Commentary on Miri Song’s “How Do Multiracial Parents Identify Their Children? And Why It Matters” by Dae Shin Ju

Miri Song is the Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent in England. Dr. Song has extensive publications including Helping Out: Children’s Labor in Ethnic Businesses (1999), Choosing Ethnic Identity (2003) and Mixed Race Identities (2013). She has recently finished a book, Multiracial Parents: Mixed Families, Generational Change, and the Future of Race, which is coming out this fall. On September 14th, Dr. Song shared some of her findings from her upcoming book with the ARC fellows and students.


Interracial unions are growing in both the UK and the US. There has been a substantial rise in interest on the multiracial population and “mixing” not only in academia but also in popular culture. Responding to this demographic trend, the British census introduced the “mixed” category as a part of racial identification in 2001. Since its introduction, the “mixed” category has generated many theoretical and methodological questions: what does it capture? How do people report and what can we learn from their reporting?


Despite the growth in size and diversity of multiracial population, existing studies have largely focused on Black and White mixed people and their racial identification. Dr. Song argues that there is a need to broaden the research on the multiracial population since there has been a significant increase in interracial partnering among Asians and Latinos. Also, researchers should develop a generational framework that examines beyond the first-generation of mixed people (who have two monoracially distinct parents). Studying the experiences of later generations is crucial to understanding how identities are passed down through generations and how racial boundaries and meanings shift.


Dr. Song’s research addresses the gaps in the literature by exploring the following questions: how do multiracial parents make decisions about racial identification of their children? Do they identify their children as White, “Mixed” or a Monoracial Minority? What factors come into play during the decision-making process? To find answers to these questions, she conducted interviews with 62 multiracial parents. Her interviewees were mostly first-generation multiracial parents in England aged 25 to 50 years old. She recruited three groups of multiracial parents: Black/White, South Asian/White, and East Asian/White. She supplemented her interviews with online surveys where participants were recruited based on their reported multiracial ancestry.


The majority of her interviewees identified their children on official forms as “Mixed” (40 out of 62), followed by White. None of the parents reported identifying their children as a Monoracial Minority. Many parents expressed ambivalence and uncertainty toward racial identification of their children since there are no clear conventions as to who belongs to the “Mixed” category. The parents, therefore, developed their own criteria and justifications. Some of the factors that emerged during the interviews were: the racial mix of the parents, the physical appearance of the children, the multiracial parent’s own upbringing and identification, their partner’s ethnicity and the generational distance from minority ancestors.


Dr. Song also discovered that the meaning parents gave to the White and “Mixed” categories widely varied. Her finding challenges the assumption that many survey-based studies make, which is that selecting White as a racial category reflects one’s desire to be White. The interviews with the parents revealed that there is no one reason for choosing White. Some parents identified their children as White due to their own personal lack of contact with their minority parent. Some chose white due to the generational distance from their minority ancestor. On the other hand, some parents identified their children as mixed even when they looked white. The meaning of “Mixed” was also complicated. Some viewed it as a way to express their genealogical connections to their children while others thought of it as a way of breaking the boundaries of race.


The key takeaway from Dr. Song’s research is that the choices that multiracial people make on official forms such as the census do not speak for themselves. Therefore, we should be cautious with the assumptions we make about those choices and not take them at face value. In that regard, Dr. Song’s research provides important insights into what the “Mixed” category is capturing through careful examination of the ways in which multiracial parents make sense of their children’s racial identification and pass it down to their children. Her findings indicate that there are no unitary experiences among multiracial populations because they are lumped into the “Mixed” category. Moreover, her findings strongly suggest the need to revisit the traditional notions of assimilation, particularly the meaning of interracial marriage and its implications on racial boundaries.


Dae Shin “Hayden” Ju.

Commentary on Alexandre Duchene’s “The Multilingual Division of Contemporary Labor: Selection, Inequalities and Exploitation” by Student Fellow Luke Elliott-Negri


Alexandre Duchene studies the sociology of language and chairs the Department of Multilingualism studies at the University of Fribourg. His current research uses ethnographic methods to gather data from new economy workplaces in Europe. The empirical focus of his ARC talk was the experience of three types of service workers in a Zurich airport.

Dr. Duchene argues that theories of the “division of labor” are as relevant as ever to understanding how value is produced in 21st century capitalism. He argues that while Marxist, feminist and post-colonial critiques of and contributions to the division of labor concept are vital, they tend to underplay the role of language. Dr. Duchene suggests that language is an independent axis along which which to evaluate and critique theories of the division of labor and the way contemporary divisions fuel inequality.

Dr. Duchene’s empirical work in the Zurich airport is fascinating. He focuses on three types of new economy employees all of whom work for “Airport Logistics Company” (ALC):

  1. Service agents, who are mostly female, white, Swiss and who often have secondary degrees. Some have permanent jobs and others do not.
  2. Special assistants, who are mostly female. Swiss special assistants have less schooling than their service agent counterparts, but many are from eastern countries, Asia & Latin America. They are hourly and non-permanent.
  3. Luggage handlers, who are mostly mail and are from Southern & Eastern Europe, North Africa & South America. There are no Swiss luggage handlers to speak of, and they have a heterogeneous school profile.

