An Analysis of Quantitative Research on the Impact of Neoliberal Multiculturalism on the Indigenous Languages of Mexico and Guatemala

Yoshioka, H. (2010). Indigenous Language Usage and Maintenance Patterns Among Indigenous People in the Era of Neoliberal Multiculturalism in Mexico and Guatemala. Latin American Research Review, 45(3), 5–34.

Economic globalization is a contemporary concern that presents potent challenges.  The emphasis of achieving economic wealth through assimilating into a singular, mainstream society applies great pressure for every demographic internationally.  The demographic that experiences the most pressure due to its sociopolitical history of oppression is that of the marginalized, indigenous populations.

Hirotoshi Yoshioka (2010) explores this economic pressure and its impact on indigenous languages in her quantitative study entitled “Indigenous Language Usage and Maintenance Patterns Among Indigenous People in the Era of Neoliberal Multiculturalism in Mexico and Guatemala.”  Yoshioka (2010) argues that economic globalization, particularly neoliberal multiculturalism, has and continues to negatively degrade indigenous languages and cultures.  The expansion of economic wealth has forced many marginalized, indigenous populations to either except extreme poverty, or to assimilate linguistically and culturally to achieve socioeconomic mobility. “Although today’s multicultural reforms certainly help some indigenous people overcome hardships and become included in mainstream society,” she contends, “the changes that seem apparently beneficial to indigenous people can be detrimental to their cultures” (p. 10). This is because they must assimilate linguistically and culturally as well as move away from local communities to compete economically.

The data that Yoshioka employed in her research was the most recent nationally representative data of Mexico (2000) and Guatemala (2002).  This data was gathered through the two nations’ censuses. As the Mexican census data is a 10% sample, Yoshioka employed a sampling weight to balance it with that of Guatemalan data.  Both censuses counted indigenous people by both the inclusion of the respondents’ self-identification as well as the usage of indigenous languages.

Yoshioka segmented and analyzed the data in two parts.  In the first part, she examined the correlation between socioeconomic and community characteristics in relation to indigenous language usage among self-identified indigenous people. The purpose of this is to explore whether indigenous language usage is related to socioeconomic background. In the second part, Yoshioka analyzed how indigenous language usage among children of indigenous language speakers differ by their parents’ and households’ socioeconomic status and if the household head’s spouse speaks an indigenous language. However, Yoshioka was limited in her sampling of children because the most recent census data for both countries did not provide any information about the ex-spouses.  Therefore, she could not account for children who came from unmarried homes.  As a result, she focused exclusively on children ages six through eighteen who lived with both of their parents.

For both parts of the analysis, Yoshioka employed multinomial logistic regression models for the use of indigenous languages, three explanatory variables, and several sociodemograpic factors. For the dependent variables, she divided the indigenous language speakers into monolingual and bilingual (indigenous and Spanish languages) to examine “whether independent variables considered in this study relate differently to indigenous language use on the basis of whether people use indigenous languages as their only language” (Yoshioka, 2010, p. 13).  Yoshioka then applied principal component analysis for Mexico’s asset index based on household’s access or ownership of several resources, such as running water, electricity, and primary cooking fuel. As the Guatemalan census does not account for income, Yoshioka equated Guatemala’s household wealth data with Mexico’s data on asset index for households. Also, Yoshioka (2010) “clustered the data according to municipalities in which respondents lived to obtain robust standard errors, because a person’s place of residence may influence indigenous language usage” (p. 13). Lastly, she could not measure temporary migratory movements or the indigenous language usage of the respondents that occurred five years before the current censuses.

Yoshioka’s findings poignantly reveal the systemic ramifications for indigenous communities inherent within neoliberal multiculturalism movements. The cost of socioeconomic mobility requires the denouncement and exclusion of indigenous heritage and language, as the mainstream societies perceive indigenous language as antiquated and primitive.  Therefore, to be prosperous is to speak the mainstream language, the language of socioeconomic success. Furthermore, “a person’s level of education is negatively correlated to indigenous language usage, which is especially true among those who speak only indigenous languages in both countries” (Yoshioka, 2010, p. 17). This is based on the perception that education is means of perpetuating the power stratification through instilling the importance of a monolingual, unified consciousness (Spring, 2014). Lastly, in both countries, those with higher asset indexes are significantly less likely to speak indigenous languages as the only language or integrate them into Spanish.

