May 23 2012


Published by

Michelle Heckel

English 255

Prof. Alvarez

20 May 2012

Labeling Latino Children With Stereotypes:

The Effects Of Code-Switching Through The Process Of Assimilation

In The Works By Latino/a Authors


This article will focus on the idea of Latinos assimilating to the US mainstream and the common stereotypes that they face in terms of language and culture. I will discuss the idea of English as a Second Language (ESL) and how the children of Latino families face stereotypes in schools due to unfamiliarity with the English language bringing on hardships for these Latino children sometimes labeling them as Limited English Proficient or (LEP) students. I will apply the idea of structuralism and code switching, the mixing of the two different languages, English and Spanish. I will focus on the aesthetic texts that show the hardships that Latinos face through assimilation, along with focusing on texts that show stereotypes towards the Latino population as well, especially in the direction of ESL students. I will focus on the poem “Refugee Ship” by Lorna Dee Cervantes, “Aria” by Richard Rodriguez, and “What’s In A Spanish Name?” by Jose Antonio Burciaga. These texts show the idea of stereotypes and the importance of language and how language has changed due to the idea of assimilation taking over, it also shows the idea of code-switching and how the cultures mix together creating a “new” type of language in some ways.

Introduction: The Effects of Stereotypes

A stereotype gives assumptions about different races and genders, which can later affect the lives of children somewhere down the line. Stereotypes associate with prejudice and discrimination; stereotypes impact the lives of those that are surrounded by these ideas. Throughout the semester we have read many different pieces of literature that relates to the idea of stereotypes. We have read different readings that deal with stereotypes of Spanish women, the mixing of Spanish and white friendships and even stereotypes directed towards students placed in ESL classes.

Latino immigrants often face stereotypes due to the unfamiliarity with the English language. This makes it quite difficult for children of Latino families to assimilate into the US mainstream school process. The Latino children come from their home country knowing only how to speak, read and write their native language of Spanish, which challenges them to reach the same level as the children in the classroom with them that understand the English language. English as a Second Language (ESL) came about as a result of these children’s difficulties in the classroom setting and these classes allow the students to learn at a slower pace, eventually becoming familiar with the English language making it easier for them to assimilate into the American culture.

The establishment of ESL classes in schools came about in order to help these immigrant children assimilate to the US mainstream. Assimilation refers to the process of becoming familiar with and blending in with another culture different from their own. Latinos face stereotypes when assimilating to the US mainstream, adding pressure on the students of immigrant families when assimilating to the US.

I will analyze the idea of stereotypes towards Latinos linguistic abilities through the teachers and students perspectives in the US society. I will analyze the aesthetic texts, “What’s In A Spanish Name?” “Aria”, and “Refugee Ship” to show how Latinos face stereotypes when assimilating to the US language. I will argue that Latinos face stereotypes and labeling towards their cultures and face language barriers that hold them back in schools ranking them as lower in society based on their linguistic abilities.

Code Switching and Stereotypes Towards ESL Students

Code switching refers to the mixing of different languages and using those different languages at different times throughout a persons’ life. This process of mixing two different languages usually results in a person becoming bilingual in which a person understands two different languages able to switch back and forth from one language to the other fluently. Immigrant children that assimilate into the US mainstream attending school where English is the primary language spoken will often experience the idea of code switching in the class room setting. This idea later becomes beneficial to these immigrant students because they experience the different languages and education that will help them succeed in the future. The article by Alejandro Portes and Alejedro Rivas states:

Recent studies consistently report that students coming from bilingual and bicultural background have higher test scores, higher probability of high school graduation, and a higher probability of attending college. ( Portes/Rivas 232)

This relates to the film “Immersion” and how it deals with bilingual education and the progress of the students assimilating to the US. The young boy Moises comes from a Spanish speaking family and attends school where the primary language of English seems foreign to him. Even though Moises does not understand the English language and attends ESL classes he has higher performance skills than some of the other students in the class. This quote supports the idea that Moises, an immigrant learning to assimilate to the English language is viewed as achieving higher than other students in the school system that already have more familiarity with the English language. Moises set aside a lot of dedication to his school work and put a lot of time and effort into the classes he attended in school achieving higher than other students which shows how he will most likely succeed in the future since he takes his work so seriously even at such a young age.