It is not possible to understand the experience of these workers in the new economy without also understanding the role of language. Service agents are audible and visible to all passengers, and hence must be able to display a capacity for French. Special assistants only interact with marginalized – old and otherly-abled – passengers, and must be able to use English and German, but not French. Finally, luggage handlers must simply be able to function in German.

But these distinctions along language lines are not always permanent. Some service agents are “dedicated” to an airline, and wear their uniforms. Many are “all around” workers, and wear generic ALC uniforms. The former situation – dedicated employment – is higher in status and offers more predictable schedules and often better salaries. Dr. Duchene tells the story of a Spanish woman who was happy to be employed directly by a Spanish airline. Her language skills were an asset that she did not expect when she arrived in Switzerland. However, 10 months later, the airline broke the contract with ALC and she became an “all around” worker. Her advantage disappeared.

There was far more in Dr. Duchene’s talk than can be covered in this brief review, and undoubtedly far more in his research than could be covered in his talk. He successfully conveyed key points however – namely that language matters for understanding and critiquing the division of labor and the inequalities it produces, and that language distinctions, while powerful, are also non-permanent. We must track these distinctions incessantly, if we want to understand the empirical world around us.

~Luke Elliott-Negri






Commentary on Margaret Chin’s “The Hidden Rules of Work for Second Generation Asian Americans” by ARC Student Fellow Sarah Molinari

Margaret Chin is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY and a Faculty Associate at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. Her research broadly focuses on immigration policy, race, families, work, and Asian Americans. Dr. Chin is the author of Sewing Women: Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry (Columbia University Press, 2005). On March 23, ARC welcomed Dr. Chin to discuss her new book project on second-generation Asian American professionals and corporate culture.

Dr. Chin’s research focuses on why Asian Americans do comprise a larger portion of employees or executive roles in big companies in the U.S. Despite stereotypes of being the “successful immigrant group,” she argues that Asian Americans indeed encounter a “glass ceiling” and are underrepresented in professional industries. Dr. Chin’s work promises to make a number of scholarly contributions. There is a lack of research specifically on Asian Americans within the literature on second-generation immigrants and work, and one major explanation for the “glass ceiling” is that “it’s only a matter of time” before Asian Americans attain more executive roles. Dr. Chin, however, argues that this explanation is too reductive and instead demonstrates the complex factors intervening in professional attainment processes and the uneven rewards employees receive for certain “cultural strategies.”

Dr. Chin employed ethnographic methods for her research, which included interviewing 103 second-generation Asian Americans between 28 and 57-years-old and observing corporate panels and professional events. Her interviewee sample is elite, but with a paradox: all make over $90,000 per year and 46% attended ivy league colleges and graduated between the 1980s and 2000s, but very few had achieved positions high up on the “corporate ladder.”

Informants obtained professional jobs directly through college recruitment at elite universities, or through college fairs and foundations’ affirmative action-like programs. Dr. Chin argues that during recruitment, companies seek a certain “cultural fit” to reproduce a corporate elite among a small group of people. Dr. Chin’s informants often spoke about “success” in terms of what their parents wanted and could easily explain their school successes, but had difficulty explaining work successes or seeing structural explanations like discrimination as a cause for not attaining executive roles. While “soft skills” are important to both school and professional success, Dr. Chin demonstrates that factors such as “polish and trust”—getting to know and being trusted by others in the company—are even more necessary to achieving executive roles.

Despite the diverse skill sets that second-generation Asian Americans bring to the corporate workplace, Dr. Chin’s research shows that Asian American employees are often pigeonholed into more “quantitative-type” jobs in line with stereotypes that circulate in the workplace. Micro-aggressions in the workplace also impact whether or not they get promoted. For example, Dr. Chin’s informants were often asked, “where are you from?” or told, “your English is very good.”

Dr. Chin explains that two factors made a difference for the few informants who attained executive roles: the employee learning and reproducing the company’s “cultural knowledge” and practices, as well as the particular company’s investment in minority groups. It would be interesting to compare Dr. Chin’s research findings with other second-generation immigrant groups or underrepresented populations to determine how the particular Asian-American experience might reflect broader trends in corporate culture.

~ Sarah Molinari

Commentary on Paul Statham’s “Public ‘Barriers’ to Islam? Examining How Political Debates and Public Opinion Shape the Inclusion of Muslims in Four European Countries” by ARC Student Fellow Susie J. Tanenbaum

Paul Statham is Professor of Migration and Director of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK.  The Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (JEMS), his extensive publications include the books Contested Citizenship: Immigration and Cultural Diversity in Europe (2005), The Making of a European Public Sphere (2010), and The Politicization of Europe (2013).  A political sociologist, Dr. Statham’s current research focuses on “the political accommodation of Islam and Muslim minorities in their Western societies of settlement” (ARC website).  On March 2nd, we had the opportunity to hear his presentation, “Public ‘Barriers’ to Islam?  Examining How Political Debates and Public Opinion Shape the Inclusion of Muslims in Four European Countries.”


