Dolly Rojo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Mount Saint Mary’s University
We asked scholars to describe some of the following questions: What drew you to do work on Latinx youth and families, or another topic that is important to you now? Who was an important mentor to you in this work, or was there a particularly influential study in the field or in a related field?
I grew up in a strictly-Spanish-speaking home in Southern California. My mother, a Mexican immigrant, has always emphasized the importance of retaining our heritage language. I think so that I wouldn’t feel too different from my American peers, she would buy me all of the childhood classic books (from Dr. Seuss to my favorite, The Rainbow Fish), but in Spanish. Now that I study language in a research context, I’ve learned that bilingualism and biculturalism are arguably inseparable, and not just for my mom. For my mother (and now for me, too), speaking Spanish “came with the package” of being Mexican. To her, this is a part of our identity, and so, if we lost this skill, it would be as though we lost a part of ourselves. In attending both national and international academic conferences, I realize too that this concern and passion for maintaining heritage languages is neither unique to Mexicans nor to immigrants.
Because of my training, I began my research-career from the cognitive-psychology perspective and conducted several studies regarding monolingual children’s understanding of and curiosity for non-English speakers. Still, the heart of my interest lies in children’s (and their family’s) interest and motivation in learning (or maintaining) a second language, as well as how they integrate newly learned languages to their self-identity. I now study this from both the cognitive psychology perspective, but also the social psychology perspective.
We invited scholars to describe a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.
Preliminary findings of a study conducted at a dual-immersion elementary school in Southern California suggest that children who engage with peers learning the same 2nd language as they, or who have extended family members who also speak this 2nd language, have more positive regard towards, and are more likely to speak this 2nd language even when not in school. Although these are preliminary findings (i.e., my team and I continue to collect data for this project), I think is an exciting opportunity to promote children’s interest in learning non-native languages. Given the potential advantages of being bilingual, I feel that promoting multilingualism from an early age is a great idea—and, given the rise of dual immersion programs in states like California and Texas, it seems that many parents agree. I argue that it’s not enough for parents to be interested in enrolling their children in bilingual education however, and that children too must be interested. I am curious to learn more how we can foster children’s curiosity for new languages.
Any upcoming talks, presentations, or publications we should know about?
With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult to say, but I do hope to submit to the Boston University Conference on Language Development and SRCD for an oral presentation of my recent, preliminary findings. Also, two of my current students will be presenting posters at the Western Psychology Association in October, 2020. Finally, my co-authors, Cathy Echols, Zenzi Griffin (both at UT Austin), and I will also be submitting a manuscript about young children’s understanding of multilingualism, and I hope to see this out by the end of 2020.
Reflections on Latinx Caucus Experiences
Finally, we asked about experiences with the SRCD Latinx Caucus: Why is the caucus important and/or your views on the role of the Latinx Caucus vis-à-vis SRCD, research on child development, policy/practice.
This caucus is important to me, at minimum, because it makes it easy for me to find people in the SRCD community; it’s one more ‘filter’ that allows me to more easily connect with researchers in my area of research. More importantly than this, however, is that it truly makes me happy to receive newsletters that spotlight fellow Latinx researchers. This makes me both proud to be part of this community, but also pushes me to work harder for the Latinx community overall.
I tell my own students all of the time the importance of seeing ourselves in the people who lead us, the people we admire, and the people we trust. I believe that young, Latinx students and researchers NEED to see Latinx leaders in academia and in the world. This caucus provides a spotlight for this.