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HHM: Some Hispanic elders say they were part of a silenced generation

'Children were being put in detention. They were punished for speaking Spanish in the classroom.'
Posted at 6:45 PM, Sep 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-15 19:50:57-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Ramiro 'Gamby' Gamboa is the son of a Mexican, immigrant mother and an American soldier father.

“My father was an American hero,” he said. “He was in the military for 35 years.”

Gamboa said his father’s career took their family all over the U.S.

“As military children, we learned to adapt — you had to learn to adapt,” he said.

He said some places were less welcoming to Hispanic families than others, especially in schools.

“It was hurtful,” he said. “Children were being put in detention. They were punished for speaking Spanish in the classroom.”

Despite being born in Laredo, Spanish was Gamboa's first language.

“We didn’t know any different,” he said. “We didn’t know how to speak back and defend ourselves.”

A 1972 report by the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights showed 1/3 of schools surveyed in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and California had a "No Spanish" rule.

For people such as Veronica Quiroz, who emigrated from Peru in 2007, the Spanish language is more than just communication — it's a connection to her home and her culture.

“I can’t imagine to break that connection, you know, that language is so important right now, and before, so getting punished for speaking Spanish is really sad,” she said.

Although she knew very basic English, she said her parents had wanted her to learn more before she moved to the U.S.

“My parents were very scared about that, like ‘They’re gonna treat you wrong,” she said.

Quiroz said it was the opposite.

“I called back my dad and say ‘People are amazing here, daddy." " she said. "They’re helping me, they’re really nice.”

It was thanks to Hispanic civil rights leaders such as Gamboa, LULAC, and other organizations, that legislation and policies became less discriminatory over the years.

“Whatever your skin color, we are one,” Gamboa said. “Somos uno.”

Now English as a second language, or ESL, programs exist to help people learn and master English.

“I’m from Colombia,” Del Mar student Claudia Cardona said about moving to the U.S. in 2020. “I came several times to the United States before I move here, and I find the love of my life here.”

Cardona is Del Mar College's English-for-Speakers-of-Other-Languages, or ESOL, program.

“Really, I don’t have problems because I don’t speak English well,” she said.

Quiroz works as an assistant and a translator there, trying to help those who helped her when she first came to the United States.

“I couldn’t understand,” Quiroz said. “I couldn’t speak, and people help me, so now it’s my time to help others.”