Fishman (1966) and Veltman (1983) describe accurately the adoption of English by immigrants in the United States as a three-generation linguistic shift that the newcomers’ communities experience from the language of the country of origin to that of the host country. However, the mother language can survive this paradigm caused by full immersion in the host country’s society throughout many generations, as exemplified by the case of Chipilo, in central Mexico.

Carolyn MacKay lists the six main factors that can affect the preservation or abandonment of minority languages as being:

a) isolation of the community,

b) economic and financial factors,

c) homogeneity in the community,

d) stigmatization or prestige of the language and culture,

e) local or ethnic identity, and

f) social networks within the community (MacKay, 1999; MacKay, 1992)

The main purpose of the present work is to show, through a brief revision of the history of Chipilo, that “constantly renewed ethnic pride” through a series of events that have reinforced, strengthened and reconstructed periodically the Italian/Veneto ethnic and linguistic identity in Chipilo by constantly creating and recreating a link with the motherland, could be added as a seventh essential factor which slowed down substantially the immigrant’s assimilatory process into Mexican society. Without these events, the Veneto dialect would not have survived with the vitality it shows at the present time, in spite of the fact that Italian immigrants -more than others- have always been characterized by their assimilatory tendency into the host country (Savarino, 2002), exemplified by Italians in the United States and Argentina. Nowadays, other immigrant communities in Mexico, such as the Lebanese, the Jewish and the Italian community itself, present the above six factors in their social dynamics within the Mexican society, but have not preserved the language even after only two or three generations due to, in my opinion, a lack of major marking events in their new country to connect them with the motherland and to proudly remind them of their origins, just as it has been for Mexican-Americans due to geographical proximity and the consequent celebration of holidays and milestones associated with the motherland. This work is rounded out by providing examples of social and linguistic perceptions and attitudes that reinforce the use of Veneto in Chipilo, the factors that have weakened it, and a summary of the main mutual influences that both languages in contact have undergone in almost 125 years.


In 1823, only 2 years after Mexico achieved its independence in September 1821, some of the governors and presidents granted laws and proclamations to encourage foreign -especially European- immigration to the, by then, sparsely populated Mexican soil. The intention was to imitate the successful immigration model that had brought prosperity to the United States (Zilli, 1981) especially when it came to peasants and farmers, who were -and are still- mostly Mexican Indians, and whom intellectuals and government blamed for the miserable agricultural situation of the country (Zago, 1998). European peasants, on the other hand, were surrounded by an aura of great virtues in spite of the fact that they were as much of a people without much sophistication as their Mexican counterparts (Zilli, 1981). In April and October of 1823, Stephen Austin’s petition to populate Texas with 300 Anglo families was accepted by the Mexican government. This colonization resulted in a disastrous war, and the consequent loss of more than half of the Mexican territory, and so the first general law of colonization (Feb. 16, 1854) established that all immigrants should be from Latin, Catholic countries (Zilli, 1981). However, there were several reasons why very few immigrants actually arrived in Mexico from Spain and France, so the sole remaining choice was Italy. Furthermore, the secular and liberal role that the Italian Catholic church was trying to have in the recently unified Italy was very similar to that which authorities were seeking in Mexican Catholic church in trying to bring the country together after the chaotic war of Independence (Zilli, 1981). In spite of all this, there was a restriction in the type of Italians that authorities wanted to bring to Mexico: they had to be from the north, preferably from the Austrian Tirol region, and not from the south of Italy, setting forth “moral” and clearly racial reasons. This will be even a condition in the contracts signed with one of the companies (Rovatti and Co.) that handled the immigration project. These kinds of restrictions didn’t exist in the contracts with the companies that brought Italian immigrants to New York, for example (Zilli, 1981).

Most of the immigrants who arrived in Mexico were farmers and peasants for whom the new agricultural laws and administrative regulations established after the incorporation of the Veneto region to the recently unified Kingdom of Italy were disadvantageous (Zago, 1998), and whose crops and lands had also been ruined because of the floods and downpours that had been coming down from the Alps. In addition, a plague of the silk worm killed many mulberry trees, so people were forced to look for a way out of their misery in new lands (Zilli, 1981). Almost everyone came from the valleys and ridges in the northeastern border of Italy, from the towns surrounding the Piave and Adige rivers in the Alto-Adige region, where very few spoke standard Italian (MacKay, 1992).

There are four varieties of Veneto spoken in the Veneto region, closely associated to the geographical areas they cover:

a) Western Veneto, which includes the city of Verona,

b) Central Veneto, which includes Padovano, Vicentino and Polesano,

c) Venice Veneto, including the area surrounding Venice, and

d) the Highland or Alto-Trevigiano area, which includes Trevigiano, Feltrino, Bellunese and Basso Bellunese (MacKay, 1999).

The Veneto spoken in Mexico retains the characteristics of the Basso-Bellunese variety of Veneto spoken over a century ago (MacKay, 1992). The first group of Italians who immigrated and created a community in Papantla, Veracruz, arrived in Mexico in 1857 following an invitation by president Ignacio Comonfort (1855 – 1858). Between 1881 and 1882, president Manuel González (1880 – 1884) authorized the admission of 3000 Italians, who settled in Huatusco, Veracruz, Mazatepec, Tetela and Chipilo, in the state of Puebla, Barreto, in the state of Morelos, Ciudad del Maíz, in the state of San Luis Potosí, and Asunción, in Azcapotzalco, nowadays part of Mexico City (Arvizu, 1996). Previous to the admission of these immigrants, an invitation had been extended to them by Mexico’s 30-year dictator, Porfirio Díaz (1877 – 1880 and 1884 – 1911), who had conducted a study of unused tracts of land in the Mexican territory with the purpose that González, his handpicked successor, allocated them to immigrants. In 1881, the Mexican government sent several official emissaries along with representatives of two private immigration companies to the Italian region of Segusino, in the province of Treviso, region of Veneto in northeastern Italy, to recruit immigrants who wished to come to the Americas, to Mexico in particular (MacKay, 1992). Prospective immigrants were given a substantially distorted image of Mexico as a place where lands were very fertile, abundant and able to grow anything, where there were few peasants to work them, and where there was plenty of silver (Zago, 1998). All of the aforementioned Italian communities dissolved and assimilated into Mexican society -and lost their language and culture in the process- two or three generations after their arrival due to the fact that their inhabitants were not as numerous as Chipilo’s, and also because Díaz no longer supported “official colonization” during his second term (a departure from his first term’s immigration policies), after facing the financial problems inherited from González’s 4-year presidency, when a considerable amount of money was spent in fueling the immigration project (Zilli, 1981). Díaz also changed his mind and thought that immigrants didn’t need to be segregated into towns or lands especially reserved for them, as they had been in the past, and this yielded a much faster and intense integration and assimilation of the dissolved Italian communities into Mexican society (Zilli, 1986).

