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Am I a Language Traitor??

As a white woman with advanced proficiency in Spanish, I have often been shunned by other white people throughout my life. I slightly remember feeling different than other white people when I was in high school, because I would often hang around with latinos and I was always interested in learning Spanish. Other students used to poke fun at me and say that I had an “identity crisis” and that I thought that I was Mexican. At the time I was very confused because I thought that bilingualism and multiculturalism were a positive thing, but many of my peers shunned me and made me feel as if there was something wrong with me.

Throughout college, I often found that it was difficult to relate to other white people who did not speak another language or had any sense of multiculturalism. I mainly hung out with latinos, but I had a few white friends who didn’t necessarily speak Spanish or another language, but they loved to travel and were very open minded. In college I didn’t sense so much that people were shunning me for speaking another language, because I was honestly too busy working, studying and attending classes. Yet I always carried with me that I was different than other white people in some way.

When I first was hired as a bilingual teacher, I could sense that many of the other white teachers were dissatisfied with me because I was a bilingual educator. They would often smirk if I talked about bilingualism or they would make slightly rude comments. Over time, some of them became extremely vicious towards me-many of them began to be much more vicious to me than they were to some of the other native Spanish-speaking teachers. I could never really understand what it was about my speaking Spanish and being a bilingual educator that was so unnerving to them.

In my current position, I have noticed (and I am not sure if this is really happening, or if it is something that I am imagining), but I have noticed that this same trend has continued in my current job as a bilingual coordinator. I sense that I make certain other people in the school district very upset because I am an advocate for bilingual programs and English language learners. I have spoken to some of my latino colleagues, and they have also noticed that the same people who are nice (but often patronizing) to them are just downright mean and vicious to me, often making subtle remarks about bilingualism.

The other day I was in a meeting and I approached two of my monolingual white colleagues. I asked them, “How do you say triptongos in English? I know that it’s not tripthongs. Is that a word in English? I don’t know what the English equivalent is”.

They both looked at me incredulously with an extremely dirty look on their face until finally one of them sneered at me with a disgusted sound in her voice, “How do you not know how to say something in English? Isn’t English your native language? That’s ridiculous!” She then turned her back on me.

I felt so hurt and humiliated at the time.  And sick and tired of often being treated this way by people. At the time I couldn’t help feeling ashamed that I felt hurt, because I know that this incident is nothing compared to the daily acts of racism that many people of color and language learners are subjected to on a frequent basis. But deep in my heart I also felt a sense of resistance and a fire that caused me to finally blurt out for the first time in my life, “I suppose that if you don’t know another language that you wouldn’t understand”.

I used to frequently discuss this dilemma with my father and he often told me that other monolingual white people probably treated me like this because they were jealous that they couldn’t speak another language. I guess so. But I’ve always suspected that there is something much more sinister going on with this dynamic. But then again, maybe I am just a big conspiracy theorist.

It wasn’t until I was in college when I brought this up to my African American adviser and he told me a story of a white pastor who had organized with the black community in the 1960s. He clearly recalled one occasion when a group of other white people on the sidelines attacked the white man and began screaming, “You race traitor! You ____ (insert offensive racial term) lover!” I can still hear it clearly in my mind when my professor turned to me and said, “You are a race traitor to these people. They despise you because you stand in solidarity with people of color. And they hate you for it”.

Or am I a language traitor in their eyes, challenging their monolingual dominance???

Is that what is going on here?? I just don’t know. And quite frankly, if this is what is actually occurring, then I don’t even know why I am letting it bother me because they are just a bunch of intolerant jerks.