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Commentary on Emily Raboteau’s Endurance: A Novel by Martin Aagaard Jensen

In her presentation “Endurance: A Novel: Gentrification and Its Effects in Washington Heights,” Emily Raboteau invited us into the process of writing her novel Endurance about life in an apartment building in the upper-Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. Featuring Manny, a superintendent of Dominican descent, as its protagonist, Endurance depicts the lives of residents in a building on 180th Street. While Manny takes care of the never-ending job of building-maintenance, he simultaneously labors to raise his teenage son Angel who is diagnosed with autism. Confronted with gentrification and changing demographics of Washington Heights, the personal struggles of Endurance’s characters are bound up with social and economic forces that they seek to resist and navigate despite increasingly difficult conditions.

Describing her approach to writing as interdisciplinary, Raboteau explains her methodology to writing Endurance as a process of historical research and ethnographic observation, a methodology meant to capture the changing nature of a neighborhood. Practically, this has meant shadowing her building’s super on a regular basis to understand his job as well as volunteering with kids with autism to better depict Angel’s character. In terms of research, Raboteau studied immigration history and investigated the urban ethnography of Washington Heights.

Explaining how storytellers can bring to life the lived experience hidden behind our statistical knowledge of economic inequality, Raboteau describes a realist commitment to social justice. That is to say, realism’s job is to produce critical reflections on behalf of the reader by conveying the social conditions and conflicts of our shared reality. Thus, the critical question is: how do you capture a phenomenon like gentrification through literary representation? Raboteau’s suggestion is to make the economic forces of gentrification a dramatic driving component of the narrative, by placing Manny’s job at risk due to new management of the building. In turn, this instance of economic change similarly puts Angel’s future at risk.

At the same time, focusing on the life of and in a building—a sort of social microcosm mediating the urban structure at large—allows a novelist to activate gentrification through individual characters. Through this slice of social reality, depicting a group of people with diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, large-scale conflicts of dispossession and displacement can be articulated in personal stories. This leads Raboteau to reflect on questions such as: what does it mean to be part of a community? What are our responsibilities toward our neighbors? And what is the role of public institutions in taking care of its most vulnerable citizens, here dramatized through Angel’s autism? Ultimately, asking the question, “to whom does an apartment building belong?” is to inquire about the right to the city.

In Henri Lefebvre’s classic rendering, the right to the city is a political practice in which we collectively transform ourselves by changing the city. I believe it’s fair to say that the same concern informs Raboteau’s literary writing on gentrification, the effect of which is precisely the dispossession of the collective, political claim to reshape the urban spaces we all share.

Written by Martin Aagaard Jensen

Commentary on Finex Ndhlovu’s ”The Language Nesting Model” by Matthew Glenn Stuck

In his numerous publications, Finex Ndhlovu has critically examined the relationship between language and issues of multilingualism, identity formation, migration, politics, and policy/planning. At the heart of his recent work, Prof. Ndhlovu is concerned with the complex interplay of social and political factors that make up the sociolinguistics of migration, and how to reshape heritage language planning and policy to better align with the needs of immigrant communities.

Prof. Ndhlovu impresses upon us the need to understand where someone comes from in order to understand who they are, stating “you can’t say you know me if you don’t know the people that I live with.” This notion perfectly captures the spirit of his recently developed Language Nesting Model (Ndlovu, 2014). As Prof. Ndhlovu shows, the model provides a more holistic profile of the unique language-based needs of immigrant communities than has previously existed.

A recurring theme throughout his talk is a call to challenge the “commonsense” assumptions about how we conceptualize heritage languages.  While language planning and policy typically assumes a direct relationship between ethnicity and language, this assumption is often contradicted by the linguistic realities of immigrants, whose language choices are largely influenced by complex migratory patterns and exposure to a wealth of linguistic diversity. Prof. Ndlovu’s research is centralized around two overarching questions: What are the actual multilingual practices of people on the move, and how do specific migration paths influence their linguistic experiences?

In building the Language Nesting Model, Prof. Ndhlovu conducted an in-depth ethnographic study of speakers from East, Central, and West Africa who were residing in Australia. Interviews comprised of people offering personal stories about their migration experiences. Prof. Ndhlovu finds that his participants often speak a HL that is not their native one. In fact, several individuals report speaking pigeons and creoles (new languages having emerged through extended contact between different languages) in their interviews. Pigeons and Creoles receive little to no government support due to their subordinated social status. Prof. Ndhlovu argues it is precisely these languages that serve to bridge relationships and create new and vital social networks. These narratives demonstrate the severe need for governments to provide institutional support for such languages.