In contrast to immigrant societies of North America, Western Europe has a permanent minority population of only five to nine percent, and multicultural debates in European societies tend to focus specifically on accommodation of Muslim populations.  Scholars have conducted cross-national studies of Muslim incorporation, and some have suggested that Islam is in conflict with European societal institutions and national identities rooted in Christianity (Alba & Foner 2008).  Others have countered that European states uphold liberal norms by extending religious group rights to Muslims, often in spite of public dissent (Joppke & Torpey 2013).


Dr. Statham is among the first scholars to have conducted an empirical study with the aim of assessing “ordinary people’s views” on extending group rights to Muslim populations in four European countries: Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Germany.  Group rights, which exceed the rights of individual citizenship, accommodate the particular needs of minority groups.  To avoid reification, Dr. Statham included Muslims of four different national origins: Pakistanis, Turks, Yugoslavs, and Moroccans.  Interview questions gauged opinions on “contested boundaries over Muslims” — building mosques with visible minarets, allowing teachers to wear religious symbols, and offering religious education in public schools.  The ‘gaps’ in responses within countries served as indicators of socio-cultural distance between non-Muslim majority and Muslim minority populations (Statham 2016).


Dr. Statham provided context for his analysis by reviewing church/state separation in each of the countries under consideration.  This revealed wide variation in the degree of Muslim accommodation and Christian group privilege.  In Britain, the Church of England is highly privileged, but the state extends paternalistic support to minority religions.  In Germany, the state recognizes particular religious groups as public corporations but has denied this status to Muslims.  The legacy of “pillarization” in the Netherlands offers state support for broad-based religious pluralism.  Meanwhile, the concept of laïcité in France restricts all religious activity in the public sphere.  Despite the differences, patterns can be detected: Britain and the Netherlands are more accommodating of Muslim group rights; Britain and Germany privilege their Christian churches; and the Netherlands and France maintain religious parity, with the Netherlands practicing inclusion and France enforcing exclusion.


The first research phase involved examining relevant national political debates, which play a role in mediating public opinion on Muslim group rights.  Claims data about Muslims and Islam were drawn from newspapers spanning a ten-year period.  Four sets of actors were identified: representatives of the state and judiciary, legislative and political parties, non-Muslim civil society organizations and groups, and Muslim organizations and groups.  The results indicated that in Britain, the state and civil society support Muslim group rights; in the Netherlands, the radical right Party for Freedom challenges the state’s and civil society’s position on this issue; in France, the state and civil society actually lend support to Muslim involvement in the debate over group rights; while in Germany, the state, political parties, and civil society are neutral on extending Muslim group rights.


Recognizing the differences in national contexts, the second research phase measured ‘gaps’ within each country between non-Muslim and Muslim opinion on group rights.  Telephone survey interviews were conducted (in languages other than English, as needed) with a sample of 7,000 majority and Muslim minority respondents.  While the first section of the survey posed one question about constructing mosques with visible minarets, specifically gauging views on Muslim group rights, the second section posed one question about teachers wearing Christian clothes or symbols and another question about teachers wearing the Islamic veil.  Similarly, the third survey section posed one question about Christian education and another about Muslim education in public schools.  The structure of the second and third sections allowed for comparisons as well as a more nuanced analysis of majority and Muslim minority views on religious rights.  A two-way analysis of covariance was conducted, controlling for age, education, and income.  Gender was included as an independent variable.


The research results permitted a cross-national comparison.  The findings were noteworthy, and some were unexpected.  Dr. Statham reported that, in all four countries, there were statistically significant ‘gaps’ in majority and minority respondents’ views on Muslim group rights.  Muslim respondents supported parity with Christian group rights, while majority opinion shifted from supporting Christian group rights to opposing Muslim group rights.  Most surprisingly, British majority respondents expressed the strongest opposition to extending Muslim group rights, even though Britain had the most accommodating state policies and the most supportive public debate on religion of all four countries.


Dr. Statham emphasized the methodological importance of including majority populations in comparative studies on the accommodation of minority group rights, also called “opportunity structures”.  In this study, the shift in majority opinion was responsible for the significant ‘gap’ between Muslim and non-Muslim responses, indicating socio-cultural distance and a potentially high level of controversy over Muslim group rights.  Dr. Statham’s working hypothesis for understanding the British case was that the absence of a “pressure valve effect” in the form of an anti-Islam political actor in Britain, similar to the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, may have resulted in low-level resentment in everyday life interactions, which went undetected by the political elites.  This is a troubling dynamic to consider, especially at a time when right-wing nationalism is on the rise in Western Europe and the United States.  During the question-and-answer section of his presentation, a few alternative explanations were proposed.  It will be interesting to see how Dr. Statham develops his analysis in subsequent phases of this groundbreaking study.