Immigrants would receive, on a loan to be paid back within ten years, three hectares of land, one mule, one cow, one pig, two plows and yokes, and two oxen. They were obliged to work the land, and to remain in the community, unless the loan had been settled (Xanic, 2000). In addition to this land and equipment, they received a refund for the travel expenses plus 60 pesos and an additional bonus of 15 pesos for every kid over 12, and 10 pesos for any younger kids (Arvizu, 1996).

The ambitious project of Manuel González’s government contemplated a massive immigration of 200,000 Italians; in spite of that, only about 3000 arrived in Mexico (MacKay, 1992). More than half of them returned to Italy or left to the United States, because of what they considered a lack of compliance in the terms of their immigration contracts from the Mexican government. About 1000 of them stayed in the “colonias” Manuel Fernández Leal (Chipilo), and in the ones named Gutiérrez Zamora and Manuel González, in Veracruz. Only Chipilo remained together as a community which still uses its original language (Xanic, 2000). The contingent including the families who settled in Chipilo arrived in September of 1882 on board of the Italian steamboat “Atlántico”. 20 of the 58 newly arrived families settled in Huatusco, and the 38 remaining families were taken by train to Orizaba, Veracruz and then to Cholula, Puebla, from where they left to the old haciendas named Chipiloc (“place where the water drips”, in Náhuatl) and Tenamaxtla, where they arrived on October 7, the day of the “Vergine del Rosario”. They quickly sketched the roads where streets would be, allocated lots to build houses, the church, the town’s square and a school (Arvizu, 1996). In spite of the fact that the situation that they found was not what had been promised (an abundance of fertile lands) because the only building was the ruins of the abandoned hacienda and the land was sterile and had never been plowed (MacKay, 1992), the first corn and beans crops were produced in early 1883, and a few months later, some alfalfa and wheat crops. By 1886 the trade of sausages, dairy products and livestock was firmly established (Arvizu, 1996). The fact that they had to build a town from its very foundations while facing adversity, having been victims of the deceitful official emissaries in Italy, being isolated from major urban centers and in a place surrounded by Mexican indigenous communities that didn’t even speak Spanish, built a primal need to stick gregariously together in a strange land. This was the first of a chain of very peculiar and specific events which have aided to preserve ethnic and racial pride amongst Chipileños; these events, which will be described in chronological order and have constituted the key to the periodical (re)invention of the Veneto-Italian identity, have been an important determining factor in preserving their language.

The second event came about thirty years after the initial settling and hardships, during the Mexican Revolution, when Chipilo was invaded by the rebel army in 1914 and 1916, and they successfully defended themselves from the assault. This caused the community to close in on itself even more, because their fear against Mexican bandits built upon the already existing mistrust toward Mexicans in general based on the false description they had been given of a “promised land”. The next event occurred almost simultaneously: in May of 1915, when Italy entered World War I, all Italians living in Mexico felt the need to support their motherland, which was fighting its fourth independence war against its enemy, the Austro-Hungarian empire. Fueled by this patriotic sentiment, at least a dozen of Mexican-Italians joined the Italian army (Savarino, 2002). In 1924, once Fascism had seized power of Italy, Mussolini sent his official emissaries with strategic political intentions aboard “La Nave Italia” to visit with Italian communities in Latin America, with an expected stop in Mexico (Savarino, 2002). The climax of this stop took place in Chipilo, where an ecstatic crowd welcomed them, waving Italian flags and cheering “Viva l’Italia“. There was a moving ceremony in which Giovanni Giuriati, Mussolini’s special ambassador, gave Chipileños a rock from the Monte Grappa, the sacred mountain in the Veneto region that helped defend Italy during World War I against the Austrian army, while a music band played the Fascist song “Giovinezza“, which moved most to tears. This rock was to be placed atop Chipilo’s highest hill, named Monte Grappa too. For the first time, Chipileños had the chance to see a numerous committee of Italians, and they felt overcome by a deep nationalistic feeling, which was corresponded by Giuriati and his entourage (Savarino, 2002), who expressed the following in seeing that community of peasants lost in Mexico’s heartland:

Come non ricordare la Colonia di Cipilo? A Cipilo mille Veneti intatti, di tre generazioni, si sono costruiti un villagio identico a quelli della pedemontana di Treviso e vestono alla veneta e parlano veneto e vivono secondo le consuetudini degli avi e coltivano le terre ubertose secondo i dettami della nostra esperienza e amano l’Italia con la coscienza pura di servirla ai piedi dei colli messicani più e meglio che se fossero rimasti presso al Monte Grappa, dal quale sembrano aver imparato la tenacia eroica. (Giuriati, 1925, p. 9)

How could we forget Chipilo? In Chipilo, one thousand pure-bred Venetos, belonging to three generations, have built a town just as those in the Treviso plains, and they dress as Venetos and speak Veneto, and they have maintained the habits and culture of their ancestors, and they work fertile lands according to the teachings of our experience, and they love Italy with the pure conscience of working for her on the skirts of the Mexican mountains, more than if they had remained close to the Monte Grappa, from which they seem to have learned their sense of heroic determination (translation and emphasis by me).