Prof. Ndhlovu proposes the Language Nesting Model to account for these and other crucial findings that surfaced through his ethnographic research. The model leverages commonalities across the language experiences of African immigrants to paint a picture of rich linguistic diversity. Central to his model are the diverse language codes and varieties a HL speaker can deploy as linguistic resources. These include varieties of English, discoursal and cultural practices, African cross-border languages, small ethnic languages, and refugee “journey” languages, which are those languages picked up while in transit. The model achieves its goal of breaking down our common-sense assumptions about HLs by showing that the linguistic repertoires of transient populations must be better understood. Prof. Ndhlovu closes his talk by arguing that language policy and planning cannot address the needs of immigrant communities unless it shifts its focus to considering the lived experiences and linguistic realities of people on the move, which show much more nuance than what census data alone is capable of revealing.

Written by

Matthew Glenn Stuck

 

Commentary on Tatyana Kleyn’s ”Transborder Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico” by Kahdeidra Monét Martin

According to a recent Pew Research Report, between 2009 and 2014, one million people repatriated from the United States to Mexico. As a qualitative researcher, Dr. Tatyana Kleyn is interested in the stories behind these numbers. In particular, she studies the experiences of children and young adults who undergo these crossings—physical, social, linguistic, and educational. “Transborder youth are crossing many borders,” she said. Indeed, some recurring themes both in her research program and in reactions to her research are the power of language to form community and the need to cross borders in order to understand multiple perspectives. This blog piece begins by exploring the research topics, methodology and general findings of Kleyn’s work, and it ends by discussing the reactions to her lecture and offering practical suggestions for moving forward.

The Research

Kleyn, who is Associate Professor in the Bilingual Education and TESOL programs at the City College of New York, began her study entitled “The Other Side of Deportation Repatriation” as a Fulbright scholar in Mexico from 2014 to 2015.

Through interviews, classroom observations, and collections of art and poetry, Kleyn assembles portraits of transborder youth in elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools in Oaxaca, Mexico. Additionally, she uses documentary film as both a research method and tool for disseminating research findings to larger audiences. She said, “Film is accessible across borders. It does not matter your educational level or what language you speak.” Ethnographic data from her research on transborder youth in Oaxaca is highlighted in the documentary film “Una Vida, Dos Paises: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico.” The complete film and accompanying unit plans are freely available at www.UnaVidatheFilm.com.

So, what are her findings? First, transborder youth bring their assets of multilingualism and multiculturalism that can be harnessed in the classroom. Differentiating classroom instruction to exploit their English language skills and knowledge of United States cultures can better support everyone in the learning community.

Second, it is important to note that transborder children are multifaceted and have varying degrees of fluency in the languages that they speak. Their linguistic repertoires are formed from the multiple speech communities that they have lived in. For example, one could hear features of U.S. English from the Midwest, Florida, and California; features of Spanish spoken in Latinx communities in Southern California; and Zapoteca, a language indigenous to Mexico. Generally, most of the youth in her study are more fluent and comfortable speaking English than Spanish, and they are least fluent in Zapoteca, which is stigmatized and mostly reserved for speaking with grandparents.

Naming themselves the New DREAMers, transborder youth negotiate their identities using language practices that are rooted in cultural and political hierarchies. Sociolinguists often refer to stigmatized language varieties or specific features of language, what lay people refer to as “accents,” in regards to prestige. We often criticize the less prestigious, stigmatized variety of a language while praising the dominant, higher prestige variety. Furthermore, higher prestige speech patterns that are considered normative or standard; one focuses on the content that their speakers are conveying. On the other hand, lower prestige varieties are considered irregular and substandard. Listeners tend to focus more on phonology and syntax rather than the substance of what the speaker is saying. These New DREAMers may speak varieties of Spanish that are lower prestige because they are different than what is spoken in Oaxaca. Conversely, their fluency in English is an asset that may be perceived as threatening by their teachers. These power dynamics and cultural fissions reflect the politicized nature of language.

