Patricia M. Lestrade

Mississippi State University

PowerPoint Presentation

Hispanic Language Use, Language Acquisition, and Social Integration in NE Mississippi

Over the past ten years there has been a noticeable increase in the Hispanic population of towns in NE Mississippi. Spanish-speakers are found working in construction and agriculture in small towns throughout the area. Paralleling early economic Hispanic immigration in the Southwest, these newcomers face difficulties of socialization and acculturation. This study examines the demographics of the Tupelo Hispanic population as it relates to language use, language acquisition, and social integration. Tupelo, with a population of 34,200, is the largest city in NE Mississippi. According to the 2000 census, the population of Hispanics in the area is just over 800. Local churches and the Hispanics interviewed, however, contend that the census grossly underestimates the local Hispanic population. If this is true, the conservative count likely indicates very recent entry as well as fear of authority. Spanish is the home language of the Hispanics in this study. Although there is some networking among them, there seems to be limited contact outside the family unit.

Those who attend local churches develop a network of acquaintances, albeit mostly Hispanic, but few churches can provide Spanish services that would attract continued attendance. The organization that appears most successful in uniting the Hispanics is the locally-organized soccer league of approximately two dozen teams.

Language difference continues to be the greatest hindrance to social integration. To its credit, the Mississippi community has supported Spanish language programs in the primary and secondary schools. In addition, the free Spanish classes offered by a nearby community college and some of the churches are well-attended and successful. This shows an interest on the part of the English-speaking community to learn a foreign language.

Still, there is a large language gap between the Hispanics and Mississippi natives. Newly-arrived Hispanics, who most often speak no English, find themselves outside the system. While the need to learn English is obvious to the new immigrant, free English classes are usually poorly attended. In this presentation, we will examine in detail the disconnect between the need for training in English and the rejection of opportunities, caused in part by cultural attitudes and differences in level of education. Finally, we will discuss the methods used by Hispanics to communicate and to learn English.