People view the idea of assimilation in different ways; some take the process of assimilation as a positive view while others believe that assimilation takes away from their native culture. Assimilating into another culture means leaving behind one’s original culture leading to the mixing of two different cultures to produce something new. This idea of producing something new can impact an individual’s life in many ways allowing those who assimilate to look at this process with great negativity. Portes and Rivas looked at assimilation through Mexican American Richard Rodriguez’s view showing his sense of negativity towards the process of assimilation. Portes and Rivas state:

Mexican American novelist Richard Rodriguez put the consequences of English monolingualism and subsequent dissonant acculturation in a more poignant personal vein: “I knew that I had turned to English only with angry reluctance…I felt that I shattered the intimate bond that once held the family close… I was not proud of my mother and father.. I was embarrassed by their lack of education… simply what mattered to me was that they were not like my teachers. (Portes/Rivas 232)

This quote has significant relation to the text “Aria” by Richard Rodriguez in the sense that it refers to the idea of code switching and assimilating to the English language. This quote supports the idea of how language has significance to people’s cultures and has meaning behind it that reflects a person’s identity. In the view of Richard Rodriguez he approaches the idea of assimilating to the English language with great negativity. For instance, “I knew I had turned to English only with angry reluctance…I felt I had shattered the intimate bond that once held the family close..” This quote from Rodriguez shows how he did not support the idea of assimilating to the English language leaving his native language behind. It shows the great significance of language and how a person should always hold on to their native language because that language connects to their identity. In this case Rodriguez doesn’t support the idea of code switching since he feels that switching over from his native language to only English as his primary language makes him feel empty and disconnected from his identity and native language.  I found the last line of this quote to hold significance when he states “simply what mattered to me was that they were not like my teachers”; I felt that this shows how the process of assimilation can be difficult for immigrant families and their children and how the children start to recognize how their parents are not able to help them like their teachers because their parents are unfamiliar with the English language whereas their teachers help them assimilate to the English language through their education.

The article by Robert T. Jimenez focuses on the effects of literacy development of Latino/a Students in a classroom. It focuses on the way in which the teacher uses language in the classroom and how their methods of teaching benefit these students in different ways. It focused on how the teachers deal with the differences in language and the combining of the two languages and how to handle teaching these students in their classroom setting to avoid difficulties for the student or the teacher. Jimenez states the following:

A few research studies have focused directly on some of the ways that teachers of Latina/o students actually use language. Teachers who were successful with their students recognized them as fully competent speakers of a particular variety of Spanish. Such recognition helped avoid many of the difficulties associated with a deficit perspective. In other words, they did not treat their students as linguistic incompetents—or solely as non-English speakers-but rather as individuals involved in the very natural process of second-language development. On the other hand, problems can arise when teachers do not share or value the particular variety of Spanish spoken by their students. (Jimenez 977)

Through this quote we understand the importance of incorporating language into the classroom setting. This focuses on the process that teachers use in order to intertwine the different dialects of Spanish and English into the class and to recognize the ESL students as a part of the class eliminating any type of discrimination against those students that would make them stand out or feel like “outcasts”. The goal of the teacher in this case is to recognize the ESL student as “fully competent speakers of a particular variety of Spanish.”  By performing such acts in the classroom setting it helps avoid stereotypes and discrimination towards the ESL students making them feel welcomed into the class as part of the same crowd. The idea of avoiding labeling them as “linguistic incompetents” it allows the students to become more confident and to have a higher self-esteem when assimilating to the English language. The teachers’ show that they are aware of the difficulties these students face when trying to assimilate and by showing respect and concern for these students helps them to adjust to the new language easier. The idea of code switching associates with this scenario due to the mixing of the English and Spanish languages in a classroom setting. The teacher recognized both languages in the classroom making it easier for the students to adjust to the language through the process of code switching as they learned the language over time.

