She grew up in a Mexican neighborhood in the Midwest and has a unique perspective on how to preserve her roots. “I connected to Spanish through music and the arts,” Gamino says. As a child, she went to the National Museum of Mexican Art. I listened to Selena. “Selena was a ‘No Sabo,’ so I thought I love this girl — she’s just like me and I’m like her!”

    Due to distance and circumstantial factors, Gamino also did not travel to Mexico while growing up. “For most of my life, my mom was undocumented.” Gamino’s life as the daughter of undocumented immigrants is ordinary. The Pew Research Center estimates that in 2021 the undocumented population in the United States was 10.5 million. Many Latino Americans grow up in multigenerational households, but not everyone has the opportunity to cross the border and return because of their family’s immigration status.

    Still, Gamino’s inability to speak Spanish fluently doesn’t make her feel any less connected to her roots or her culture. Research indicates that approximately 75% of U.S. Latinos can hold a conversation in Spanish “pretty well or very well,” only 34% of third-generation Latinos or above say they can hold a conversation in Spanish at least fairly well, and only 14% say they can do very well.

    Although he continues to work on his fluency for personal and professional reasons, Gamino strives to dispel the “No Sabo” label and highlight the diversity of Latinos. “I want to make sure that Latinos like me are represented, even those who don’t speak Spanish,” she said.

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