Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not AOC

I have tried to repeatedly argue with friends, as I am known to do, that we need to say Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not AOC. To use #AOC is helpful in places like twitter with a word limit, but monolingual English speaking newscasters in the United States will say “AOC” because it is easier than stumbling over any part of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  However, they are seem able to easily say “Schwarzenegger” .

It also upsets met when newscasters only say “Cortez”—that isn’t how surnames work in Spanish. You know Spanish, that language that has more speakers in the USA than in Spain?  In Spanish, if you were to only use one surname it would be the surname Ocasio.

Newscasters need to try harder.  The exact opposite of what they are doing, for example here where the newscasters mock Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for saying her own name correctly:

‘She does the Latina thing where she does her, you know, ’Anastasio Ocasio-Cortez,’ diGenova said, using an exaggerated accent and misstating the lawmaker’s name, He then said his own name with an exaggerated Italian pronunciation. –  From Huffington Post.

Let’s demand people say our names fully and correctly.  Otherwise their raciolinguistics is showing.

Latinidad

I took my candidacy exams a few weeks ago. I cannot stop thinking about a softball question I got on Latinidad that I fumbled through. It was what makes Latinidad—and I kept focusing on the lack of actually Latinidad from a linguistics approach. This is to say, Latinidad I argued, was encompassed not in our uniformity but our lack of it, for example in language. From the historical genocide of our people who included the stripping of our languages from the Philippines to Hispaniola, to all of the Americas. That Latinidad is found in the current repatriated people living in Mexico who now aren’t accepted for their Spanish or English varieties.   My answer was problematic for lots of reasons, including the fact that it didn’t focus on any theories regarding race (although I did discuss raciolinguistics) gender, sexuality, religious, culinary, or health care.  Instead I focused on language and our inability to be umbrellaed yet some how still taking shade underneath Spanish.

I should have answered on a variety of theories, I didn’t, but it is okay I passed and I somewhat have moved on.

However, I am still left thinking about how my department has turned me more into a linguist than I realized—as I focus so much on language identity and development.

My Spanish department is split into two programs “Hispanic Linguistics” and “Cultural and Literary Studies”. I am the first and I believe, still the only student, to take-up a new path in our department “Inter-Specialization Program” which combines both Linguistics and Cultural Studies. I am still at a loss at why the divide exists.  How can you study language and not study people?  Linguistics is cultural studies.

At a Linguistics conference I listened in on a panel that included a lobbyist (who knew linguists had lobbyists?) who said when talking to politicians they focused on language because if you focus on who speaks Spanish, for example, then politicians shut down, but if you can just focus on language than politicians are more apt to listen. I asked “How do you separate language from people?” The lobbyist responded that one could do so by asking the politician about their study abroad experiences. That most politicians had been to Europe during High School, and could connect in this way. I was stunned it was the most white-washing of language. Europe is okay, language is okay, but imagining actually Spanish speakers in the US was a turn off.  I wanted to follow-up with another question “How do you negotiate perpetuation of raciolinguistics?” but I didn’t, as I am still too shy and awkward at conferences.

it’s not about you

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.

But do you feel what you say?

“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.

I get by with a little help from my friends

 

Richard and Elenamary

Richard and Elenamary

My good friend Richard, an Australian national phoned me and asked if I would meet him at the North Gate entrance of our university to accompany him to get his haircut.  His argument was that my Chinese was better than his and that I could stop them if they started to do something horrendous.  My Chinese albeit at this point slightly better than Richard’s (his is now better) was also awful–but I’ve never been timid about trying.  I met-up with Richard and shortly after received a phone call from our friend Dee a Thai national.

Dee

Dee

Dee and I lived in the same building and he was feeling ill, could I please bring him back some anti-diarrhea medicine– no problem I was on it.  At this point we were finishing with Richard’s haircut when in walked Adlet our Kazakh friend.  Adlet asked what we are up to and laughed at the dubiousness of Richard relying on my Chinese to get his haircut.  I argued, “Well look at him, his hair is cut isn’t it? He looks good so my Chinese worked well enough.” Adlet still laughing questioned me inquiring “how are you going to get the medicine?”  That I figured was more manageable then a hair cut.  “I don’t know the word for diarrhea but I do know the words for poop and explosion.  I will use those words and then see what happens.”

Adlet and Elenamary

Adlet and Elenamary

Adlet always down to tease me, decided to join us and watch me attempt to purchase the medicine.  I used my limited vocabulary and when I used the word explosion pointed at my own butt.  It worked!  I was quite pleased with myself and Adlet enjoyed watching me act out “poop explosion”.
I have been thinking a lot about that day, as I have spent the last few days in Singapore.  I never spoke mandarin well but I am realizing that I did know way more than I gave myself credit for.  I have had a few, let’s call them conversations (barely conversations) the last few days that have ranged in topic from directions, ordering food, to finding an unoccupied bathroom.  I didn’t know I still had that vocabulary.  It has been good for the ego.  Interestingly, I feel more understood here in Singapore, in that I haven’t had to repeat a word trying to find the correct tone, as I did when in Hainan.  I am not sure why I am understood more readily here and need to think about it more.