Joyce Penfield discusses the idea of immigrant students integrating in classrooms, which the teacher faces difficulties with the students socially and academically. It discusses how teacher’s assumptions and beliefs about Limited English Proficient or LEP students and about second language development impacts the students learning. The idea of ESL classes should promote growth for the student’s knowledge in a classroom setting due to the teacher striving to help these students in need and many teachers feel that having LEP students in their classroom setting as a burden to them making it more difficult for the student to learn. Penfield states the following:

Regular teachers, for their part, sometimes express anger, frustration, unwillingness to deal with “the new burden” placed upon them in having a few LEP students in their classrooms. (Penfield 22)

This quote demonstrates how teachers in a regular classroom setting automatically show little interest in wanting to teach LEP students in their classroom. It basically shows their attitude toward teaching these students and how they have no desire to go out of their way to help these students learn the proper way. The key words “anger, frustration, unwillingness” shows how the teachers feel bothered by these students and how the teacher shows disappointment in having these “extra” students in the classroom. Teachers classify LEP students as “the new burden” which shows how the teachers face more work in the classroom having to deal with students unfamiliar with the English language. This not only adds a stress on the teachers, it adds a large amount of stress on the student since they do not understand the English language, classifying them as “outcasts”.

Penfield discusses the idea of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students having a difficult time in the regular classroom setting along with the teacher having difficulties as well. She discusses many different aspects that contribute to their difficulty adjusting to the classroom environment along with labeling these students with certain stereotypes or assumptions making it hard for them to blend together with the non-LEP students. Many of the students tend to face stereotypes and “labels” become the new way to refer to LEP students making them stand out in the classroom. A study shows that LEP students faced stereotypes from their teacher and other students in the classroom setting and this shows how peer interaction leaves LEP students feeling awkward in this position. The article states:

Respondents often commented upon the tendency of LEP students to band together and consequently isolate themselves from the English- speaking students…they aren’t accepted as one of the crowd. Some may be accepted academically but not socially.” (Penfield 32)

The idea of stereotypes applies to this quote in the sense that the study shows certain assumptions about the group of students in the classroom setting. The quote shows how the LEP students clearly differentiate from the English-speaking students. The key words in this case “band together” and “isolate” shows how the LEP students feel like “outcasts” and face discrimination from the other students looking down upon them. It shows how the students do not accept the LEP students as one of their own kind, noticing that they differ from the rest of the crowd. The quote states how “some may be accepted academically, but not socially” meaning that teachers and students recognize the LEP students for their intelligence, but tend to not accept them in their social groups. Because of these stereotypes towards LEP students they start to feel as outcasts and suffer a great deal due to pressure in the school environment, standing out due to not understanding the English language. Due to these circumstances schools should improve ESL programs, allowing these students to fit in more easily in schools so that they do not have to face such stereotypes or discrimination from either their teachers or peers.

 Understanding Language: The Mixing of Languages Through Code-Switching

Jose Antonio Burciaga discusses the importance of language in a humorous way throughout his passage “What’s in a Spanish Name?” Throughout the passage he puts emphasis on bilingual speakers “formations and pronunciation” of words and how this effects the meaning of the words in the language. The passage speaks about the importance of language and how spoken language and written language can influence the meaning of the words in a specific language. Jose Antonio Burciaga states:

In politics and cross-cultural situations, words, ideas and objects constantly assimilate, “transculturate”, or adapt for the sake of survival. (Burciaga 1238)