~Susie J. Tanenbaum


Luis Guzmán Valerio: “The Myth of Latino Fraud and Illegal Latino Voters” by Professor Robert Smith


Professor Robert Smith is a professor of Sociology at Baruch College and at The Graduate Center. He was trained as a political scientist at Columbia University and describes himself as an ethnographer who likes numbers and masquerades as a sociologist. His book Mexican New York is based on 18 years of ethnographic research and makes a practical contribution to the lives of immigrants. His research interests arose when he taught English at a labor camp in college and most workers were Mexican. In his talk at the Advanced Research Collaborative, he shared with us some of the findings for a book he is writing with Andy Beveridge titled This is Still America! Voting Rights and Immigration.

His ethnographic research takes place in the 100-Acre Wood Community, a pseudonym for a small, suburban town. Professor Smith’s involvement in the town began when he received an e-mail from the U.S. Department of Justice to serve as an ethnographer and expert witness in a case involving voting rights. The 100-Acre Wood Community is small town that used at-large voting. This meant that there were no voting districts. Conflicts began to arise when the Latino population of the town grew outnumbering African Americans who have moved out because of the lack of opportunities. The at-large voting meant that all voters cast their ballots for all candidates in the town (NAACPLDF, 2016). These circumstances made it impossible for minority candidates to be elected. As minority populations all over the U.S. grow, jurisdictions with at-large voting rules are faced with the challenge of fairly representing their communities. Conflict in the town intensified after the voting rights act trial began and public hearings were held to decide whether to continue with at-large voting or have districts.

Professor Smith has been in the field in the 100-Acre Wood Community since 2006. As part of his research, he interviewed and recorded participants, attended school board meetings and church seminars about immigration, and joined Facebook groups. While conducting his interviews of people’s experiences in the town as voters and political candidates, Professor Smith found that Latinos were continually seen by the majority white gaze as illegal, not eligible to vote, immoral, and illegitimate. Illegality makes immigrants into a moral point. The logic of illegality allows those who believe they do not break the law to position themselves on a moral high ground compared to those who are perceived as breaking the law by entering the U.S. without proper documentation. This led Professor Smith to ask how the discriminatory narratives about race and voters are enacted. In interviews with poll workers and in public speeches by leaders in the town, people expressed moral panic about immigration in the U.S. and a feeling of white dispossession. This was part of a discourse that stigmatized Latinos as illegal and framed them as not enjoying moral righteousness. In this discourse, Hispanics are not in the same moral category of worth as others and are dehumanized. When the issue of taking out a bond to pay for education in the town came up, people expressed a sentiment that illegal children should not be entitled to education, and the bond was voted down. Even if they are immigrants themselves, the participants interviewed feel a moral hierarchy and think that Latinos are all illegal.

The U.S. Department of Justice eventually won the voting rights lawsuit. The 100-Acre Wood Community became a town at war with itself and incidents were reported in the press. This led Professor Smith to conduct 153 doorstep interviews. He found that about a quarter of those interviewed believed that illegal voters would vote. Older, retired white people who have a difficult time paying taxes, white people who live in places that used to be mostly white and are now Latino, and very white districts reported feeling dispossessed.

In town council and community school board meetings, Latinos constantly had their U.S. citizenship brought into question and hence their right to participate in the democratic process. Latinos were even called “illegal” by some of the other attendees at these meetings. When they went to vote, those asking for a Spanish interpreter or perceived as speaking English with an accent reported being asked to present identification –which is an outright violation of voting law– and were told that they either were not in the right district or that their name was not in the voter registry. These incidents occurred even though the town does a full day of training for poll workers. Did Hispanic voters not know their rights? Professor Smith ended his talk by suggesting that there should be implicit bias training for voting place poll workers. In addition to this, explicitly requiring poll workers to record every request for identification would make a difference in the bureaucratic process.

Despite these experiences of discrimination, the Hispanic and non-Hispanic participants Professor Smith interviewed were still reluctant to categorize anyone as racist. Yet, how is it that a town does not want to see Latinos elected to office? I have always ideologically imagined the U.S. as a racist place because of my own experiences of discrimination and racism. Is this not the case everywhere in the U.S.?

~Luis Guzman Valerio


NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (2016). At-large voting frequently asked questions. Retrieved from

Commentary on Bill Haddican’s “Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English,” by ARC Student Fellow Maria Cioe Pena

Fishman and Garcia (2001) have called New York City “The multilingual apple.” While the Advance Research Collaborative lecture series has taken us to many different places over the course of the semester, Bill Haddican’s final lecture in the series brought us all home – to that amazing and ever changing multilingual apple.

