Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Assertion of Identity and Its Connection to Language

by Whitney Childs

The readings we have come across in this class have drawn on a wide variety of media sources for support, the past few weeks have been no exception. I grew up watching the film Selena, so when it came up in our class readings and subsequent discussion, I had an urge to view it again, and this clip in particular stuck out to me:

This clip features Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla, discussing the difficulties of being a Mexican-American and having to subscribe to both the Mexican identity and American identities at various times, while never truly belonging to either. Abraham states that "down there, you have to speak it perfectly", indicated that Mexican-Americans face the same linguistic standards in Mexico as they do with English in the United States, and that not speaking Spanish perfectly in Mexico would be a way in which one would mark him or herself as an 'other'. He not only mentions language as a requirement, but knowledge of cultural cues as well - celebrities (one must know about Oprah and Cristina) and. He claims that Mexican-Americans are constantly caught in an in-between state of being with no true place to rest their identity.

In "How to Tame a Wild Tongue", Anzaldua speaks of this paradox of resting on the borderlands - being too Mexican for the "Anglos" and too American for the Mexicans. She advocates for the creation of a mestizaje identity, a state beyond the binary that is a meshing of identities, one that cannot be classified as one race or the other. In her writing, Anzaldua describes an instance where she attempted to correct a teacher who was mispronouncing her name, garnering the response - "if you want to be American, speak 'American'. If you don't like it, go back to Mexico where you belong" (Anzaldua 83). This is a complete rejection of the Mexican-American identity and a call for a completely immersed 'American' identity without any reflections or markedness of any other influence. What is interesting about the response is that regardless of how Anzaldua had continued pronouncing her name, she would most likely never truly be accepted by this person as 'American'. Echoing the sentiments of Abraham in the clip, she goes onto describe how language can present a constant battle for Chicanos resting in this in between state, as people who on one side are "constantly exposed to the Spanish of the Mexicans, on the other side...the Anglos' incessant clamoring that we forget our language" (Anzaldua 84).

Moving past the clip itself, I was very drawn to reading the comments posted below the video. This one especially caught my eye:

This user states that they love Mexicans, but not the Mexicans who think they're better than others because of their ability to maneuver the English language, labeling this group of people no longer Mexicans, but "most Mexican-Americans". The user goes onto suggest that to somewhat assimilate or to garner some knowledge of 'white' culture leads to the loss of a part of oneself, ending with the statement "Mexicans are the nciest and kindest people". Although s/he exclaims their hatred for those who think they're better than others because of knowledge of a language, s/he also asserts that Mexicans are the nicest people of all (although this could have nothing to do with language, rather something else that sets the group apart).

I found another video that I found relevant, as it presents an alternative approach to the identity issues in being "Mexican-American" than the prior examples. This clip is from a movie starring Cheech and Chong, who were a comedy team most popular during the 70s and 80s.

I thought it was interesting because the main identity marker of the comedic duo is not their ethnic or racial identity, although one of them is Mexican-American. The pair were more well-known for being hippies and huge advocates of using marijuana - in fact, most of their comedy focused on this. This clip is taken from "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie". I especially took notice of the line, "Mexican Americans love education / so they go to night school / and take Spanish / and get a B" considering the recent education discussions we have been having. The pair uses comedy and mockery to play off of stereotypes often depicted in other media sources, especially by labeling the song a "protest song".

To transition from something a bit more focused on language itself, I wanted to started with this clip:

This clip features comedian George Loepz discussing the use of Spanglish, and the first line of the clip is what struck me the most, when he asserts - "You can vote English as the official language, but it'll never work...because we're always going to speak Spanglish. I thought this was a nice commentary and summation on the English-only debate. On teh surface, everyday level, English-only laws may not necessarily make that large of an impact in day to day conversation and interactions. However, ont he larger scale, English-only mandates will immobilize millions of people living in this country during critical situations - not only in their education and employment, but regarding medical services and in other instances such as voting. Mandating English-only in this country will be an attempt to silence all of those voices and also makes a claim that those who are proficient in English always have something valuable to say, which, as we all know...isn't always true (case in point).

I wanted to end with this clip from the Democratic debate in which Senator Gravel, Senator Hillary Clinton, and President Obama debate the designation of English as the official language.

Senator Gravel makes the comment that having English as the official language "doesn't mean you can't encourage other languages" - he presents it as something simplistic and something he believes is already widely accepted. In the delivery of this statement, he is clearly appealing to the audience that speaks only English or speaks English and another language fluently by choice, ignoring the legal repercussions that Senator Clinton later speaks of. Rather than finding ways in which to accommodate speakers of other languages, or better ways to assist English Language Learners in schools, the English-only movement is focused on creating policies that Ensure English-only speakers have to make no accommodations whatsoever. In listening to obama's answer that "everybody is gonna learn to speak English if you live in this country", I was not satisfied either, however. How does Obama feel that everyone will be learning English, and to what extent? I wasn't sure that I entirely agreed with his statement and I would be curious  to know how the rest of the class felt about this statement - does everyone agree that simply by living in America,the learning of English is inevitable?

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