The key words in this quote “assimilate”, “transculturate”, and “adapt” signify the importance of language in different cultures. So many different words make up a language and each language has its own significance. Some words in a language have different meanings; one language may look at a word as meaning one thing, while another culture may refer to that same word using a different meaning. The key word “assimilate” signifies how people of different cultures bring their language to other parts of the world, eventually becoming familiar with the new language and making their own meaning of what the language refers to. It states how these countries eventually “assimilate” and become part of the culture, in some cases the languages of different cultures blend together making one language such as in the text “Spanglish” evolves which results from code switching. The term “transculturate” also has significance because people bring languages from all over the world and people eventually become familiar with different languages and some words may have the same meaning in one language, but have a different meaning in another language, which makes each language significant in some way. In the end, even though through our everyday lives we expose ourselves to these different languages, as people we adapt to what surrounds us, becoming a part of our survival. This quote shows the importance of the languages people speak and how different languages can have similarities and differences through the meaning of the words in different languages, for instance, a word in English may or may not mean the same thing when translated into the Spanish language making these languages unique.

Language defines a persons’ identity through the way in which they carry the language with them through life. Language holds great significance in the person’s culture and how they perceive things in life through a specific perspective. In the poem “Refugee Ship” the author portrays the idea of assimilation or conforming to the American culture. The young girl in the poem grows up in a Spanish household speaking English as the primary language. Cervantes states the following:

Mama raised me without language. I’m orphaned from my Spanish name. The words are foreign, stumbling on my tongue. I see in the mirror my reflection: bronzed skin, black hair. (Cervantes 2011)

Cervantes describes the idea of how she grew up in a household that spoke English as the first language. She explains how she grew up not knowing her native language and referred to this as “orphaned from her Spanish name”, meaning how she had a Spanish name and yet she did not carry on the Spanish language. She refers to the Spanish language as “the words are foreign, stumbling on my tongue” meaning that she had difficulty understanding and pronouncing the words of her language correctly. This quote fits the idea of assimilation because the Spanish family came to America and they do not carry on their native language, the parents taught their children English and they speak English in their household showing they have assimilated into the American culture. The quote also shows the idea of how she states, “I see in the mirror my reflection: bronzed skin, black hair” meaning she has the Spanish appearance, but doesn’t speak or understand the Spanish language because her family assimilated to the American culture speaking English. The idea of assimilation she refers to as aboard the “refugee ship” because she left behind her Spanish culture and language. This supports the idea of code switching in the sense that the young girl changed over from Spanish to English, showing unfamiliarity with the Spanish language.

Throughout the semester the one group that relates to experiencing stereotypes are the students placed in ESL classes. For instance, the film “Immersion” gives a good example of the discrimination that ESL students face within the schools and supports the idea of code switching, mixing the Spanish language with the English language. It portrays how ESL students are excluded from the rest of the students because of unfamiliarity with the English language, therefore following the stereotype of slower learners then those students that speak English. This video supports the argument that even though a student is placed in an ESL program does not necessarily mean that the student lacks intelligence. In the video “Immersion” the young boy in the film is placed in a ESL class and unable to understand the English language, yet he is one of the brilliant students in the class capable of solving problems through different techniques that does not involve speaking English.

In the video “Immersion” we see the young boy Moises who comes from a non-English speaking family and has to take his first exam in the US. The video shows how he does not understand the concept in the class because the teacher speaks English at all times. The video showed how Moises faced discrimination by the other students because he did not understand the English language. The teacher tried to help Moises because she recognized his knowledge even though he could not explain how he solved the math problems; the teacher signifies an important figure in the class due to the way in which he/she responds to the students’ knowledge and progress. This video shows how placing children in classes where they cannot understand the language impacts the child. For instance, Moises friend skips the test because he over heard the Principal saying how they will fail because they do not understand the language, this shows how these programs lack efficiency and how schools do not put enough effort and time into the classes to help those that struggle with the work, instead they ignore it and let the students fail. This relates to code switching because at one point in the video we see how Moises cannot understand the word problems due to the words written in English. Moises has the capabilities of solving the problems but when it comes to reading the English language the words fall apart. This video shows how ESL programs need more organization and how teachers should put more time and effort into the students that struggle like Moises struggled. The video shows how just because a student attends ESL classes doesn’t mean the student lacks capability of doing grade-level work, in this case Moises represents one of the students that could not understand the language and yet he possessed characteristics of one of the intelligent student in the class. Teachers need to involve themselves more in students lives like Moises teacher because this shows how his teacher wanted to help him because of her awareness of his knowledge and understanding of the work taught. This shows how even though Moises could not understand the language he still had capability of doing the work through other techniques and this shows how intelligent and serious he took his education.