During this visit, Chipilo’s mayor told Giuriati about the defenses of Chipilo against the Zapatista rebels during the Mexican Revolution, as if they had taken place during World War I, and he also expressed his intention to rename Chipilo “Vittorio Veneto” (Savarino, 2002). It is clear that the Italian delegation’s visit, invested with official Italian recognition of Chipilo and with overt nationalistic and “racial purity” (i. e. intrinsic identity) overtones, injected Chipileños strongly with ethnic pride only a few years after the two defenses (deemed heroic) of their territory against Mexican revolutionary assailants. This episode of ethnic pride reinforcement echoed strongly through the years, as a document written in a newspaper in Italy in December 1927 describes:

I Coloni di Chipilo si sono mantenuti etnicamente puro. Hanno conservati i loro costumi, le nostre tradizioni, hanno mantenuto il loro dialetto e molti di loro non ostante il molto tempo fuori della loro Patria, sanno abbastanza bene la nostra lingua e questo senza aver avuto mai nessun maestro. Hano conservato […] un afetto cosi puro e grande per la nostra cara Italia che ben valse che l’Ambasciatore Giurati offrisse loro un perenne ricordo […] un Masso del Grappa (Spinelli, 1927, p. 29).

The colonizers of Chipilo have remained ethnically pure. They have kept their habits, our traditions, they have kept their dialect and most of them, notwithstanding the amount of time out of their country, know rather well our language, and this without ever having had any teacher. They have kept […] an affection so pure and big towards our dear Italy that it was well deserved that Ambassador Giuriati offered them a permanent souvenir […] a block from the Grappa (translation by me).

The writer, the son of one of Chipilo’s founders, was well aware of the “ethnic purity” that had been preserved almost half a century after the immigrant’s arrival to Mexico’s heartland, but most importantly, he highlights the inhabitant’s remarkable linguistic competence. It is very clear that he associates language maintenance with the preservation of identity and traditions, and the fact that Chipilo had remained up until then as a community completely closed to non-Venetos, where only endogamous marriages were practiced in all likelihood. He also mentions Giurati’s visit and the Monte Grappa gift as something of which the town should feel very proud.

During Mussolini’s rule, Italians computed time from the date of the Fasci restaurati (the reestablishment of the Roman State in 1922), and they followed a Fascist calendar, which included several Fascist celebrations. In Chipilo, they used to dress in uniform during those ceremonies, extended their arm in official salutations, and sang nationalist and Fascist hymns, which worried a great deal the military authorities of Puebla. Other authorities also worried when the only school in town, where the portrait of Mussolini hung in every classroom, started using textbooks printed in Italy (Savarino, 2002). However, it is unclear whether these books were partially or totally in Italian or in Veneto. During this time period of very strong ethnic pride due to the reconnection with the Motherland through official Italian visits, Chipilo established a very strong internal military organisation, with the presence of machine guns atop the Monte Grappa and trenches and barricades surrounding it, ready to repel any possible attack (Savarino, 2002), in a clear isolating gesture.

Mexican-Italians in general began to distance themselves from Fascism in the late thirties, as a response to Mussolini’s international actions. Fascism took longer to disappear in Chipilo, though, because it was an isolated community with a more intense “Fascization”. Nevertheless, in 1943, after hearing of Mussolini’s fall and the Armistice in Italy, some young men and peasants entered the Casa d’Italia in Chipilo and destroyed the portraits of Mussolini (Savarino, 2002). After this, the whole community abandoned its previous Fascism, and, in doing so, took a very modest first step toward assimilation into Mexican society; this was accelerated by the introduction of radio and television broadcasts in Spanish in the fifties and sixties. The interest in anything Italian or Veneto reached an all-time low in the seventies, when it seemed like young people in Chipilo had abandoned their Italian identity for the Mexican one, and they identified mainly with everything Mexican and less and less with anything Italian, as a reaction in part to the fact that they felt Segusino very distant in geographical and historical terms (MacKay, 1999). However, all this changed in 1982, when the centennial of Chipilo’s foundation was celebrated and the guests of honor were 100 visitors from Segusino, including the mayor (Xanic, 2000). They all crossed the Atlantic to create bridges that brought the two communities closer due to their common linguistic, historical and cultural heritage; both communities officially established then their “Gemellaggio” or “twin sisterhood” (Zago, 1998). Reconnecting with Segusino in 1982 helped restore and refresh the Veneto-Italian identity of the town, it brought new and strong ethnic pride to Chipilo and created awareness and interest about the origins, in spite of the pressures associated to nationalistic feelings towards Mexico (MacKay, 1999).


The local and ethnic identities are nowadays closely associated to the use of the Veneto language; however, Chipileños show a double allegiance: in spite of their desire to identify with everything Italian, there is no doubt about their strong fondness of everything Mexican. They are faithful to their Chipileño-Veneto identity at a local level, which has brought them many advantages, but they identify as Mexicans at a national level. This allegiance to both communities is reflected in the stable use of Spanish and Veneto: the use of the former responds to their national identity, and the use of the latter to their local identity.

… pués, mi pénse che la satisfaczión, i ne a fat sénpre sentirse, cóme te diròi? che són messicani ma, de orijen taliàn e alóra, pèrder quél, l é cóme ià pèrder tut, no? (Sartor & Ursini, 1983, p. 267).

… well, I think that the satisfaction, that it has always made us feel, how can I tell you? That we are Mexican, but of Italian origin and so, losing that, is like losing everything, don’t you think? (translation by me).