Yoshioka found that significantly more Guatemalan children speak indigenous languages than those in Mexico.  However, if the head of household speaks both an indigenous language and Spanish, the children in both countries are more likely to speak only Spanish. Children whose parents are indigenous language speakers and married to non-indigenous language speakers are much more common in Mexico than in Guatemala.  However, in both countries, children who come from higher socioeconomic households are much less likely to speak indigenous languages as their only language. Furthermore, children in both countries are significantly less likely to speak indigenous languages when living in an urban environment. This is due to the fact that they are surrounded by Spanish-speakers at a much higher concentration than their rural counterparts. “Therefore, [from these findings] we can infer,” Yoshioka (2010) argues, “that when people speak Spanish, they are less likely to teach their children to speak indigenous languages, which indicates the difficulty of preserving indigenous languages among younger generations” (p. 27). Based on all of these findings, she contends that, “the goal of today’s indigenous language preservation must be to help people speak both indigenous languages and Spanish and to ensure that they are included in societies rather than that they speak only indigenous languages and are economically marginalized” (p. 31).

The data and their interpretations paint a stark picture of the future of indigenous languages in both Mexico and Guatemala. The strengths of Yoshioka’s research methodologies lie in her transparency.  She identifies limitations and explains how she compensates for them.  For example, Mexico’s data sampling was 10%, so she implemented a weighting system to balance the data to compare and contrast it with that of Guatemala. Yoshioka also explains how she had to employ proxy data to compare Mexico’s asset index to Guatemala’s household wealth. She also identifies her limitations in measuring migratory patterns.

While Yoshioka is very transparent in her limitations, there are a couple of areas that are not addressed.  First, there is no rationale of why she chose to focus on the indigenous languages of Mexico and Guatemala.  Both of these countries are heavily impacted by neoliberal multiculturalism and global economic expansion, but there is no exploration of her decision. The selection criteria may be imperative to the findings and how they compare.

Second, there is no discussion or explanation of her intersectionality and positionality as a researcher, and the lens they provided her during her analysis of the data. Although the inclusion of intersectionality and positionality is not popular in empirical and positivist research, these elements of experiences do contribute to the interpretation of data and should be explicit.

Third, the accessibility of the writing is very limited. She, for example, never defines neoliberal multiculturalism, nor does she explain any of the statistical methodologies she employed in her research.  Therefore, she is writing to a very limited audience, which is ultimately less impactful.

Last, while her findings are very significant of deeply embedded challenges, she does not offer any viable solutions. She simply states a goal, but no ideas on how to address it.

This study has highlighted a seemingly obvious idea for me to explore economics within my area of inquiry.  Before reading Yoshioka’s research, I had never perceived economics as a means of forcing assimilation. I had always understood economics as a symptom of oppression because most indigenous peoples and communities within the United States are impoverished.  Now, I understand that economics is a powerful tool through which mainstream society forces assimilation through language and culture through the lure of wealth and socioeconomic opportunities. In the future, I will explore the impact of economics in the active marginalization of indigenous peoples, not only within the US, but also internationally.

An area of further study could explore how the data set may have changed if critical indigenous inquiry had been implemented.  How would the questions on the censuses change to be more respectful and representative of the indigenous populations it is researching? Would this impact how many people are labeled as impoverished, especially if the indigenous people are choosing to live without the criteria set by Mexico’s index asset data (which is established with a Western lens)? How would the interpretation of the data change if critical indigenous inquiry were used?  Indigenous peoples must be included in the process of research, especially if they are the focal point.  The co-construction of knowledge is a very powerful way in which indigenous peoples can be empowered.  This empowerment can help transform the deficit perception of indigenous peoples’ languages and cultures into one of assets.  Therefore, more studies should be done by indigenous peoples, or at least through using the critical indigenous inquiry process, to ensure that indigenous peoples are ethically represented as powerful, important peoples with critical knowledge and understandings of the world.