In short what I really want to say is: “Dear Becky, HL and Code switching isn’t about you. That’s cool your great-great-great grandmother was Dutch and you studied in Guatemala for a semester, but you are neither a HL learner nor are you code switching. Instead Becky, take a seat and think about how you are perpetuating white supremacy.” —
I am getting my doctorate in Spanish linguistics / Latinx cultural studies. It is strange to study with people who grew-up in the midwest, studied abroad and decided “Oh the Spanish language is so beautiful, the people are so nice, I want to study it.” That isn’t how it works for me.
My Spanish comes from colonialism. My Spanish is seen as inferior and discouraged in public spaces. My English is viewed as inferior because of the influence of my Spanish. My Spanish made me a “high risk” student. My Spanish is now mocked as inferior to the variety spoken in Spain. My Spanish is resilience, and despite being discouraged from using it in this country, the fact I have maintained any of it should be applauded for my resistance–yet white people get applauded for learning it. It frustrates me when my classmates and instructors don’t understand their privilege and their own white supremacy–but why would they ever stop to understand it?
For example, we were discussing Heritage Language (HL) learners, a term often used to describe those who speak a language that is the non-dominant language of the culture within which they live. I dislike the term “heritage” because it connotes something archaic when really for example Spanish speakers in the US are vibrant and dynamic. How can we call something a “heritage language” when there are more Spanish speakers in the US than there are in Spain or Colombia or Venezuela?
Anyway, when looking at the broad definition of “heritage language learners” which includes anyone with any ethnic ties to a language, my classmates started listing off Western European countries of which they too like me were HL learners because they were 5th generation Dutch for example. This was frustrating as it minimized the racialization that happens with language, no one expects you to actually speak Dutch but people feel very comfortable asking a 5th generation Chinese-American “Why don’t you speak Chinese?” or asking a Chicano “Why did you get a B in Spanish?” there is a racialized expectation of language that white people don’t face.
This lack of understanding in a how the term is used to describe resilience isn’t just found when white people choose to describe themselves in the broadest definition of a HL but also with the term code-switching. When for example, a white person, who studied in Spain for six months, describes their speaking in class as “code-switching”, it is a complete lack of understanding of who actually uses code switching. Having two items, two sets of ideas, two languages, two of anything and going back and forth doesn’t mean you are code switching and it is insulting to those that use code switching as a racilaized form of survival.
From the article Future Educators’ Perceptions of African American Vernacular English (AAVE):
“In spite of such research, the language that African American children speak in the classroom is devalued in the school setting because of its lack of conformity with the teachers’ language and language expectations.”
If a child is devalued for their language which is associated with their race, and then chooses to use the more prestigious variety of English (that spoken by white people) their resilience in finding a way to implement code switching to maneuver language as survival should not be minimized by white academic elitists who want to pretend they are code switching too. The same goes for the use of Spanish and English—combining the two or using a word in English while you speak in Spanish does not mean you are code switching. Code Switching has structure and necessity. Code switching springs to life as a beautiful form of resilience and everytime someone misuses the term in failing to recognize the power of the language tool that has been developed by disenfranchisment, they minimize the people and the necessity from which code switching evolved.
TL DR. Dear Becky, take a seat.
“If one looks at the bilingual speaker holistically…Phenomena such as interference, mixing and switching become the subject of analysis, helping us to discover patterns and relationships with other features of speech. A non-native accent and the choice of a wrong word (perhaps a loan translation from the other language) are more likely to be detected in bilinguals…” (Hoffman 1991)
I disagree with the above quote. It isn’t an interference, or a lack of transfer (both pejorative and prescriptivist terms), it is that we bilinguals have more tools in our tool box. We have more language to pull from and as such our language is more dynamic. I sometimes purposefully and sometimes unconsciously move syntax, use vocabulary that “doesn’t belong” for a monolingual speaker—but to me does. I express myself as best I can, and feel my language, the ethos of my language, which cannot be taught. Who gets to decide what is native and that it is my ideal is to be a “native”—what does that even mean? My language isn’t a set standard nor do I desire it to be.
I have been very frustrated and impatient the last few months as the man I am dating learns Spanish. I use Spanish as my language of love and affection, while I use English as a bureaucratic tool to maneuver a white society (not that Spanish isn’t also imperialistic–it just manifests differently in my daily life). As such when my gentleman speaks to me in Spanish, a language he is learning as an adult I swoon, but I know he doesn’t feel what he is saying. As in he is in such an early stage of language development that he doesn’t feel the spirit of the language yet. He says things in Spanish, I am almost certain he would never say in English, they are sweet things but he doesn’t understand the impact his words have on me. The translation is not one-to-one because the literal definition does not include emotional interpretation.
I imagine him reaching a high level of fluency before he gains the ideology, the mentality of the language. I imagine it happening in the marketplace somewhere in Spanish speaking Mesoamerica, him realizing that he has been speaking without understanding the emotion and realizing that his language abilities are not what he believes. That he will come home and tell me the story of how he realized he hadn’t felt a word, felt the emotion of the word, until the context thrusted itself on him. It is at this moment of language insecurity where his capabilities will actually be at their highest. The bilingual speaker is always in that flux of wondering “how can I use all my tools to fully express myself with all the accurate emotion that is available at my disposal”.
The moment he realizes, that he hasn’t mastered the ethos yet and wonders if he is ever capable of it (as I wonder it myself daily and try to manipulate language to communicate and connect) is when I will trust what he says even more fully.
Waves of motivation.
I miss blogging. I miss spilling out the truth until it no longer burned inside of me and the sting had been released.
I miss connecting with amazing people doing amazing things.