The Reactions

After hearing about the project and viewing the 30 minute documentary on immigration, language, race, and class, audience members undoubtedly were feeling a mass of emotions. Personally, I was thrilled. I was impressed by Dr. Kleyn’s integration of mixed methods qualitative research and multimedia to magnify underrepresented voices. Her scholarship provides a model for me in several ways. As an Urban Education Ph.D. student who has been studying sociolinguistics since my freshman year of college in 1999, one could say that I have a close relationship with these topics. I’ve had time to mull them over, clarify questions, process strong emotions, and formulate my positions. But, this is not the norm.

Scholars from other academic disciplines and thematic clusters were processing their thoughts in the moment, perhaps unaware of the potential volatility in the atmosphere. The very first comment expressed in the discussion period was an anecdote about teaching multilingual children and a separate comment that drew attention to the fact that although youth had lived in the United States for several years, they still spoke English with a “Spanish accent.”

I am not sure where the comment was leading, or if there were a follow-up question planned after the anecdote and comment. However, I noticed that several audience members appeared to be uncomfortable and perplexed. What I heard in the comment was a lack of awareness about linguistic repertoires and the role of speech communities in shaping our linguistic repertoires. At the same time, I heard an ideological assumption of linguistic purity in the United States that is false and has been used as an instrument of racism in education, housing, and employment. It is this last piece that triggered some audience members, including my colleague who stated, “I’m sorry, but that is a racist statement!” He made other comments about being tired of racism at the Graduate Center before hurriedly leaving the room.

What happened? It was a charged context. We all hear and process information according to our own individual experiences and social positions. Bodies matter. Words matter. In recent months, my colleague and other Ph.D. students have experienced blatantly racist remarks such as being called ‘the N-word’ and ‘oriental’ in classes devoted to the scholarly study of language, power, and culture. They also have been subjected to sexist remarks in the same classes, and the individual rights of the offending parties—who are White—were prioritized over the rights of students of color and women.

Despite news articles to the contrary, I can attest that professors at the Graduate Center do in fact support the views of “conservative” and “right wing” students. They do in fact support academic dissent, even when it appears that comments teeter on racial and sexual harassment. And in this context, we students seek refuge in the lectures held at the Advanced Resource Collaborative with its stated commitment to promoting equity and critical, interdisciplinary dialogue. This work will not happen by itself. We must be intentional about forging community across boundaries of academic title, race, ethnicity, class, gender, linguistic background, and religion.

If a graduate student becomes enraged, do not question his intelligence or maturity. As Audre Lorde told us in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” there is a place for eros in the academy. There is a place for rage as a defensive mechanism against the protracted, systematic oppression of our psyches. The academy is not neutral. There is a place for passion that can be transformative in our relationships, but reflexivity is key. What triggered our strong reactions to certain comments or actions? What are our “non-negotiables” as scholars? What experiences and teachings inform the values that we bring with us? Is it possible to understand someone else’s values and perspective? Can we apologize for our offenses and forgive others for offending us? Let’s assume the best of each other and receive each other with patience and compassion. Those are the first steps to navigating these often dangerous crossings of memory, of lived experience, and of perspective. As an ARC community, this is the work that we are uniquely called to do in these times, and to the extent that we are successful, the reverberations of our efforts are manifold.

 

Written by Kahdeidra Monét Martin, M.S.Ed.

Ph.D. Student in Urban Education

The Graduate Center, CUNY

Mellon Humanities Alliance Graduate Fellow

 

Response to November 16, 2017 ARC Q&A on Accents in Relationship to Race & Nationality by Rachel Chapman

I felt the question on why the speaker had a Mexican accent and not an American accent was inappropriate and offensive as it others the speaker, in relationship to Standard English or “American accent.” I write this because CUNY has historically been a place of struggle and resistance against the white & patriarchal supremacy that is often upheld in the knowledge production of academia.  My response to the question regarding the American accent in relationship to the Mexican accent is a response and resistance to the hegemony of English and its attachment to white supremacy. This has a history of what Joel Spring describes as “cultural genocide” or deculturalization, by which an individual is stripped of their language and culture most predominantly through schooling institutions within the U.S. to uphold the dominant culture. Thus, the language and curriculum of schools privilege & legitimize the dominant culture & language, silencing & delegitimizing non-dominant voices and languages.

