D.16: Bridging Cultures, Languages, and Lands: An Illustration of Latina/o and Chicanx Rhetorical Practices
Reviewed by Christina V. Cedillo, University of Houston–Clear Lake (firstname.lastname@example.org, cvcedillo at gmail.com)
Chair: Laura Anne Carroll-Adler, University of Southern California
Speakers: Victor Del Hierro, Michigan State University, “Familia-From-Scratch: Disrupting Settler-Colonialism through Indigenous Chicanx Histories of Migration”
Laura Gonzales, Michigan State University, “Insights into Multilingual Digital Work Coordination: ‘It’s Not about Writing in English or Writing in Spanish, It’s about Being All the Time in Both Worlds’”
Alexandra Hidalgo, Michigan State University, “A Video Exploration of the Hybrid Cultural Identities of Bilingual Latina/o Children”
U.S. educators must be prepared to meet the needs of Latinx students, who are members of the fastest growing minority group in the country, as well as members of other linguistic minority groups. Carlos Ovando (2003) argued that U.S. educational language policies tend to stress “the superiority of American ‘civilization’ and democratic institutions” while simultaneously promoting English-only instruction that “destroys minority cultures and…maintains colonial domination” (p. 6). Thus, it is important for educators to see their students’ backgrounds as valuable, integral aspects of learning contexts rather than problems to be erased or overcome.
Teachers of composition are especially poised to incorporate the richness of their students’ home languages and dialects into productive pedagogies, as demonstrated by the speakers featured in Session D.16. The presenters examined many of the cultural and linguistic survival strategies used by Latinxs and Chicanxs both inside and outside the academy and invited the audience to consider how they might gain from the approaches already deployed by students. Their research also underscored the illusory distinctions we tend to draw between classroom and real-world contexts. Students’ needs do not disappear at the classroom door and what they learn in the classroom has an effect on their everyday lives. Each speaker looked at a different way by which Latinxs negotiate language use and language transfer in predominantly white spaces, highlighting the often-overlooked rhetorical dexterity and invention that Latinxs deploy for survival purposes. The research presented by the panelists exemplified the conference theme, “Writing Strategies for Action,” in very productive ways.
The first presenter was Victor Del Hierro, who used Cherríe Moraga’s (1986) notion of familia from scratch to think about how migrant peoples create community with those with similar experiences and who have been through similar struggles. Attention to migration is especially important when speaking of Mexican and Chicanx people because migration is an indigenous practice, and a fundamental element in the history and existence of Mexican peoples. He also drew on the work of Dylan Miner (2014), who wrote about low-riding as an indigenous ontology that privileges the slow-movement that permits people to establish ties to the land as they travel, in contrast to the capitalist and colonial movements defined by haste and disconnection. Bringing together observations about the travels of migrant farm workers and college students with his own, he highlighted the unique relationship that Mexican and Chicanx people maintain migration and narrative as intertwined praxes.
Del Hierro ’s presentation focused on Mexican and Chicanx students who have entered new academic environments and are away from their families. Students use their home language, Spanish, to create new familias from scratch in order to survive in the predominantly white spaces of academia. Students must do this because the university is part of settler colonialism, which attempts to erase indigenous people and their practices. Rather than highlight ethical relationships to the land and one’s surroundings, settler colonialism stresses domination and control. Unlike the slow movement of indigenous peoples, settler colonialism creates distance and difference. This aspect of settler colonialism can be seen when universities separate themselves from the surrounding communities. Their occupation of the land translates into service learning courses that impose university ideals on the community with no attention to the community’s needs or to reciprocity.
Through the framework of familias from scratch Del Hierro discussed his participation in Nuestros Cuentos, a collaborative service-learning project between MSU and the Lansing Public School District that was founded and is directed by Estrella Torrez. He explained that, as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at El Paso, his engagement with school changed once he began to feel accountable to his community. This happened when he worked as a mentor and tutor with UTEP’s Gear Up Program. Accountability figures into the work students do as part of Nuestros Cuentos, as does mobility. Students spend time at MSU and at their local school sites, compose and publish short stories, and create classrooms and community. Their participation in this program allows them to create scaffolding practices based in their home languages and experience new practices that help them navigate different environments. Both sets of practices are crucial to student success and retention, and so Del Hierro suggested universities should provide more occasions for Mexican and Chicanx students to participate in community-based service learning opportunities.
The second speaker was Laura Gonzales, who examined the research surrounding digital work coordination. Digital coordination entails the moves that professional writers make between digital resources and communities when they are writing for the web. She explained that most of the research in the field focuses on monolingual (English) speakers and contexts, though insights gleaned from looking at the translation strategies of multilingual writers can prove useful to instructors of technical writing. Citing research on code meshing (Fraiberg, 2010) and the blending of minoritized dialects and world Englishes (Young & Martinez, 2011), she suggested translation as a framework that fully acknowledges the rhetorical, cultural, and technical knowledge that multilinguals bring to the table.