… noaltri se sentón taliani ancora, iá séndo messicane noatre, noatre se sentón taliane (Sartor & Ursini, 1983, p. 272).

… We still feel Italian, being already Mexican, we feel Italian (translation by me).

… l é là che la parla co la dénte de Puebla e éla la dis, mi són cipilégna. la ól dir cóme che éla l é, l é là che la vive a Messico, ma che l é de naltra banda. mi son cipilegna, ti tu sé messicàn. pués, calcùle mi che són tuti dó messicani, no? (Sartor & Ursini, 1983, p. 272).

… she is talking to the people of Puebla, and she says, I am Chipileña. She means that she, she is living in Mexico, but she is from somewhere else. I am Chipileña, you are Mexican. Well, I come out with the conclusion that both are Mexican, isn’t it? (translation by me).

… mi sénpre l ò dit a i me amighi che, che quando che i ól gnir a véder na fèsta messicana, i gnéne a Chipilo (Sartor & Ursini, 1983, p. 274).

… I have always told my friends that, that whenever they want to come see a Mexican party, that they should come to Chipilo (translation by me).

In 1986, four years after the centennial celebrations, the Italian football team went to Mexico to play in the World Cup of 1986 after having become world champions in 1982. The team’s players visited Chipilo in several occasions, due to the fact that most of the matches of the Italian team were played in Puebla. They were received in Chipilo with pride and enthusiasm, in addition to the fact that many Chipileños attended those matches; the same generation that was losing interest in maintaining the ethnic identity as Italians was now participating actively in its preservation (MacKay, 1999). Motivation for maintaining the dialect under the assimilatory pressure of Mexican society in general to speak Spanish seems to have affected the youngest generation in particular, on whom the direct influence of the immigration from Italy has had little or no impact in defining their identity, which they conceive as nothing but Mexican. However, now, even among younger speakers, there is a concern about the ‘purity’ of the dialect and the consequences of incorporating too many Spanish loans (MacKay, 1992).

The very first Veneto-Spanish bilingual (in some sections) book “Los Cuah’tatarame de Chipíloc” (‘The big men from Chipilo’, the title itself being an example of languages in contact -Náhuatl and Spanish-) was published in Chipilo by Agustín Zago (1998), in order to compile the cultural traits that he perceived were being lost, such as recipes, tales, songs, games, etc. The fact that people were speaking more and more Spanish also prompted him to elaborate this document, which can be found in most households in Chipilo (Xanic, 2000). Other recent signs of the vitality and the renovated interest in the language and ethnic pride can be found in several manifestations: Daniel Galeazzi prints a daily newsletter, entitled “Al baúl 1882” (‘the trunk 1882′), where Chipileños write in Veneto stories supposedly based on their ancestors, or old stories that they heard their grandparents tell (Arvizu, 1996). His son, Daniel Galeazzi Jr. produced and directed in 1999 the first play in Veneto ever staged in Chipilo. Raúl Précoma, Eduardo Zanella and Eduardo Montagner are young writers whose goal has been to publish the first literary works written in Veneto in Mexico with the support of the Mexican government, through official programs to rescue endangered cultures (and languages); Montagner’s efforts were capped in 2006 and 2010, when his novels “Al Prim” and “Ancora fon ora” were published by the Government of the State of Puebla and the National Council for the Culture and the Arts. These young authors want Veneto to stop being solely an oral language, to become a language which can be written by their speakers (Xanic, 2000), aided by the alphabeta proposed by MacKay (2002) and Montagner (2005). A documentary about Chipilo’s history and the ethnic identity of its population narrated in Spanish by renowed Mexican actor Enrique Rocha appeared in 2009 in YouTube, which constituted an addition to the previous documentary effort narrated in Italian, “Storie di Emigranti Italiani. Da Segusino a Chipilo”, produced in Italy in 1994.


All things and people of European origin are highly regarded in Mexico, so, in spite of its humble origins in Italy, the Veneto-speaking community in Chipilo intrinsically enjoys a higher status in Mexico than the surrounding indigenous Náhuatl-speaking communities (MacKay, 1992), this disparity being reinforced by the Chipileños physical appearance preserved mostly by practicing endogamous marriage: the blond-haired, blue-eyed people who speak an Italian dialect are still considered to be somewhat of an oddity by the surrounding communities (MacKay, 1992). Chipileños lived in isolation until a few decades ago, when they started practicing exogamous marriages (Xanic, 2000). People feel their language is an organic part of them, and they consider it as something that is with them even before they’re born, as this Chipileño stated: “Sí, porque nosotros ya lo tenemos desde el nacimiento” (Wössner, 2002, p. 195) [Yes, because we already have it [the language] the moment we’re born (translation by me)]. They also feel it is part of their body, that it runs through their blood, as these two other Chipileños said: “’l è dei nostri antepasado, ‘l è ‘n arte che avón ente la sangue” (Wössner, 2002, p. 192) [it’s of our ancestors, it’s something we have in our blood (translation by me)], and

… al dialecto, al è bel, parché ‘l ne distingue, al è a la par co la nostra fisionomía, co la nostra aparenẑa bionda o/ e ‘l nostro carácter, parché ‘l nostro al è ‘n carácter forte, e lora ne identifica al dialecto, al castellano al è pi suave, pi romántico, e lora quel, noantri son bruschi, son dente de laóro e de fato … (Wössner, 2002, p. 195).

… the dialect, it is beautiful, because it distinguishes us, it goes hand in hand with our physical features, with our white appearance and our personality, because our personality is strong, and so it identifies our dialect, Spanish is softer, more romantic, and so we are swift, we are hard-workers and people of action … (translation by me).