The upholding of the Standardization of English without question in a space we seek to liberate, creates strong emotion among those of us who have been subject to the deculturalization process and who work to reverse this process through our research, teaching and activism at the Graduate Center and at CUNY. The problem in marking a Mexican accent versus an American accent is that the term “American accent” is connected to the Standardization of English or Standard English, which carries privilege and domination (Bonfiglio, 2002). Those that deviate from the standard due to characteristics of their speech, such as accent, vocabulary and syntax, are marked as other. Standardizing a language creates a hierarchy on the basis of language, in that the standard form is given greater preference and legitimacy. Thus, those who speak the standard or “American accent,” hold greater privileges and are perceived as speaking “better” or without an accent, than those who don’t.

To illustrate the othering within the standardization of a language as well as its relationship with race, the article, “Expectations and Speech Intelligibility,” published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, shows how stereotypes regarding race and ethnicity influence our perception in how we listen to people speak. Conducted in Canada with Chinese Canadians and White Canadians, Babel & Russell found that participants expected a particular signal based on skin color; specifically, that if an individual wasn’t white, they were perceived to be a non-Native speaker of English. Babel & Russell conclude that expectations and stereotypes of how people should sound are used when we understand spoken language.

The question regarding why the speaker has a Mexican accent and not an American accent, marks the speaker as other and perhaps assumes the American accent is more desirable. This in turn upholds the superiority and standardization of English in the U.S. In addition, the question failed to recognize language acquisition of the speaker. While in the United States for 10 years as a child, the speaker learned to communicate in English. Based on the speaker’s narrative, English was the primary language they used to communicate and used little Spanish during this time. When the speaker moved to Mexico, the speaker started learning Spanish, their then primary language used to communicate, influencing the speaker’s English “accent,” as we heard in the video.

The notion of an “American accent” being the Standard or correct form to speak English, upholds superiority and privilege that is unfair to those who do not speak the Standardized or “American accent” English.

 

Written by Rachel J. Chapman

PhD Student of Urban Education, The Graduate Center

Teaching Fellow, Queens College

 

References

Babel, M., & Russell, J. (January 01, 2015). Expectations and speech intelligibility. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 137, 5, 2823-33.

Bonfiglio, T. P. (2002). Race and the rise of standard American. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Spring, J. H. (2016). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the education of dominated cultures in the United States. New York : Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary on Michael Paris’s “Radical Liberalism and School Desegregation”

Over sixty years ago, the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), determined that separating children into white and black schools was inherently unequal and that schools must integrate, “with all deliberate speed.” Despite the successes of the 1954 case, segregation based on race and class is on the rise, most especially for poor Latino students. Dr. Michael Paris, political scientist and professor of law at the College of Staten Island, presented on Thursday, October 19th at the Graduate Center, on the developments of his future book (working title), The Death and Life of School Desegregation: Racial Liberalism and American Constitutionalism. The book is based on his extensive research on the school desegregation case in Hartford, Connecticut: Sheff v. O’Neill (1996).

With the assistance of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Sheff v. O’Neill case originated with 18 school aged children and their parents (black, Hispanic and white) in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1989, they filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut (including Governor William O’Neill), citing the state had violated students’ state constitutional positive right to an equal educational opportunity, due to racial isolation and concentrated poverty. Specifically, the case cited the state spent fewer resources on public schools with majority Black/Latino populations, compared to schools with majority White populations.

The trial took 35 trial days, with testimony from 58 witnesses and some 1,000 documents of evidence. In 1995, the judge ruled in favor of the State, stating that the plaintiffs did not provide enough evidence to show that the state helped cause school segregation.  One year later, in 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the ruling and held that the state constitution “requires the legislature to take affirmative responsibility to remedy segregation, regardless of whether it has occurred de jure or de facto” (Paris, 2017). The court didn’t specify the particular remedies to be taken, but urged branches of state government to make de facto segregation a top priority. Due to the lack of specification, since 1996, the case has experienced five trips back to court, five consent decrees or agreements, several reform laws, approximately $2 billion in new expenditures and significant citywide school desegregation. The mechanism for desegregation has been voluntary for families and suburban districts, with the creation of inter-district magnet schools and a one-way urban to suburban transfer program. The result has been that by 2016, about 9,200 Hartford School District children or 45% total, attended desegregated schools, compared to 700 students or 3% in 1997. A desegregated school is defined as one in which the school population is 75% or less minority.

