only did Spanish dominance disappear, but fewer than one-quarter were bilingual.21 Similarly, a rare multigenerational study of Mexican-origin couples in Los Angeles conducted in the mid-1970s found that among first-generation (immigrant) women, 84 percent used only Spanish at home, 14 percent used both languages, and a mere 2 percent used only English. By the third generation, there was a complete reversal of these shares, with 4 percent speaking only Spanish at home, 12 percent using both languages, and 84 percent speaking only English.22

Of the three main factors that shape English fluency among the foreign born—length of time in the United States, age at arrival in the United States, and educational attainment—the latter two are the most decisive. The younger the immigrant at the time of arrival and the more educated, the greater is the facility in acquiring English-language skills.23 For working-age adults, particularly those with low levels of completed schooling, the propensity to learn English is much lower, sometimes for lack of access to a supportive language program. Nevertheless, there are strong indications that Hispanics are shifting from Spanish to English at an increasingly rapid pace. The most compelling evidence is from data that record changes in language preferences over time. The Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS), which collected data over a 10-year period for first- and second-generation Hispanic youths as they made their transition to adulthood, showed rapid linguistic assimilation, even among the groups most likely to retain Spanish: Mexicans living along the U.S.-Mexican border and Cubans residing in Miami, the most bilingual major city in the country.24

In focus group sessions commissioned by the panel and conducted over several months, participants emphasized repeatedly how they wanted their children to be able to speak Spanish, even if they themselves lacked facility with the language. Third-generation Hispanics, in particular, stressed the importance of repairing the breaks in the cultural chain that occurred when their own parents failed to keep the Spanish language alive at home. The following comments made to the panel were typical:

You don’t need to speak Spanish to be considered a “white-washed Hispanic,” or at least I am, because I don’t speak Spanish. What I speak, I learned in school, and I don’t speak it well. My parents are fluent. I’m white-washed because I’m losing the culture. (third-generation Hispanic, Houston)

My mom made the decision not to teach me Spanish because she wanted me to learn English well. Now my Dad’s mad at her because I don’t speak any Spanish. I think they spoke Spanish amongst each other when they didn’t

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