Keeping the community closed to non-Chipileños has definitely had a positive effect in the preservation of Veneto. The 2010 census figures revealed that, out of a total of 3493 inhabitants in Chipilo, there were only 10 speakers whose first language was Nahuatl or any other indigenous language, all of whom were bilingual, with Spanish as their second language, and only 32 persons lived in households in which either or both parents spoke an indigenous language (Instituto Nacional de Geografía, Estadística e Informática [INEGI], 2010). The stigmatization associated with indigenous Mexican languages is in sharp contrast with the pride that Chipileños feel about speaking their language, which is associated to a high standard of living and social level (MacKay, 1999); there are no reports of Chipileños having to learn Nahuatl to deal with the indigenous peoples surrounding their community. However, the opposite has always happened: “People who come to work here (from the surrounding towns), learn the dialect”, says Juan Berra, who owns a cow shed where laborers talk to their employer in Veneto (Xanic, 2000). Nevertheless, the vast majority of inhabitants of Chipilo (over 90% of women and 70% of men) seem to be against the learning of their language by indigenous people (Wössner, 2002). In general, Chipileños are not very pleased when they hear other Mexicans trying to speak Veneto, as the following speakers stated: “… hay personas de fuera que han aprendido el dialecto [Veneto] y se nos hace raro …” (Wössner, 2002, 195) [… there are people from outside who have learned Veneto, and it seems odd to us …(translation by me)], “… cuando tu ves una persona y la oyes cómo habla, y habla como tu, dices “¡oy!” como que no te queda” (Wössner, 2002, 195) [… when you see someone and you hear the way he speaks, and he speaks like you, you say “whoa!” that doesn’t sound good coming from you (translation by me)], and “Como que todos, o sea todos somos güeros y blancos y [después?] ya, que un moreno ya habla “¿oye, qué te pasa?” (Wössner, 2002, p. 195) [It’s like, we are all blond and white and [then] to have someone dark-skinned speaking [our language], [we go] “hey, what’s wrong with you?”.

A sign that reads “Bienvenidos – Benvenutti” at the beginning of the 5 de Mayo street reminds everyone of the bicultural nature of Chipilo (Arvizu, 1996). The town has even succeeded in transferring some Veneto traditions to the surrounding towns: during the “Cappo d’Anno” celebration on January first, kids of Chipilo knock on doors at six in the morning to sing and get candy (Xanic, 2000). Kids from the surrounding towns have adopted this tradition and learned the songs albeit somehow distorted (Montagner, n.d.). In economic, linguistic and cultural terms, it is Italian culture that the Chipileños want to identify with nowadays, in spite of the fact that most members of the community have never been to Italy and that the Veneto region had been part of Italy for a relatively short time when the original settlers arrived in Mexico. “Chipileños didn’t use to feel Italian [right after they finished paying their debts with the government, by the beginning of the XX century], because they had the notion of the fragmented, recently unified Italy of 1880 (the unification of Italy took place mainly between 1850 and 1870). They didn’t even speak Italian”, said Giovanni Capirossi, of the Comittee of Italians in Mexico (Xanic, 2000). Also, most Chipileños have poor competence in Italian (Wössner, 2002). Nevertheless, the identification is with what is ‘talian’, and not necessarily with what is ‘veneto’ (MacKay, 1992). However, this is not the way it has always been; the Veneto identity was clearer and much stronger in the original immigrant families.

The great-grand kids of the Chipilo immigrants have a relatively high standard of living (which is evident from the kind of cars that people drive and the houses that are built), mostly due to the town’s hard-working ethics and consequent prosperity. All of Chipilo’s streets are paved and everyone has phone and electricity in their houses (MacKay, 1999). Most young men and women go to high-school and to any of the many universities in Puebla, and nowadays are lobbying to create a municipality in Chipilo in order to get a hold of the administration of resources. This task is at present time in the hands of San Gregorio Atzompa, where there are no longer speakers of Náhuatl and whose young men and women live in extreme poverty in spite of the fact that it keeps most of the money from municipal and state taxes and is bigger than Chipilo (Xanic, 2000).

In spite of the town’s historical homogeinity -in 1983, 84.3% of European inhabitants were descendants of the original Veneto settlers, and 15.7% were descendants of settlers from other Italian regions- (Sartor & Ursini, 1983), nowadays, there are more and more non-Chipileños in town, and Spanish is heard more and more in the community. “Even kids embed words in Spanish when they speak in Veneto, and that is not right, I correct them, even if that bothers them”, says Raúl Précoma (Xanic, 2000). In a municipal census conducted in 1988, 375 households were headed by a person with an Italian last name, 94 were headed by a man with an Italian last name and a female with a non-Italian last name, and 40 households don’t seem to have any Italian ancestry (MacKay, 1999). These numbers point to the fact that Chipilo was a very homogeneous community until fairly recent times. “Our families try to have us marry other Chipileños”, says Carmen Merlo Simoni, a Chipileña, “in order to preserve the traditions and to keep the Italian last names alive” (Arvizu, 1996). Many of the people without Italian ancestry who live or have a steady contact with the community learn how to speak Veneto, or at least understand it. Also, many of the kids of exogenous marriages learn Veneto as their first language (MacKay, 1999). However, the degree of language competence in them is not clear, in spite of the perceived cultural and social advantages in learning Veneto, and code switching (not found in older Chipileños, but increasingly common in younger speakers) or the use of Spanish in traditionally Veneto domains indicates ambivalent culture loyalty (MacKay, 1992). There is also the notion that the kids of these marriages, the “mestizos”, are the ones who never get to fully learn the language and embed more and more Spanish in their use of Veneto, “distorting the language” (Montagner, n.d.). The criterion that most dominates language choice amongst Chipileños is the participants in the interaction; whenever there are non-Veneto speakers present, Spanish is used. When only Veneto speakers are present, conversation is in Veneto (MacKay, 1992). A Chipileño states that

… ‘co ndón fòra co la δénte, pues, parlón messicán. ma, si són fòra e son dó de noatri, parlón, intra de noatri dó parlón coss`i , talián’ (Sartor & Ursini, 1983, p. 267).