 Professor Paris’s analysis of why Hartford has been relatively successful at integrating schools where, in other cases, integration has failed so dramatically, starts with a critique of school desegregation efforts written by the legal scholar, Dr. Derrick Bell. Bell wrote his critique in 1976 in a Yale Law Journal article entitled “Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interests in School Desegregation Litigation.” Bell argued that these desegregation efforts were limited in several ways. The first is about the clients in cases like this, where Bell argues that these lawsuits claim to speak for the African American community as a whole, without actually establishing that the African American community shares the same goals as presented in the case. Paris believes that Sheff addressed this issue through community engagement, buy getting buy-in from the community, and having community members give vivid testimonies. Bell also believed that the focus of desegregation cases should be better education, not an ideological commitment to desegregation, per se. Sheff took this tact as well. Additionally, Bell made clear that previous desegregation efforts had been too legalistic and reliant on the courts, when the truth is that institutions and people don’t always follow the law in a way that is productive in meeting the goal of desegregation. Sheff made great efforts to have an educational and policy aspect to its work, thus avoiding the trap of relying too much on legalistic remedies. Lastly, Bell recognized the importance of focusing not on what courts say but instead what they actually do. Sheff took this into account through a framework of of moving from “needs to rights,” drawing on a previous court victory. Additionally, Paris argues that it was very important that Hartford built some excellent magnet schools in the central city, thus incentivizing suburban parents to bus their kids into the city for school.Despite the successes of the Sheff case and its attempts to uphold students’ rights to equal educational opportunities, Dr. Paris argues that schooling for students separated by race and class can never be equal. He cited the following social conditions: high rates of joblessness, crime & neighborhood violence, single parent households & family disruptions, recurrent evictions & housing relocations and frequent incidences of health problems, developmental disabilities and hunger. Additionally, schools where students are starkly separated by race and class, generally have less prepared teachers, high dropout rates, pre-packaged curriculum, high levels of student attrition, less parental involvement and fewer resources. Hence, Dr. Paris argues that housing policy is school policy. In order to achieve equal educational opportunities for all students, it is essential to re-create housing policy, the tax code for school funding and the distribution of social resources. What type of social movement is needed to achieve such legal changes? Who are the stakeholders that need to turnkey? What is the role of students and teachers in this movement? Where do we begin?

Written by: Rachel J. Chapman and Christopher Maggio

Paris, M. (2017). Racial Liberalism and School Desegregation: The Connecticut Case of Sheff v. O’Neill (1996). Presentation presented at the Advanced Research Collective, The Graduate Center, New York, NY.

Commentary on Jeffrey Reitz’s “Behind Immigration Debates” by Philip Johnson

What impact does public discourse about immigration have on the lives and experiences of immigrants? The expected answer to this question would be that a generally positive public discourse should have a positive overall consequence for immigrants. As Prof. Reitz demonstrates, however, there are a number of ways to problematize this expectation. On one hand, the positivity of public discourse is shaped by factors such as geography. On the other hand, variation in immigrant experience does not line up neatly with the benevolence of public discourse.

Prof. Reitz examines these varying effects by examining discourse and immigrant experience in France and Canada, with Quebec providing a third case, that fits somewhere between the other two. He probes the expected answer through a broad sweep of measures, from likelihood of reporting discrimination, to labor force participation. Overall, once the differences in immigrant demographics are taken into account, public discourse does not appear to decisively shape experience. Other factors, such as generational effects, exert more consistent influences across cases.

Of particular interest (at least to me) is Prof. Reitz’s close attention to the content of public discourse. While Canadian discourse might be generally characterized as very positive, with French discourse appearing far more negative – or at least, negating – about immigration, there is far more to the respective conceptions of immigration than just a positive/negative divide. Prof. Reitz sketches out the profile of the typical (according to public discourse) immigrant each country – the educated South Asian immigrant to Canada contrasting to the uneducated, poor North African immigrant to France – and notes the importance of history, geography, and other large, structuring factors in shaping these images. He also notes the shift after 9/11, with various immigrant identities suddenly congealing into a stark Muslim/non-Muslim divide.

As is so often the difficulty in social science, some of Prof. Reitz’s theorized mechanisms left me wondering about alternative explanations. In using reported discrimination as a measure of immigrant experience, is the discrimination, or the willingness and ability to report this more important? And if each of these might have a different effect, what overall effect can they be expected to have when bundled together into one variable? Should we even expect any one, overall effect?