In his presentation, titled “Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English,” Haddican introduced us to the ways in which New York City English (NYCE) is changing as a result of the multilingual infusions introduced by its culturally and linguistically diverse population. The topic of the lecture – deeply grounded in linguistic theory – could have been rather inaccessible and dense yet Haddican did a great job of creating multiple entry points for a diverse audience. In order to make the topic not only accessible but also interesting to all, Haddican showed a dynamic MRI video of how the tongue engages in vowel production – which results in the high/low front/back assignation given to vowels in relation to tongue placement in the mouth cavity. He also explained how linguist think about vowels, had the audience say words and engage in a shared task. Additionally, he explained sound production and speaking patterns using visual representations of the phenomena he was discussing.

All of these considerations, while small, made a significant impact on the understanding and engagement of the audience. This increased understanding made it possible to appreciate Haddican’s findings in relation to the ways that NYCE is changing. While Haddican spoke about two different variationist studies that looked at the evolution of the NYCE in relation to accent, specifically the contrast between 2 vowels, both related to the ways in which NYCE was changing and the influence that parents – and parents’ home language – had on the application and phonetics/phonology of English presented by their children. While the results are preliminary and require further exploration there seems to be some indication that children/adults who are born into families with a parent who is a “native” speaker of NYCE tend to maintain the sound separation that is slowly disappearing from the speech practices of children/adults who were born into families with two parents whose native language was not English. Another interesting finding of Haddican’s study is that NYCE is changing even for some White “non-heritage” speakers. The reasons for this are unclear and Haddican intends to explore the possibilities in future work with larger samples.

In this final lecture, Haddican was able to bring the audience together under the topics of language, immigration and family relationships. In many ways bringing together many of the topics covered across the semester. I look forward to seeing where Dr. Haddican takes this research and where NYCE goes from here.

~Maria Cioe Pena


García, O., & Fishman, J. A. (Eds.). (2001). The multilingual apple: languages in New York City. Walter de Gruyter.

Haddican, B. (2016). Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English. Presentation, New York, New York.



Mert Peksen: Commentary on Linda Tropp’s “Contact, Trust, and Social Inclusion: Immigrant-Native Relations in the United States”

Linda Tropp – 10/27/2016

Does having more contact with other groups reduce prejudice? Do people welcome the groups with whom they interact, and do they feel more welcomed by them? Does frequency, quality and location of interactions between groups matter? Do people transfer good interaction experiences with one group to their interactions with other groups? These were the main questions that Linda Tropp, professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, addressed in her talk at the ARC seminar on October 27th. Her main focus was the topic of intergroup contact and the issue of welcoming different populations into communities, particularly in the context of the relations between US-born and immigrant groups.

Tropp began her talk by explaining some of the major concepts in her research and addressing the main questions in the literature. As she and her colleagues established in their meta-analysis of the literature, greater contact is associated with less prejudice. 94 percent of the approximately 500 international studies they analyzed show that there is an inverse correlation between interaction and prejudice. She pointed out that while most studies focus on the interaction of immigrant and US-born populations in terms of the exposure of one group to another, such studies are not clear about what actually happens when groups meet and have meaningful face-to-face interactions in neighborhoods, work places, and public spaces.

In her talk, Linda Tropp presented two major aspects of the research that she and her research team have been conducting over the last several years. In their overall research, they analyze the quality and frequency of interactions between US-born Whites, US-born Blacks, foreign-born Mexicans, and foreign-born Indians in the context of the Philadelphia and Atlanta metropolitan areas. Philadelphia and Atlanta were chosen because of their longstanding presence of Black and White American populations, while recent immigration to these areas have also diversified the racial composition. Moreover, these cities have been actively promoting the idea of being a “welcoming city” through various campaigns and civil society programs. The part of the research that she presented at the ARC specifically addressed the idea of welcoming. She asked whether increased interaction with other groups makes people more welcoming, and whether people feel more welcomed when they interact with other groups.

In order to answer these questions, the researchers designed a telephone survey using a total of 250 respondents from each group in each city (total N=2000). In addition to the telephone survey, they conducted around 320 in-depth interviews in the area.  In terms of overall contact with other groups, there is a generally positive level of interaction among groups, especially at work places and in public space. There is less overall contact with Mexicans, which implies a certain level of isolation that might be related to issues regarding the type of work they do, language barriers, or their legal status. These issues were later addressed in the Q and A section. In terms of welcoming others and being welcomed by their community, Tropp’s research illustrates that Whites and Blacks tend to be slightly more welcoming toward each other than they are to immigrant groups, whereas Mexicans are less welcoming than US-born populations, as well as than Indian immigrants, to outside groups. Overall, there is a positive correlation between the level of interaction and positive welcoming attitudes.

Another part of her presentation addressed the question of whether the quality and frequency of interactions with one group influence the attitudes toward another groups. Her research shows that there is a secondary transfer effect caused by interactions between groups. For instance, increased contact with Blacks enhances Whites’ receptivity toward other migrant groups.