I have been scared before about writing publicly and the academic impact it might have. I realize though that blogging helped me get into graduate school. It was blogtitlan that encouraged me to apply, it was members of blogtitlan who looked over my applications and essays. They have given me much guidance and I am now shocked to look around and see how many of us from early blogtitlan went into academia. I wonder how we ended up here.
David always talked about us as being the flowers in the cracks of sidewalks, we found ways to flourish were there weren’t others. We also however, found each other.
I am feeling more motivated to write for multiple reasons. The burning inside is getting to be too much. As I assimilate more and more with academia I find myself unhappier and disconnected from reality. And while fear kept me from writing before, I now recognize the support team I have that understands I am more than someone creating a space in academia. There is more too me than what academia acknowledges. That more is what makes me a different academic and different human.
It is not just the fact that I am Chicana and there are are so few of us, but also because I am unapologetic in my boisterous presence, in my womaness, in my political being, in my engaging in many fashions including blogging.
Here is my gentle wave back into the ocean of blogging, that I deserve and hope to grow from.
1. If it weren’t for affirmative action I would never have attended university.
2. You don’t get scholarships “just because you are X minority”. Seriously tell me about one—because I haven’t seen it ever. Even with private scholarships like HSF you need to be accepted/enrolled in a university, and meet GPA, essay, and recommendation requirements, you didn’t just show up and say “Hey, I am brown give me money”.
3. Admissions, for example at Ohio State University, ranks GPAs differently based on the community you are coming from. For example, if you go to Columbus Public Schools and get a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average(GPA), but go to white suburban New Albany and get a 3.5GPA ––your GPAs are weighted differently because New Albany is considered more rigorous. That student of color in the city school did everything and excelled as much as possible and yet won’t compete with the mediocre suburban school white kid.
4. Admissions are based on GPA and ACT/SAT scores (no the holistic stuff really isn’t reviewed at places like OSU–they say they do, it is a lie). Every study has shown that standardized tests are more likely to predict race and ethnicity of the student than their family income, or education and much less their ability to succeed. Look it up there are tons of studies on it. We base our admissions to a university on a standardized test that is systematically racist. (Aside, I was shocked by the research that race beat out income in determinant of the standardized test).
5. Schools like OSU do not represent the population of their state nor the nation. 5.5% African American undergrads at OSU while the state population is 14%. Latinos the State population is a little over 3% and the university population is 4% BUT the demographics for Latinos are not represented in the college age population in Ohio are about 10% of the population.
6. Then there are the little things like the fact admissions labeled ALL of my Latinx high school students and one African-American student, as international and didn’t correct it until all institutional aid had been allocated. This is not necessarily systematic as the ones above but it gets thrown into the pot of racism that keeps students of color out of school.
7. What used to be called the “Minority Scholarship Program” at OSU and is now called the “M0rrill Scholars Program” is open to white students. Of the 300+ essays I read for that scholarship, maybe 10 were from students of color.
There is a movie in theaters now “The Big Sick“. Short summary brown man and white woman fall in love and deal with cultural conflict. I wasn’t interested in seeing it as the previews made it seem awful and racist. However, while driving back from a road trip I got to hear part of an interview with the pseudo-autobiographical co-screenwriter Kumail Nanjiani. I felt connected to his story as he was talking about growing up the child of immigrants. Nanjiani spoke of how he hadn’t given his parents enough credit in their evolving and understanding of his culture, different from theirs.
Then the interviewer Terry Gross, asked pseudo-autobiographical co-screenwriter Emily V. Gordon (spouse of Nanjiani) what her family thought of her being with Nanjiani. Gordon responded that her parents were used to her acts of rebellion they were just happy she found someone who was good to her.
I immediately cringed at Grdon’s gaze of Nanjiani as one of her acts of rebellion and that dreadful phrase “good to her”. Nanjiani then took over the conversation and spoke about how a “rebellious phase” was culturally very American but I was stuck on what Gordon had said.
I don’t ever want to be someone’s tool for rebellion. Which in terms of gender in hetero relationships, as a Latina I am not a tool for rebellion but I have experienced exoticisation, fetishization, for temporary fun, just as a man of color is used as the act of rebellion in temporary fun. I don’t think Gordon thought of this with any maliciousness when she spoke of her family being accustomed to her rebellion. That is part of the privilege for a white woman, that her perspective can be the conflict of dating a brown man as a temporary taboo.
Moving on to the phrase “good to her”– I ignorantly thought this wasn’t something that was regularly used as coded language but something that only I had experienced. I have been told before multiple times that phrase “I just hoped you would be with someone who is good to you”, “I wish you were with someone who could provide for you better”. The racism and sexism were there and what they really wanted to ask was “Why couldn’t I just date someone who was white man who’d take care of a girl?” Recently, a Black man told me that he’d been with non-Black women who had been told “I really was hoping you’d be with someone who was better to you” I was dumbfounded at my naïvety at thinking other people never heard the same things I did. Again, I don’t think this is what Gordon was getting at with saying acts of rebellion and as long as he’s good to me, but her intent and the reality of how many of us experience interracial relationships as an attack on us and those we love–well both perspectives overlapped but not in understanding.
I wonder does Gordon spend her time worrying about Nanjiani when he flies that he will be harmed or arrested? Have people told Gordon that the person she loves isn’t as good as any other white guy? Has she wondered what her presence says when she is next to him? What risks she puts him in by being with her? Hearing Gordon’s perspective only affirmed my desire not to see this movie.
blogtitlan is trying to slowly rev the engine and start-up again. and i think i’ve been made one of the defacto leaders and yet here my first post will be less than 5 sentences but hey it is a new start!