The presence of a large Latino diasporic community in the United States has been well documented. Students who speak and learn Spanish as a heritage language form a growing segment of school language programs. Heritage Spanish students are of Hispanic or Latino background, have been raised primarily in the United States and educated in English-language schools, and have some amount of exposure to Latino culture and to the Spanish language through their families or communities but perhaps limited formal or sustained instruction in the language. These students bring a unique set of skills, needs, and interests to the classroom. Heritage Spanish education has become firmly established as a discipline just within the last 30 years and formally articulating programs within schools and universities is still an emergent initiative in many regions of the country. As such, instructional materials specially designed for heritage language learners have only recently begun to be published on a wide scale, and formal analyses of the content of heritage Spanish textbooks have been limited to date.
The focus of this study was the ways in which Spanish textbooks for heritage learners address culture and identity issues. I addressed the following questions through a qualitative content analysis of four high school and college texts: (1) How is the audience for these textbooks defined and described? (2) What do the authors articulate as cultural goals in the use of these texts? (3) What do the authors identify as characteristics and symbols of Latino identity? (4) Which Latino groups, themes, and cultural or historical events are emphasized in the textbook content and how are they depicted?
The analysis revealed that heritage students are defined in the textbooks in terms of cultural background, educational background, and Spanish competence. Instructors and parents are recognized as part of the audience in addition to students. The main cultural goals in the texts are identity development, exposure to arts and humanities, and development of a full bilingual, bicultural communicative range. Latino identity is characterized by choice of identity label, Spanish usage, affiliation with a Latino/Spanish-speaking community, political engagement, ethnicity, and, to some extent, race. All textbooks provide an overview of the Latino presence in the United States; Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans are the ethnic groups covered in greatest detail. Although described in considerable historical context, their stories and communities are presented in isolation of each other.
Important themes receiving limited attention in the texts include bilingual education, Latino-themed artistic movements, and the education of English monolingual Latino students and Latin American immigrant students with low Spanish literacy. Analyzing textbooks for heritage Spanish speakers offers Latino studies scholars new insights into the socialization of Latino youth and provides educators with guidance in designing appropriate curriculum and pedagogy. The findings also suggest how heritage Spanish education relates to larger issues of social and economic power and quality education for Latino students.