Gonzales discussed her qualitative study conducted among professional writers working at Knightly News at the University of Central Florida. She looked at the ways that these writers composed bilingually, finding that they employed many of the same strategies that writers use in digital environments; these included reading aloud, negotiation, gesturing, and the use of digital translation tools. Out of 2,871 translation moments, the writers used more than one strategy 50% of the time. One especially interesting finding was how writers honed their use of translation applications: while the novice student might attempt to translate words or word clusters directly and then deconstruct and reconstruct for meaning, the experienced student was more likely to make deconstructing and reconstructing for rhetorical suitability and effectiveness part of the translation process.
Gonzales’s presentation revealed that writers do not just use technology to translate between languages; translation itself is a technology that allows people to engage in a culturally situated and creative praxis. By centering translation in the writing situation we can begin to understand that composition is always about negotiation because there is never a single language that is intrinsically correct. Instead, diverse contexts call for unique strategies and rhetorical approaches. Translation as a pedagogical framework also honors those literacy practices that students bring with them to the classroom because it highlights their perspectives about what works for members of their respective communities, who they see as their audiences, and what approaches they deem most appropriate in particular settings. Ultimately, multilingual writing is a complex and detailed process. By examining the composing practices of multilingual writers, educators can learn new strategies that will prove invaluable to technical writing students composing across languages, contexts, and fields.
In the final presentation, Alexandra Hidalgo spoke about her use of video to capture the literacy practices of multilingual speakers. Video provides a richer portrait of a speaker and their praxis because images and sound allow the researcher to capture the contexts of, and connections made by, language use more fully. Hidalgo states that multilingualism is both political and rhetorical: In learning more than one language, a person develops connections to more than one culture, composing a hybrid identity that allows the individual access to more than one perspective. To illustrate these matters, she screened her documentary Alto Precio: The Cost of Raising Bilingual Children.
Alto Precio is the moving story of her son William’s reluctance to speak Spanish and of Hidalgo’s efforts to ensure that he will embrace both English and Spanish. In an interview with her mother, Hildago described her own resistance to speaking English after returning with her mother to Venezuela from the U.S. following her parents’ divorce. Citing Marilisa Jimenez Garcia’s (2011) view that a “discussion of language…is always a discussion of power” (p. 418), she noted that refusing to speak English was a form of protest over losing her old life. After working with tutors and returning to the U.S. at the age of 16, Hidalgo regained her fluency. In a touching observation, she notes that her accent remains, to her a reminder of her parents and life in Venezuela, to others a sometime sign of her status as an outsider.
Hidalgo spoke to William in Spanish for most of his early life. By the time he was almost two, he spoke mostly Spanish, and as he began to make sentences, he blended both languages. Once he entered school, things changed and he began to speak one or the other depending on his audience. However, once his brother Santiago was born William began to reject Spanish and now says that he doesn’t like it, though that is the language that connects them to Hidalgo’s mother and their Venezuelan culture. The documentary went on to show the strategies that she and her husband, Nate, have used to raise their sons in a bilingual environment, such as having Spanish-only lunches and asking that William “help” his father practice Spanish. She continues to find ways to ensure that William does not lose his Spanish, although she often wonders whether the strategizing and pressuring William are worth it. Considering the high cost in terms of losing one’s roots and sense of place, Hidalgo has decided this is the price that must be paid so that he can be more open, empathetic, and creative as he grows.
Contemplating the preservation strategies developed by multilingual speakers like Hidalgo and her family is beneficial for teachers of composition because these strategies illuminate the difficulties faced by translingual speakers and writers. These strategies also allow insight into the attitudes of speakers as they navigate complex social situations and make rhetorical choices regarding language use. As individuals navigate transcultural contexts, they must negotiate networks of norms, values, and biases of their own and those of others. By addressing these matters in the classroom, educators can help students learn to do this with discernment.
As a whole, this panel was instructive and encouraging, and I look forward to seeing the panelists’ respective work in published form so that others may benefit from the knowledge they shared. Although each speaker’s research is unique, together they demonstrated that our life experiences and survival strategies prove indispensable to us as writers and researchers, students and teachers. They also showed that we theorize and compose in the everyday, and those efforts must be acknowledged and appreciated. Only by understanding this can educators formulate pedagogies that express respect for all students, their respective cultural backgrounds, their home languages, and their needs as individuals.
Fraiberg, Steven. (2010). Composition 2.0: Toward a multilingual and multimodal framework. College Composition and Communication, 62(1), 100–126.
Garcia, Marilisa Jimenez. (2011). "Radical bilingualism": Language borders and the case of Puerto Rican children’s literature. Changing English, 18(4), 417–423. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2011.630199
Miner, Dylan. (2014). Creating Aztlán: Chicano art, Indigenous sovereignty, and lowriding across Turtle Island. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press.
Moraga, Cherríe. (1986). Giving up the ghost: Teatro in two acts. Los Angeles, CA: West End Press.
Ovando, Carlos J. (2003). Bilingual education in the United States: Historical development and current issues. Bilingual Research Journal, 27(1), 1–24. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15235882.2003.10162589
Young, Vershawn Ashanti, & Martinez, Aja Y. (Eds.). (2011). Code-meshing as world English: Pedagogy, policy, performance. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.