… When we go out with people, we speak Mexican [Spanish]. But, if we go out and there is the two of us, we speak like this, Italian [Veneto], between us (translation by me).

This awareness of the need to use a common language when other non-Chipileños are present to avoid misunderstandings is prevalent in the way they handle their two languages, as these two Chipileños said:

… si [‘l è?] insieme, por ejemplo de la me tosa, che ‘l se a maridà co la me tosa ‘l è mes ‘l è español, [ele?] insieme pos me toca parlarghe en español, parché pos al disarà “chissà che che la ghe dis de mi!” no!? (Wössner, 2002, p. 131).

… if we are together, for example, with my daughter, the one who married my daughter,  he speaks Spanish, [when we are] together, well I have to talk to him in Spanish, because well, he’ll say “who knows what they are saying about me!” Don’t you think? (translation by me).

… parché no i le no i pense che se parla mal de luri, luri ch’i impare a parlar, e lora come dès lá, che le ciacoléa là e si ti no tu capis … tu dis … “disarà-le che, sarà-le là che le me critica?” e lora si se sa ‘l dialecto, se sent che che là ch’i dis e se resta vero tranquilo (Wössner, 2002, p. 139).

… so they don’t think that we are speaking ill of them, they learn to speak, and then we     talk to them and if you don’t understand … you think … “Maybe they’re criticizing me?” and then if you know the dialect, you understand and no longer feel suspicious (translation by me).

This other Chipileño described to how code switching may prove to be difficult in order to include non-Chipileños in conversations:

… si son co dente de qua de noantri, e si anca … par an grum de dente ne a dit che son maleducadi, ‘l è de falta de educaẑión, parché si ghe ‘n è na messicana e son tre chipileño, parlón en talian … e ne costa parlar en español, e lora sí, sí, se sforẑon e parlón col español, parch’ela no la capis, ma si no, no, o sea, si ‘l è co dente de, este messicana, parlón al español si no, no eh, … sempre talian, sempre (Wössner, 2002, p. 115).

… If we are with people from here, amongst us, and if also … because of a group of people they have said that we are rude, it’s being rude because if there is a Mexican and three Chipileños, we speak in Italian [Veneto] … and it is difficult to speak in Spanish, so yes, yes, we make an effort and speak in Spanish, because she doesn’t understand, but otherwise, I mean, if we are with people, well, Mexicans, we speak in Spanish, otherwise … always Italian [Veneto], always (translation by me).

Three other members of the community spoke about how expressing themselves in Spanish can be challenging: “par noantri, ‘l è pi fácil parlar qua ‘l dialecto, parché pos ghe ‘n è olte anca che se misia le parole” [for us, it is easier to speak in [Veneto] dialect, because well, sometimes words are mixed (translation by me)], “par al mismo dialecto’l parlón vero mal (das Spanische)” [because of the dialect itself, we speak (Spanish) real bad (translation by me)], and “dale olte cometón an grum de error al parlarlo (das Spanische)” [at times we make a lot of mistakes when we speak it (Spanish) (translation by me)] (Wössner, 2002, p. 199).

Not long ago, the town’s priest was Chipileño, and therefore bilingual. However, Spanish has always been used for all religious ceremonies. Spanish is also used in education and in government business (MacKay, 1999). There are no radio stations, newspapers or religious services in general that reinforce the use of Veneto; only personal interactions within the community allow for a regular use of the language (MacKay, 1992). However, a considerable number of people (90% of people ages 10-25, 100% of people ages 26-40, 90% of people ages 41-60, and 88% ages 61-85)  would like to have a Veneto radio station or newspaper (Wössner, 2002). Social networks in Chipilo are very strong, complex and dense, which is evident in the number of guests at a wedding. The number of relatives of only one person can be up to 200, and the number of guests to a small wedding can be around 600, whereas that number climbs up to 2000 for a large celebration. Friendship, family and community ties are very strong, which helps in maintaining the use of Veneto in the community. Adults always speak to kids in Veneto, even if the kids don’t understand it (MacKay, 1999). The Veneto dialect is the first language learned by most children in Chipilo, as one Chipileño states: “… ghe insegnón prima ‘l dialecto, dopo ‘l español … “ (Wössner, 2002, 104) [… here they teach first the [Veneto] dialect, then Spanish …(translation by me)], although by the time they start school, where classes are not conducted in Veneto, they have been exposed extensively to Spanish (MacKay, 1992). Nonetheless, the majority of Chipileño children of endogamous marriages seem to learn Spanish at school, as opposed to the children of exogamous marriages, who seem to learn Spanish at home (Wössner, 2002). Many have commented on the difficulties of going to school and being forced to use Spanish exclusively, as this member of the community stated: “… parché i maestri i è messican, … no i è no de qua Chipilo … e lora … no i se capis no coi maestri” (Wössner, 2002, 106) [… because teachers are not from Chipilo … and so … [students and] teachers cannot understand each other (translation by me)].


Chipileños are aware of the fact that, for the majority, growing up in an isolated community and learning Spanish as a second language has consequences in their production of Spanish. In addition to the code-switching difficulties described in the previous section, there are other tell-tale signs, as this testimony expresses: “la dente suito se dà cuenta par al nostro sonido o par “s” o la “ere”“ (Wössner, 2002, 147) [people quickly realize [that we are not native speakers of Spanish] because of how we sound or because of [our pronunciation of] the “s” or the “r”]. Two other members of the community seem to confirm this:

… la dente pi dóvena che l’a avù scola, i parla meijo el español, parché in italian no l’existe no, ‘la dupia ere’ … [“aurerá”?], quande ya scuminẑià [“aurerà”?] ‘l era difẑil pronunciarlo par i veci … ya adès por ejemplo quei dóveni, pos si ya … co la televisión … al radio … calcule mi ch’i parla meijo tante parole en español i doveni che i veci (Wössner, 2002, p. 185).

