We had to speak two languages growing up.: Becoming Minnesotan

Emiliano Chagil. Minnesota Historical Society, Oral History Office files.
  • Name - Emiliano Chagil
  • Age at interview - 57
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 04.07.2010
  • The town of San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, with Lake Atitlán in the background.

    Class & Work

    Language, Latino, Work

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    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Class & Work: How important is work in defining a person’s identity?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Spanish is the main language spoken throughout Latin America (the exception is Brazil where Portuguese is spoken). However, many people in the region speak another language as a first or second language. Native American languages (including Quechua, Aymara, and Guarini) are official languages, along with Spanish, in Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Native languages are also commonly spoken in Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador and Chile. Mexico recognizes sixty-two native “national languages” including Nahuatl.

    To learn more about Latino history and culture, visit our Latino Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Emiliano Chagil 2
    3:4 Minutes | 2.94Mb


    Narrator: Emiliano Chagil (EC)

    Interviewer: Lorena Duarte (LD)

    LD: Can you tell me a little bit about your parents and your family growing up?

    EC: My parents . . . At the beginning, we were at a coffee plantation on a finca, as we call it in Spanish. On this coffee plantation, my father especially, he was the man of many skills and many talents. He was a carpenter eighty percent of his life. He was a farmer and he was an electrician. He was a mechanic. So that’s kind of how he was employed in this plantation, Pampojila, it’s called. My mom was the typical mom, stay-at-home mom, with five children. But my mom also worked as farming, as farmers would do here in Minnesota. The woman definitely stays at home but also helps a lot on the land when it comes to harvest time. That’s kind of how my parents were to me.

    My dad did, maybe, one or two years of school. My mom never attended school. So my dad definitely spoke Spanish very well, and, also, knew numbers, but he didn’t have a formal education per se.

    LD: You said your father spoke Spanish. Did he speak another language?

    EC: That’s a good question. In the countryside of Guatemala, most of the people are bilingual, because of the Mayan culture. It’s very much predominant. So, therefore, we spoke at home Cakchiquel, which is a Mayan language, and Spanish, which, at the time, was the official language to be spoken in Guatemala. It always has been, although, later on, that’s changed a little bit. Now, Guatemala is known to be a multilingual country. But when I was growing up, we had to speak two languages, Spanish and Cakchiquel. Spanish because when I went to school, definitely that was the language. And Cakchiquel, that’s kind of the language people spoke on the streets. If you didn’t speak Cakchiquel, you wouldn’t communicate with the rest of your friends, because that’s the language they all spoke. But, also, in town, market days and all celebrations, the language was very much visible, so, definitely, we had to speak two languages growing up.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adjective: Having the ability to speak two languages.


    Verb:  To express or convey ideas, either through verbal or nonverbal methods.  (communicates, communicating, communicated)


    Noun: Spanish word for a large farm or ranch.


    Adjective:  The ability to speak more than two languages.

    per se

    Adverb: As such.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 2162