When it comes to African-Americans in today’s job market, skin color or a black-sounding name could keep some people from landing a job. But so, too can the failure to learn a second language.
In El Paso, Texas and other heavy Spanish-speaking areas, otherwise qualified black applicants are finding it hard to find a job because they are not bilingual. But why is it important to learn another language?
The United States is a diverse nation that is becoming more diverse by the day. According to the U.S. Census, the Latino population grew four times faster than the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010. Over half of U.S. population growth is due to Hispanics. America’s largest minority group, Latinos number at 50.5 million, or 16 percent of the national population.
Meanwhile, Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group, but Asians are the fastest growing racial group, with a growth rate over six times greater than the total U.S. population.
And these numbers are only expected to increase over the years.
In light of these changing demographics — and the increased globalization and internationalization of our daily lives through the erosion of national boundaries — Americans respond in one of three ways. Some Americans react to this new world by wanting to know more about the cultures around them, beefing up on their skills and broadening their horizons. So, they study new languages, learn more about opportunities to enroll in foreign exchange programs and travel to another country in a study abroad program.
Others fight change, refusing to accept that Spanish is America’s de facto second language. Kicking and screaming, they will not readily enter the twenty-first century. Rather, they will try to ban ethnic studies in public schools and universities, pass anti-immigration laws or enact legislation making English the official language. Fearing more religious diversity, some even want to ban Sharia law. Unfortunately, xenophobia is as American as apple pie.
And still others remain indifferent. Many African-Americans are missing the boat and will find themselves lost in an economy that is tough enough as it is.
According to doctoral research she conducted at Louisiana State University, Katrina Watterson found that black college students take fewer foreign language classes and major or minor in foreign languages less frequently than their white counterparts. Further, African-Americans do not participate as often in foreign exchange programs. There is simply a lack of interest, in her view. And in the case of Spanish, part of the problem is that the language often is taught in a vacuum, where black students are unaware of the linkages between African and Hispanic culture, the Spanish and Portuguese slave trade, and the contributions of Afro-Latino people.