Linda Tropp’s research has important implications. First, we can argue that spatial and social segregation create a less welcoming society for everyone, because they structurally decrease the possibility of contacts with other groups. Moreover, while it may seem at a first glance that groups have significant exposure to one another in public spaces, she pointed out that exposure and meaningful contact are two different things. High exposure to other groups with less meaningful interaction, in fact, might actually create more prejudice. Therefore, based on her research findings we can argue that in order to overcome prejudices between groups and to create a more inclusive society, there is a need to create more opportunities for interaction and to design spaces in which groups actually meet and get to know each other. These spaces could range from more inclusive public spaces to schools and work places that are more racially diverse.

Mert Peksen



Cristian Aquino-Sterling’s “Notes Towards a Clarifying Response to Gregory Gagnon”.

Notes Towards a Clarifying Response to Gagnon

Cristian R. Aquino-Sterling

Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) Fellow

Spring – Summer, 2016

“The greatest task of education as we enter the 21st century is to address pedagogically the radical reconfiguration of social life brought on by the proliferation of multiplicity and difference.”

—Dimitriades & McCarthy (2001).

“It is not that people use language varieties because of who they are, but rather that we perform who we are by (among other things) using varieties of language.”

—Pennycook (2003).

Conducting research on how bilingual teacher education programs in California and New York City prepare future K-12 bilingual teachers for the work of content-area instruction in Spanish is not without its conceptual and methodological challenges. At a conceptual level, this work presupposes (1) that, despite it being a “discursively constructed artifact” (del Valle, 2015), Spanish and its varieties are distinctive and linguistically recognized forms of communication; (2) that “proficiency” in any language (variety) can be assessed, evaluated, and developed (Douglass, 2000; Shohamy, 1996); and (3) that in employing a “repertoire of complex linguistic resources” (Valdés, 2015) to carry out multiple pedagogical language tasks, K-12 bilingual teachers also require to draw on features of what dominant society has constructed as ‘standard,’ ‘academic’ and ‘disciplinary’ forms of Spanish (Regueiro Rodríguez & Sáez Rivera, 2015).[i]

However, the cultivation of socially dominant “communicative repertoires” (Rymes, 2010) does not imply the inherent deficiency of language features and practices that traditionally have not been recognized or legitimized as ‘standard,’ ‘academic,’ and/or ‘disciplinary.’ In the same way, the cultivation of socially dominant linguistic repertoires and practices does not exclude bilingual teacher educators (and, therefore, K-12 bilingual teachers) from fostering and equally valuing bilingual students’ full linguistic repertoires, including their “fluid bilingual languaging” practices (García, 2014). In order to affirm the often marginalized cultural and linguistic identities of their students, K-12 bilingual teacher educators (and, therefore, K-12 bilingual teachers) must design teaching and learning contexts in which the wide range of multilingual resources characterizing the classroom community functions as an authentic and legitimate vehicle for the co-construction of ‘academic’ forms of knowledge beyond the use and the privileging of the “monoglot ‘standard’” (Silverstein, 1996).[ii]

However, it is important to remember that certain language varieties (e.g., African-American Vernacular English; Chicano Spanish) and modalities (code-switching; translanguaging) have not achieved communicative legitimacy within so-called ‘elite’ and/or ‘mainstream’ contexts of language use (e.g., ‘scholarly’/’academic’ knowledge production), due in large part to the workings of the capitalist market system. Within our capitalist system of production, the social stratification of language(s)—the ascription of higher social, economic, and ‘academic’ value to selected languages, language features, and practices—is likely to persist as the modus operandi unless we adhere to a new economic model in which stratification does not function as a prerequisite for the survival of the system—and language, therefore, is no longer treated as a ‘commodity.’

In a society where individuals are prone to compete for resources, the macro-level forces of social stratification that regulate linguistic exchanges (Bourdieu, 1999) exert unequivocal influences on micro-level contexts (e.g., bilingual teacher education classrooms; K-12 bilingual classrooms). As such, micro-level adaptations intended to counter the stratifying effects of market forces are undeniably subject to the greater influence of macro-economic forces.[iii] Moreover, to the degree that ownership of the means of production and economic authority remain in the hands of selected ‘elite’ groups, micro-level proposals for disrupting the effects of market forces have the potential to remain relevant and effective only at the micro-levels of social life (e.g., multilingual school contexts). Given these dynamics, and in order to engage in the ‘academic’/’professional’ life of so-called ‘mainstream’ society, it is imperative (although not always sufficient) for minoritized (emergent) bilingual student populations to learn to employ the linguistic resources that dominant society has established as ‘legitimate’—sought after and guarded linguistic commodities, dangerous for all to acquire.[iv]

Because I do not see my research on how bilingual teacher education programs prepare future teachers for the work of teaching content-area knowledge in Spanish as advocating the dismantling of our current capitalist economic model, and inasmuch as I do advocate for the legitimacy of all linguistic repertoires, I believe future K-12 bilingual teachers (and their future K-12 bilingual students) have the right to be socialized into the language/discourse practices of ‘dominant’ society—unless, of course, these social actors make a conscious choice to resist being initiated into these practices. Although I realize that notions of ‘standard’ ‘academic’ and ‘professional’ language are indeed social constructions (Berger & Luckmann, 1966), I also know that not being able to employ forms of language expected within particular ‘academic’ or ‘professional’ contexts may entail concrete material consequences.