Throughout the text “Aria” by Richard Rodriguez the idea of code switching is portrayed through the lifestyle of Ricardo’s family assimilating to the US. Rodriguez speaks about his experience coming to live in the United States and having to attend school where he faces the hardship of going to school unfamiliar with the English language. He faces the difficulty of code switching between the Spanish and English language through his education and home lifestyle. For instance, Rodriguez states:

Many years later there is something called bilingual education—- a scheme proposed in the late 1960’s by Hispanic-American social activists, later endorsed by a congressional vote. It is a program that seeks to permit non English speaking children, many from lower class homes, to use their family language as the language of school….It is not possible for a child—any child—ever to use his family’s language in school. (Rodriguez 1576)

This quote relates to the idea of code switching in many ways. The quote explains the idea of bilingual education in the school systems and how this program applies to many low class Hispanic children. The idea of stereotypes plays a role in this case, since the Hispanic children lack intelligence in the case that they cannot understand the English language. The school system in this case bans the children from using their family language in the school system forcing them to assimilate to the English language, which puts pressure on these children. This quote associates the children from lower class households to lack knowledge, viewing them as not capable of grasping the English language. This idea of taking away the child’s family language is crucial to the child’s identity, the Spanish language once familiar to these children taken away due to forcing assimilation should not be demonstrated through the school system. Immigrant children that assimilate into schools in the US should not face stereotypes that look down upon these students just because they have unfamiliarity with the English language. Social class and educational skills should not have any relation to one another in a classroom setting; teachers should not look down upon student’s capabilities because they come from a low class family. Language has its importance and some students need extra assistance when coming from another country and schools should recognize that the process of assimilating and applying code switching in a classroom setting where students face unfamiliarity with the English language  takes time and some type of changes need to take place in these programs established in order to help these students who assimilate to the English language in the US schools system.

Richard Rodriguez, a Mexican American immigrant, assimilated to the US as a child and faced stereotypes and hardships because his parents spoke the primary language of their Mexican descent. In the literary work “Aria” Rodriguez speaks about his experience of growing up in the Mexican household where his family spoke only Spanish. He speaks about the process he went through in order to assimilate into the English language and how he managed to learn the English language since his family had no familiarity with the language themselves.

During those years when I was first conscious of hearing, my mother and father addressed me only in Spanish; in Spanish I learned to reply. By contrast, English (ingles), rarely heard in the house was the language I came to associate with gringos. I learned my first words of English overhearing my parents speak to strangers. At five years of age I knew just enough English for my mother to trust me on errands to stores one block away. No more. (Rodriguez 1577)

Rodriguez experienced code switching very early in life when mixing the English language with the Spanish language used dominantly in the household. He speaks how he associated the English language with the gringos and these “gringos” were the people that he would eventually blend in with and assimilate to their language. Rodriguez mentions in the quote how “English (ingles) rarely heard in the house…”, through this piece of the quote it shows the importance of the language and the idea of code switching when he refers to the English language and then states “ingles” in Spanish to refer to the English language through his own native language. The quote also shows the process in which Rodriguez learned the English language, for instance, “I learned my first words of English overhearing my parents speak to strangers.” This piece of the quote shows the significance of how Rodriguez became familiar with the English language through his listening skills and learned from strangers that spoke the language. The end of the quote shows how Rodriguez slowly started to become familiar with the English language and at the young age of five he had the capability of communicating with what he called the “gringo” society speaking little English.