 

September 28, 2017

Philip Johnson

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.

Demet Arpacik: Commentary on Angela Reyes’ Language, Mix, and the Postcolonial Elite

This week’s presentation by Dr. Reyes was a very good analysis of the convoluted relations of coloniality, class, race with the language in the center in the Philippines today. She first gave a historical trajectory of coloniality in the country under the Spanish and American rules. Then, she analyzed the current discourse around the Conyo register, a term that was historically used to refer to different groups of people who were the power holders, but lately came to also assume a form of linguistic register of the rich elite. Conyo is a Spanish word that literally refers to women’s genitals, but it was assigned new meanings throughout the colonial times; first used to refer to people of Spanish origin, and then to mixed races and lately to the Philippine elite.  She then, by putting the listening subject at the center, instead of the speaking subject, tried to understand the implications of Conyo language register (a mix of English and Tagalog with certain iconized features) after colonial times.

Reyes first described the Philippines as a bifurcated national state with non-Christian darker skinned savages (as it is generally referred) on one end of the spectrum and white Christians or mixed breeds on the other end of the power relations. During colonial times, the Mestizos (a mix of Spaniards and the local people) were the middle people, who on the one hand were seen as inferior to the Spanish rulers and but who, on the other hand, were holding higher status compared to the local people. For this reason, Mestizos had a very dubious representation in the eyes of the Spanish because while they were Spaniards’ best collaborators to enact colonial rules, Mestizos were still seen as having the blood of the local people and therefore were perceived by Spanish as treacherous and dangerous. After the end of colonial rule, there was a visible case of new subjectivity of the colonial elite (Mestizos mainly), who still ensures the enactment of colonial structures in the absence of a colonial rule. This privileged group keeps colonial structure intact and uses it for their own advantage. The most recent indicator of this situation is language. “Language is mapped on the race” stated Dr. Reyes and it holds an essential meaning in terms of the questions of coloniality. Since language has been a determining aspect in colonial times, those who spoke English or Spanish, have had de facto access to knowledge and positions of power.

The current language trends or ways of speaking are illustrations of changing interior alterities in the Philippines. Conyo is a type of speech that is believed to be characteristic of the rich elite Filipinos who mix English with Tagalog and use certain features of speech to differentiate themselves from the rest of the people. The term is now used not only to define a certain form of register, but also to describe a certain group of people who speak this register. It does not refer to real people, but rather to the objects of commentary.

Reyes stated that Mestizos or Filipino elite has middle class nationalist consciousness, a consciousness that is not completely restricted to an economic class, but to a class that aspires to have some material strength. Formation of this class cannot be understood without the analysis of Tanglish and Conyo way of speaking. After the end of colonial rule, the subject positions were redefined around different axis; distinct forms of speech being the most effective in determining subject positions. Conyo also came out of this consciousness and it is now coded as a different form of register. Two features are iconized in this register; mixedness (mix of English and Tagalog) and excessiveness (too many features that are highly used and are viewed as exaggeration). Mixedness and excessiveness extend beyond the description of Conyo register and are also used to describe Conyo people as speakers of this register. Conyo people are seen to aim for modernity and are very invested in keeping colonial relations. As a result of their representations by listening subjects, Conyo people (both an abstract and an embodied term) grapple with their postcolonial subjectivities. Dr. Reyes showed us a few listening subjects, who can be either rich people but not speak this register or local people who have other registers, interpreting this register and analyzing its features. Among these were videos of a young Filipino boy and an American Filipina woman who imitated Conyo speakers and used pejorative words to describe them. The boy even wrote an article called “10 Conyo Amendments” that listed 10 rules of Conyo register.

The presentation was a very good analysis of intersectionality of language, race, class to determine current forms of representation and power relations in today’s Philippines. It revealed the non-formal, yet very real forms of linguistic register, Conyo’s reinterpretation along the lines of race and class. Term Conyo carries the legacy of colonial times and the fact that it is still used to define a group of people, Filipino elite, tells much about the current relations between different groups of people. I would like to hear more about the term Conyo’s sexist reference and historical evolution. While distinct forms of linguistic registers are common among elite groups of almost any society, the Conyo case in the Philippines is special because it is also imbricated with race relations and colonial subjectivities.

