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Spanish 101

Earlier this week I was sitting in my history class stressing out because I hadn’t had a Latin American encounter…

By Magally Zelaya , in Latin American encounters of a Canadian kind , on January 30, 2009 Tags: , , ,

Earlier this week I was sitting in my history class stressing out because I hadn’t had a Latin American encounter of any kind for what felt like ages. I was desperately trying to come up with a plan: make a piñata, listen to more Silvio Rodríguez, call my mom. And then, from across the classroom, Carlos spoke up. Saved!

Of course. How could I not have thought of this sooner? There are Columbians, Brazilians, Mexicans, and Chileans in not one, but two of my classes! I have at least two Latin American encounters every week at UBC alone. And that’s not including the snippets of Spanish I hear on my long walk to class, at the bus stop, and when I’m grabbing a bite in the SUB.

Did my eyes and ears deceive me? Were there really as many Latin Americans on campus as there seemed to be?

My curiosity fortified me as I undertook the arduous task of digging through the UBC website for enrolment stats. When at last I found them, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are quite a few Latin American students here at UBC. In fact, their population has increased significantly over the last 20 years.

From 1991 to 2008, the percentage of international graduate students from Central and South America increased from 5 to nearly 10 per cent. Though Asian and American enrolment also had significant increases, Latin American enrolment was the only one that nearly doubled.

Also, in 2006, Mexico and Chile made the top 10 list of countries from which international students hail. Although their numbers only totaled 216, my interest was piqued. What about domestic Latin American students?

Fortunately, Statscan had published a study compiling exactly that data. Unfortunately, the results didn’t look good.

Latin Americans came in at the bottom of the list. Twenty-three per cent of Latin Americans aged 25-30 who were born in Canada, or immigrated before the age of 13, had attained a university degree in 2006. This number doesn’t sound too bad on it’s own, but when compared to India at 50 per cent and China at 64 per cent, it pales dreadfully.

For most other ethnicities, demographic factors and the father’s level of educational attainment were found to have an impact on the level of attainment, but not for the Latin Americans. The study did not provide any reasons for the low levels. It did mention that socioeconomic factors have been shown to play a huge role, but that’s to be expected.

I’m certain there is detailed explanation out there in some other study. I’m not certain, however, that there is a solution. Ay ay ay.

But before despair sets in, it’s interesting to note that children of Canadian-born parents also come in at 23 per cent. Hold on. Things don’t look quite so grim anymore.  While Latin American youth may not be leading the pack, they are holding their own. And that counts for something.