… those who are younger who have had it at school, they speak Spanish better, because in Italian the ‘double ar’ … [“Aurrerá”?], when it had just opened [“Aurrerá”?] its pronunciation was difficult for the elderly … Now, for example, the young, well, have already … with television … and radio … I believe that the young pronounce better so many words in Spanish than the elderly (translation by me).

… sí lo domino, pero no muy bien; hay muchas palabras que … se me: dificulta pronunciarlas … más que nada la ‘doble ERE’; todos en general … tenemos ese problema la ‘doble ERE’, O: la pronunciamos MUCHO, o en ocasiones no la pronunciamos … o la sobresal/ eh/ salimos cuando no es necesario … cuando no es necesario la dobre ere … ahí la metemos (Wössner, 2002, p. 167).

… I do speak it [Spanish], but not very well; there are many words that … that are difficult to pronounce to me … Especially the double ar; everyone in general … we have that problem, the double ar, we EITHER pronounce it A LOT, or sometimes we don’t pronounce it … or we overarticulate it when it’s not necessary. … when it’s not necessary [to use] the double ar … we use it (translation by me).

Chipileños feel that the way they speak reveals their identity, as this speaker stated:

… tante persone ne dis este … che avón an acento stranier quande che parlón: en español … sará perché … no pronunẑión come che disé prima le ere, le/ tute quele là pulito e lora … me dighe che par quela luri … i se da cuenta (Wössner, 2002, p. 148).

… so many tell me this … that we have a foreign accent when we speak in Spanish … it may be because … we don’t pronounce the double ar at the beginning, all that correctly and so … they tell me that because of that … they figure out (translation by me).

In addition to the articulation of specific phonemes that are foreign to them, Chipileños show a distinct intonation in Spanish, “low-pitched and uniform (or at least, confined to a narrower acoustic band) in comparison to that of Mexican Spanish” as Meo Zilio (1993) has described it, and the following two testimonials suggest: “pos sí, parché no avón al mismo acento no, i se dà cuenta suito, che no son de qua … e anca parché no ‘l parlón polito, no ghe ndón fora no” (Wössner, 2002, p. 148) [well yes, because we don’t have the same accent, they realize quickly that I am not from here … and also because I don’t speak it correctly, we don’t leave [the community] (translation by me)], and

… porque tenemos un acento particular al hablar el español, lo mismo me pasa, cuando voy a la ciudad de México, me preguntan de qué parte de la República soy, le digo “pues vengo de Puebla” e dicen “no, usted no es de Puebla” e dicen “su acento es muy diferente a los de Puebla” (Wössner, 2002, 147).

… because we have a very particular accent when we speak Spanish, the same happens to me, when I go to Mexico City, they ask me what part of the Republic I am from, I tell them “well I am from Puebla” and they say “no, you are not from Puebla” and they say “your accent is very different to that of people from Puebla” (translation by me).

MacKay (2002) and Montagner (2001) have pointed out that the seven-vowel Veneto vowel inventory is apparently undergoing a change towards the five-vowel Spanish inventory caused by the intense bilingualism that younger generations have experienced, due to the fact that, unlike the elders, they have chosen to leave the community to attend school or work in Cholula. In addition to these phonological traits, a summary of the most important non-phonological linguistic characteristics that define the Veneto dialect spoken in Chipilo are, as MacKay (1992) lists them:

a) The use of clitic subject pronouns in second person singular and third persons plural: ti tu maña, lu al maña, luri i maña ‘you, he, they eat’.

b) The inversion of personal pronoun and verb in interrogative constructions, e-lo onde? ‘where is he?’.

c) The use of word-final m in free variation with n, fam/fan ‘hunger’, pom/pon ‘apple’.

d) The use of aver ‘to have’ as the auxiliary in the compound past for the reflexive, mi me ò mes i stivai ‘I put on my boots’

e) The third person plural clitic pronoun of the dative and reflexive is also used for the second person plural. This usage parallels that of the Ustedes form in Mexican Spanish; al ge li a dati ‘he gave them to you (pl.) / to them’

f) The use of the auxiliary verb aver is used in the past reflexive, while in Segusino ésser is used in the third persons while aver is used with the first and second persons. The person asymmetry found in the Segusino paradigm seems to be due to the influence of standard Italian on the older paradigm, which is retained today in Chipilo.

g) The most commonly used form of the present progressive is ésser + lá ke + present tense, ‘to be + there that + present': lu al e lá ke al máña ‘he is eating’. In Segusino the most commonly used form is éser + drio + infinitive, ‘to be + behind + infinitive': lu al e drio mañár ‘he is eating’.

The most salient cases of the influence of Veneto in the Spanish spoken by people from Chipilo as listed by Montagner (n.d.) are:

a) Use of double negation; in Veneto, negative constructions require the use of ‘no‘ twice: no l é ñist no ‘he didn’t come’ becomes ‘no vino no’ in Spanish.

b) Use of certain Veneto discourse markers, especially interjections: ¡Oyoi! (to express confusion), ¡Orco! (to express anger), and ¡Oh Dío! (to express sympathy or compassion).

c) Use of Veneto verbs as lexical loans: se inchucó ‘he/she choked’, instead of se atragantó.