As indicated in previous research (Aquino-Sterling, 2016):

Ideally, within a U.S. Latino context, bilingual teacher education classrooms should aspire to become communities of non-compartmentalized bilingual language practices where all course participants are able to exercise the right to translanguage (García, 2014) or “ [to] deploy [… ] [their] full linguistic repertoire without regard for watchful adherence to the socially and politically defined boundaries [of any] language [or language variety],”  and without having to feel insecure and/or ashamed of the language performances they feel most comfortable enacting (Otheguy, García, & Reid, 2015, p. 283). However, given the power structures in our society, I believe it is crucial for all students in K– 12 and beyond, including future bilingual teachers, to diversify their language competence ‘ toolbox’— their “ repertoire of complex linguistic resources”  (Valdés, 2015, p. 268)— and acquire the language [forms] of power (Delpit, 1993). This will ensure they are not at a disadvantage when required to produce formal, ‘academic,’ and ‘professional’ forms of discourse across social contexts” (p. 54).

As critical-educational scholars, it is of outmost importance to deconstruct naturalized notions of ‘standard,’ ‘academic,’ ‘disciplinary,’ and ‘professional’ forms of language. However, we must be mindful of the potential unintended consequences of espousing language pedagogies that, in their rightful and much-needed intent to affirm and legitimize the varied cultural and linguistic identities of minoritized (bilingual) learners, could also serve to deprive them of opportunities to acquire forms of linguistic capital that are still operative, valued, and guarded within the logics of an unyielding and evermore expanding capitalist system of production and social stratification. Unless, of course, our intent is also to work earnestly to disrupt the macro-level system that re-produces such inequities while ensuring that these students do not unintentionally become “the miner’s canary” (Guinier & Torres, 2002).

On ‘Proficiency’ and ‘Pedagogical Spanish’

In conducting a review of the literature on Spanish in bilingual teacher education, I found that scholars in the field have generally characterized the K-12 bilingual teacher population as exhibiting “low levels” of Spanish proficiency. Although the literature reviewed at times unjustifiably attributes this “low level” of proficiency to the often marginalized language practices characteristic of second-language speakers, heritage language speakers, simultaneous bilinguals, and/or individuals who employ an ethnically-identified language variety (e.g. Chicano Spanish), in my study I define proficiency in contextual rather than absolute terms. Absolute proficiency (AP) pertains to the implicit and erroneous idea that a speaker is proficient in a language to the degree that she is able to perform language functions in the “standard” language variety; in other words, to the degree the speaker’s performance approximates the performance of an illusive “native” and “educated” speaker (as defined by ACTFL; the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages; the Real Academia de la Lengua Española). Contextual proficiency (CP), on the other hand, rejects the idea of proficiency as a function of standard language practices. Rather, contextual proficiency provides us with an inclusive and democratic understanding of the communicative act and posits that human beings can exhibit language proficiency in any language (Spanish, English), language variety (e.g., Chicano Spanish; African American Vernacular English), and/or modality (codeswitching; translanguaging).  As I conceive of it, contextual proficiency refers to a speaker’s capacity to meet any functional language task (e.g. describe, explain, question, hypothesize, formulate argument/opinion, etc.) employing any language variety or modality appropriate or relevant to the context of the communicative act.

Emerging from the idea of contextual proficiency (CP), teaching-specific or pedagogical Spanish serves as a viable approach for assessing and developing the academic-pedagogical aspect of pedagogical Spanish as discourse, namely: “[…] the language and literacy competencies bilingual teachers require for the effective work of teaching in Spanish across the curriculum in K– 12 bilingual schools […]” (Aquino-Sterling, 2016, p. 51). As originally conceived, and as Gagnon rightly indicates in his commentary, this model did not include or made explicit the goal of also integrating the often marginalized and hybrid language practices of simultaneous bilinguals. (As indicated above, in bilingual school classrooms students have the right and should be given the opportunity to perform language functions in a variety of language and modalities, drawing on their full linguistic repertoire.) However, this omission did not derive from upholding a deficit view of particular forms of language, as we find articulated in concepts such as the “word gap” (Fuller et al., 2015); “semilingualism” (Cummins, 2000); the “underdeveloped code” (Valdés & Geoffrion-Vinci, 1998), or the “restricted code” (Bernstein, 1971). The idea of “low” levels of Spanish proficiency in so-called ‘standard,’ ‘academic,’ and/or ‘professional’ Spanish varieties should not be understood, necessarily, as being complicit in perpetuating deficit views of non-dominant language varieties, practices, and/or modalities when proficiency is understood in contextual rather than absolute ways. Although it proved difficult to fully articulate this perspective during my ARC lecture, I find it important to include it here as a clarifying response to Gagnon´s commentary and in order to avoid further misunderstandings.