~ Demet Arpacik

Nora Goldman: Commentary on Elana Shohamy’s “Linguistic Landscape as a Lens for Interpreting Societies Critically and its Contribution to Education and Learning.”

As Elana Shohamy, Professor of Language Education at Tel Aviv University’s School of Education, prepared to introduce the concept of linguistic landscapes to the ARC cohort, she was confident it would be accessible even to those who had never heard the phrase before.  Everyone present, she observed, was motivated by an interest in inequality and a desire for social justice.  It soon became clear that Shohamy’s work indeed transcends the disciplinary boundaries of linguistics or education, and is at its core concerned with equality.

A linguistic landscape, as Shohamy explained, includes all language in public spaces—signage, graffiti, advertisements, and anything else you can read when you go out in the world.  However, she was quick to stress that language alone does not make up the linguistic landscape.  All symbols can be “read”, and Shohamy’s work takes a broad view, arguing that the full semiotic landscape includes not just written linguistic symbols, but also buildings, art, sounds, smells, and human beings themselves.  Once one learns how to read the linguistic landscape, it serves as a window into much deeper societal issues: the social, political, economic, and educational realities of a community.  She argues that a linguistic landscape is a lens through which countless social issues can be discovered and analyzed, making this research relevant to all social scientists.

Shohamy’s work focuses on use of Hebrew, Arabic, and English in Israel.  Despite the passing of a law in 1999 requiring major freeway signs and street signs in integrated cities to be in both Hebrew and Arabic, the linguistic landscape remains a very uneven representation of Israel’s multilingualism.  To demonstrate this empirically, Shohamy and Eliezer Ben-Rafael (2006) conducted a quantitative study to determine the numerical breakdown of public language representation in multilingual cities.  They found that linguistic landscapes reflected the ideology and social realities of their communities, but not necessarily their demographics. In heavily Jewish areas, for example, Hebrew and English were the primary languages of public signage, whereas signs in Arab communities were almost exclusively in Arabic and Hebrew, with very little English peppered in.  In the contested region of East Jerusalem, the linguistic landscape was overwhelmingly Arabic and English, with hardly any Hebrew.

Ideology is also often transparent in the linguistic landscape as a result of top-down propaganda campaigns. Whether a city is attempting to turn inward and emphasize its essential Israeli-ness (as Tel-Aviv did with its Hebrew-only decorations for its centennial celebration) or present itself as a bastion of tolerance and multiculturalism to attract tourists, the government’s desired image is reflected in the language of its public spaces.  Unequal language representation can have obvious alienating effects on those excluded by the linguistic landscape, but can also have an observable practical impact.  If emergency exits and safety instructions are only labeled in Hebrew, for example, Arabic speakers do not have the same access to these public service announcements. Furthermore, the educational implications of exclusion from the linguistic landscape are striking.  In Hebrew-dominated areas, children who learn Hebrew in school can leave the classroom and remain surrounded by the medium of instruction.  But the Arabic-speaking children do not share the experience of continuous exposure to their mother tongue both inside and outside the classroom.

So what are we to do about the inequality of public spaces?  The goal of Shohamy’s work is to raise awareness of the importance of the linguistic landscape and to harness it for pedagogical purposes.  The linguistic landscape contains multitudes of insights that remain untapped by educators.  To illustrate the potential of incorporating the linguistic landscape into a curriculum, Shohamy shared a few illustrative anecdotes.  In one, high school students in the heterogeneous town of Jaffa documented the linguistic landscape in their community.  Before doing so, they all expected Arabic to be the best represented language in their data, reflecting the demographics of the area, but were surprised to find that Arabic was hardly attested at all.  The linguistic landscape they had inhabited for years had been mostly invisible to them until they were forced to examine it critically.  Shohamy also shared a personal anecdote starring her own granddaughter, whom she took linguistic-landscape-exploring.  When they came across an anti-war graffito, an intergenerational critical discussion ensued about the current state of political unrest in the region.  If educators incorporate the linguistic landscape into their pedagogical approach, the opportunities for critical thinking and debate are endless.  We are living in a giant text, Shohamy’s work tells us, so why aren’t we reading it?

References:

Ben-Rafael, Eliezer, et al. “Linguistic landscape as symbolic construction of the public space: The case of Israel.” International Journal of Multilingualism3.1 (2006): 7-30.

~Nora Goldman