On the other hand, the main cases of the Spanish influences in the Veneto spoken by people from Chipilo as listed also by Montagner (n.d.; 2001) are:

a) Use of lexical loan words from Spanish, such as those to refer to new items: tortiye ‘tortilla’, čile (‘chile’), ‘pepper’, graβaDora ‘boom box’, planča ‘iron’, and discourse markers: ándale! ‘come on!’, pues ‘well’, bueno ‘ok’.

b) The use of the Spanish dative clitic nos instead of the Veneto ne: i nos á dit ‘you (pl.) /they have told us / told us’, instead of i ne á dit.

c) The adoption of the verb apellidarse (‘to have _ as last name’), since the concept of asking for the name and last name separately does not exist in Veneto. In Segusino, te ciámitu come? ‘how do you call yourself?’ implies responding with a name and a last name (apellido in Spanish); in Chipilo, the same question is used exclusively to inquire about only the first and possibly the middle name, but not the last names by themselves. A separate question: te apéllíditu come? ‘what is/are your last name(s)?’ has thus developed in Chipilo.

d) A similar borrowing was needed for the distinction between nephew and grandson; neódo is used for both, so Spanish sobrino (nephew) was introduced to make the distinction, and now many say sobrini and nieti.

e) The adoption of the widespread use in Mexican Spanish of nouns in diminutive, developed as a rhetoric tool during the Spanish rule in Mexico. However, Veneto cannot use diminutives the same way, so it borrows the whole noun with the diminutive suffix: ¿Utu agüita? (‘do you want water?'; this can’t be translated since English uses prosody as a rhetoric tool in this case. Spanish uses the diminutive suffix and prosody).

f) Use of lexical borrowings from Náhuatl, such as čile (‘chile’), ‘pepper’, or words derived from Náhuatl adapted to Mexican Spanish: aguacate ‘avocado’, guarache (‘leather sandal’ or the food prepared with a big corn tortilla), nopales (‘cactuses’), mole (a dish) and pulque (a drink). It is important to point out that, in spite of all these being masculine nouns in Mexican Spanish, since all of them end in either -e or -es, they entered the Veneto lexicon as feminine nouns. And so, Chipileños refer to the plural of chile as čila, to the plural of aguacate as aguacata, to the plural of guarache as guaracha (which has a different meaning), and so on.

g) The adoption and mixing of Spanish verbs instead of using only the Veneto ones (e. g. encontrar ‘to find’ instead of catar: Si ‘l encuentre, bóna, ma si no ‘l cate, fone che? ‘if I find it, good, but if I don’t find it, what do we do?’).

h) The indefinite articles an and na, ‘a’ masc. and fem. are not  always used in Veneto, whereas the Spanish equivalents uno and una are used many times and in plural: Dème fuminante, par piazher ‘give me matches, please’, but the plural forms of an and na, ni and ne are being used now: Dème ni fuminante, par piazher, which follows the pattern of Spanish Deme unos cerillos, por favor ‘give me some matches, please’.

i) There are cases of fusion of lexical terms, such as in the case of the Veneto dermán ‘cousin': nowadays, most people say prim dermán, or primo dermán to refer to first cousin, imitating the Spanish primo hermano. A similar case happens with the verb nincordarse or éser nincórt ‘to realise’ (darse cuenta in Spanish), which has been transformed into darse nincórt.


There are several factors that will help preserve Veneto in Chipilo for generations to come, in spite of the government’s lack of protection of the community’s language as that of an ethnic minority with its own distinctive ethnic and cultural characteristics. The sequence of events that have served as reminders of the identity and origins of the town have connected its inhabitants periodically with the motherland, beginning with their decision to stay in spite of the adverse conditions upon arrival, then the defense of the town from attacks during the Mexican Revolution, followed by the visit by Giuriati, then the rise and celebration of fascism, and then the Gemellaggio and the visit by the Italian soccer team in the eighties. Very few immigrant communities have kept this sort of strong ties with the motherland by means of periodic events that create strong bonds amongst the inhabitants. Experiencing both the past hardships and the present-day prosperity has developed a sense of union and togetherness that has helped in preserving the community’s identity strong all along, clearly present in the “we” versus “they” view of how they fit in the context of Mexican society, and the linguistic sense of being perceived as a foreigner in their own country.

The appreciation of everything Italian has intensified ever since the eighties, and now parents can keep the interest in learning about their origins alive in new generations by means of exposure to multimedia in Veneto mostly by means of the Internet. However, the interest in younger generations may dilute because, as time goes by, they see the foundation of Chipilo as something very distant, and mostly identify as nothing other than Mexican. The loss of language could also come as a consequence of young professionals leaving the community for non-traditional farming jobs after attending college in Puebla or Mexico City. Incentives for them to stay and settle in Chipilo would need to be created in order for young parents to pass the language and ethnic identity on to their children. Bilingual education at the local elementary school could also be implemented as a means to educate the Spanish-monolingual non-Veneto children who live in the community, and as a means to preserve the language in the event the rate of exogamous marriages rises. Local universities in Puebla could also incorporate a course in their curricula to help new generations appreciate the importance and rarity of the language and culture preservation phenomenon in the area that has survived the transition into the 21st century.


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IDENTITY, LANGUAGE AND HISTORY IN CHIPILO: THE PERIODIC (RE)CONSTRUCTION of A VENETO COMMUNITY ALL’ESTERO por Carlos Enrique Ibarra, a excepción del contenido de terceros y de que se indique lo contrario, se encuentra bajo una Licencia Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Spain Licencia.

About Carlos Enrique Ibarra

Carlos Enrique Ibarra es estudiante de doctorado en Lingüística Hispánica en University of Florida (Estados Unidos). Tiene un máster en Literatura Hispanoamericana de la University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Estados Unidos), donde también estudió Estadística. Estudió la licenciatura en Física y Matemáticas en la Universidad de las Américas (Puebla, México) y en Juniata College (Pennsylvania, Estados Unidos). Sus intereses de investigación se relacionan principalmente con el análisis acústico y neurocognitivo de la adquisición e interferencia fonológica en primera, segunda y tercera lenguas, y las consecuencias sociales y educativas que estos dos fenómenos pueden tener. Además de esto, le interesa la elaboración de libros de texto para aprender español y la incorporación de tecnologías en la enseñanza de segundas lenguas.


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