For an explicit version of a more inclusive “pedagogical Spanish” model, please refer to an article I have co-authored (Aquino-Sterling & Rodríguez-Valls, 2016, Multicultural Perspectives) entitled, “Developing Teaching-Specific Spanish Competencies in Bilingual Teacher Education: Towards a Culturally, Linguistically, and Professionally Relevant Approach.”


[i] Within bilingual classroom contexts, teachers are called to meet the language/discourse demands of pedagogical communicative tasks characteristic of multidisciplinary and academic classroom/school life (e.g., modeling for a student how to conceptualize and orally express a structured scientific argument in multiple languages, language varieties, and/or modalities, including in ways valued by the greater academic/scientific community).

[ii] Within poststructural/postmodern approaches to [linguistic] identity construction and performance (Hall, 1992; Norton, 2000; Pennycook, 2003; Sarup, 1993; 1996) the assertion “I am my language” is no longer a sufficient explanation of linguistic identity construction. Rather, the assertion “I am my languages” becomes a more relevant explanation for contemporary forms of adscriptions to non-essential and multiple social and linguistic identities.

[iii]At the micro-level of the classroom, valuing the linguistic repertoires represented is a necessary and worthy adjustment. However, classrooms and their students do not live in isolation from greater social and economic structures. Making the familiar strange by deconstructing the social categories that ascribe higher values to dominant forms of communication is important inasmuch as we also recognize the social value of these forms and the right of minoritized students to access these, given the reproductive nature of economic and social structures. The bilingual classroom should serve as a microcosm that both affirms and expands the social and linguistic experiences of its participants.

[iv] Lisa Delpit has been a key figure in helping us transition from deficit perspectives of language use to acknowledging the non-inherent yet higher socioeconomic value dominant society has allocated to certain forms of language. Delpit also emphasizes a teacher’s ethical responsibility to facilitate a classroom context where minoritized students acquire/learn “codes of power” (2006) or “discourses of power” (1993).



Commentary on Cristian Aquino-Sterling’s “Developing Spanish Competencies in Bilingual Teacher Education: Current Approaches and Future Directions” by ARC Student Fellow Gregory Gagnon.

In his talk, “Developing and Assessing Spanish Competencies in Bilingual Teacher Education: Current Approaches & Future Directions,” Cristian Aquino-Sterling presents preliminary results of a study showing marked heterogeneity in approaches to teacher selection, training, assessment, and certification among dual-language teacher preparation programs in California and New York. Citing literature that demonstrates teachers in bilingual education programs have historically shown low levels of language competence, he argues that in order to improve bilingual education in the US, a model must be established describing the core competencies required of bilingual teachers so that effective approaches to training teachers in these competencies may be developed.

Aquino-Sterling proposes such a model, which he calls Pedagogical Spanish (Aquino-Sterling, 2016). In its present version, Pedagogical Spanish is composed of four areas: (1) procedural tasks and functions of teaching and learning in the classroom context, (2) procedural tasks and functions of communication with parents, colleagues, and administrators, (3) disciplinary literacies (i.e., the specialized language and discourse of particular content areas) and (4) metalinguistic knowledge. The model highlights areas of competency that may not be present in an individual who otherwise may have developed a superior level of conversational Spanish—areas which are not assessed by standardized language tests. For example, an individual may not have the vocabulary or discursive knowledge to teach a course in ethics or biology, or may have insufficient metalinguistic knowledge to work with students flexibly across languages to enhance their understanding of a particular concept. By describing the multiple domains in which bilingual teachers must function, the Pedagogical Spanish model thus begins to suggest potential areas for future development in dual-language teacher preparation programs.

Aquino-Sterling identifies a significant flaw in the present model, however, stemming from its strongly normative structure, and its tendency to frame language development in terms of deficit and deficiency—what teachers do not have, and what they must be given to become good. He argues that with further development this flaw can be overcome, and Pedagogical Spanish can come to serve as “a contrapeso to the persistent cultural logics of linguistic normativity.” In order to be relevant to real-life needs of teachers and students, he says, Pedagogical Spanish must develop into a “linguistically, culturally, and professionally relevant—non-deficit—additive approach that affirms and validates the hybrid language identities and practices” of bilingual teachers and students in the US.

This future version of the Pedagogical Spanish model will combine the present model’s ability to inform policies and curricula in teacher training with a sensibility shaped by the many voices that echo throughout the talk—Bourdieu and Fanon, Anzaldúa and Chomsky, Del Valle and García, to name a few. Educational policies that insist upon the use of just one language—English—while rejecting all else should not be supplanted by policies that insist upon just two. Instead, we must develop bilingual education models that accept and celebrate the diversity of linguistic repertoires teachers and students bring to school, that engage these repertoires in order to expand what is possible for individual students, and that welcome the participation of all students in the production and circulation of knowledge. With his research, Aquino-Sterling has taken a notable step toward this eventual goal.


Aquino-Sterling, C. R. (2016). Responding to the call: Developing and assessing pedagogical Spanish competencies in bilingual teacher education. Bilingual Research Journal, 39(1): 50-68.



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