The video “Nanny Spanish” applies the stereotype that all nanny’s come from a Spanish background and that white American mothers hire these nannies. In this video these women attend a class to learn the Spanish terms that they need in order to communicate with their “Spanish” nannies, which later turns into a class of learning vulgar phrases to direct towards the Latino/a nanny, which shows how Americans show ignorance and talk down upon the Spanish nannies because they do not understand the English language. The following video shows the idea of stereotypes toward the Latino/a community and how the Latina teacher turned the stereotypes around directing them toward these “gringos” women.

Even though Latinos face stereotypes, this video showed how the Spanish teacher had turned those stereotypes around by teaching the white (gringo) ladies the wrong vocabulary words to communicate with their Spanish nannies. The teacher taught these women the wrong phrases to get revenge at these white women for wanting to bad mouth the Spanish culture and treat their nannies with disrespect because they feel they have power over the nannies because they don’t speak English. In the end the stereotypes were directed toward the American ladies making them look like fools because they learned the wrong terms making them look unintelligent. These white women felt powerful when in the end they will look like fools because of their ignorance to the Spanish language.


I argued that Latino children often face stereotypes while assimilating to the US mainstream. As students in US schools where English is the primary language spoken, these immigrant Latino students face peer pressure when trying to assimilate into the US mainstream and familiarize themselves with the English language. I argued that these Latino students face pressure due to the challenge of reaching the same level of intelligence as those students that have familiarity with the English language in the schools and classroom setting. These students face hardships in the classroom, having difficulty understanding what the teacher lectures and teaches. The students also face hardships outside the classroom, in their homes because a majority of the time they return home to speaking their native language where English is unfamiliar to their families as well. I applied the idea of code switching to my research which showed the hardships that these students face assimilating into the mainstream in school and also looked at the hardships the teachers of these students face as well trying to teach these students that do not understand the English language.

In my research I focused on the stereotypes of Latino children and the idea of ESL classes and how this affects their education. I focused on how the teachers view these ESL students and how they impact their students lives in such a way. The teacher eventually becomes a role model because the teacher has an educational background to share with these students which differs from what they experience at home because most of the time these immigrant families do not speak English in the home and have little education limiting them to help their children learn. In many cases the families I focused on in the texts were unable to help their children with their education and these children often looked up to their teachers and strived for their help in order to succeed in the future because of their families lack of education and familiarity with the English language. For further research one might want to look at how ESL classes have changed over time and if any improvements were made. One might want to look at how gender plays a role in learning languages and if girls performed better in adjusting to the English language through assimilation than boys’ performance. One might also like to look at how languages change over time and how language holds significance in the lives of these children, as they become adults.


Works Cited:

Burciaga, Jose Antonio. “What’s in a Spanish Name?” 1995. The Norton Anthology

of Latino Literature. Eds. Ilan Stavans, et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,

2011. 1237-1240. Print.

Cervantes, Lorna Dee. “Refugee Ship.” 1981. The Norton Anthology of Latino

Literature. Eds.  Ilan Stavans, et al, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 2011-

2012. Print.

“Immersion.” Youtube. Media That Matters, 16 June 2009. Web. 22 May 2012.

< >

Jimenez, Robert T. “Literacy and the Identity Development of Latina/o Students.”

  American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 37. 2000: 971-1000. JSTOR.

  < > 16 April. 2012.

“Nanny Spanish.” Youtube. Egnilk66, 24 January 2008. Web. 22 May 2012.

< >

Penfield, Joyce. “ESL: The Regular Teacher’s Perspective.”TESOL Quarterly, Vol.21

Mar. 1987: 21-39. JSTOR. < > 21 March 2012.

Portes, Alejandro, and Alejandro Rivas. “The Adaptation of Migrant Children.”

The Future Of Children, Vol. 21. Princeton University. 2011: 219-246. JSTOR.

< > 13 May. 2012.

Rodriguez, Richard. “Aria.” 1982. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Eds. Ilan

Stavans, et al, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 1575-1579. Print.


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