This morning I dropped my son off at school, like I do everyday. On my way out I held the door open for a woman and a young girl. As they walked in I said “Good Morning” like I do to every family I encounter there. Except that, I said it in Spanish “Buenos Dias.” I might have said it in Spanish rather than English because I had just been talking to E in Spanish, but more likely than not I probably said it in Spanish because they had just been talking to each other in Spanish and they looked phenotypically Latinx. In response, the woman said “Thank you. Good Morning.”
E goes to a progressive child-centered school in the next town over. It is a racially and socio-economically integrated school – two of the key factors that led us to enrolling him here. Yet, as I drove away and reflected on what had just happened I realized something: the Latinx representation at the school is a very specific one. Most of the families that are Latinx appear to be Central and South American, definitely not Afro-Latinx. As I drove away the CodeSwitch episode on Amara La Negra (@AmaraLaNegraALN) that I had been listening to resumed playing. In it Amara talks about her struggles to find a place in North American (N.A.) society, a place that acknowledges not just her Latinidad but also her Africanness. However, when Latinxs try to stake claim to their blackness they are often told that they are engaging in instances of cultural appropriation. Yet, when Afrolatinxs walk down the street most people don’t see a Latinx, they see a black person. But what does that have to do with language? Everything. Essentially, what Afro-Latinxs are told is that society views us as Black and in order to be Black than we must silence our Spanish – otherwise we are accused of denying our blackness or culturally appropriating someone else’s.
Drs. Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa use the term raciolinguistics to describe the intersection of race and language. I am certain that what happened at E’s school this morning was an example of how raciolinguistics work in the world. You see, before 2015 I had very long hair. The texture of my hair combined with my features presented me as mixed, Latinx, exotic but definitely not Black. However, I’ve noticed in the last three years that my blackness is intensified by the shortness of my hair. The shorter it is, the Blacker I am perceived to be. So this morning that woman did not see another Latinx saying Buenos Dias, she probably saw a Black woman saying “Buenos Dias” and those two things are very different. I wasn’t another Latinx communicating community or likeness, instead I may have appeared to be a Black woman who questioned the other person’s capacity to speak English. She may have replied in English to enforce that she knew the dominant language; that she could communicate in English, Spanish need not apply.
Who gets to speak Spanish or any language other than English in the USA is a very critical question at this moment in time. In the last few days there has been a video circulating the web about an incident that took place at Fresh Kitchen. In the video a White male customer berates three Latinx individuals (customers and employees) for speaking Spanish. The man recites a common narrative claiming that this is America, his country and in his country/America people should/need to speak English. It was later revealed through social media investigations that the man in the video is a lawyer, a business lawyer who touts his multilingual capacities on his website. On his website he proudly claims that he speaks three languages other than English and can conduct consultations in any of those languages. So the three phenotypical Latinxs in the restaurant can’t speak Spanish, Amara and I – the phenotypically Black Latinx can’t speak Spanish but this man can. It’s not just his claim that he can and we can't, society has in many ways enforced this ideology.
When bilingualism is advertised as a financial and cultural resource within N.A. society, it implicitly also assigns who gets to call upon those resources: White, middle class (wo)men. In a systemically racist society all resources must be used to maintain the existing distributions of power. As such multilingualism can only serve as a tool to further the powerful, not to help elevate the powerless. The solution is not to simply create more bilingual programs as most bilingual education proponents would claim. It is also to promote bilingualism as a means to build and maintain community.
Bilingualism is central in my work, yes but its also critical to how I communicate with my family, to how I integrate myself into spaces while traveling abroad, its how I communicate with the myriad of service people who I encounter. As such any solution to monoglossic ideologies that is taken up must also find ways to address systemic racism in the USA and internalized racism and colorism within minoritized communities. There are several reasons why that woman may not have replied in Spanish: she may not have believed that Spanish is my home language, she may have wanted to exert her linguistic capacities, she may just be accustomed to speaking English to all the adults she encounters at the school, etc. Regardless, none of these reasons are representative of Spanish as a central, or even valuable, language in the lives of Latinx people in NA. That isn’t to say that Latinxs don’t value Spanish but rather that Spanish has become much more of a target on their backs than a target they’re trying to hit.
I walked away from that encounter feeling bad about using Spanish; I felt bad about the idea that someone didn't see me as a “native” Spanish speaker but also that someone would think that I was using Spanish as a way to talk down to them. Minoritized multilinguals are subject to so many types of respectability politics, and this is just another one. One that polices their language use – who can you speak your home language with? When? And for what reasons? Abiding by these rules is one of the ways that minoritized people contribute to linguistic erasure. No one should feel bad or be made to feel bad about using their full linguistic repertoire but the reality is that most minoritized multilinguals do… “only in America.”
 Any language other than English
 Phenotype n. "observable characteristics of an individual," 1911, from German phaenotypus (Wilhelm Johannsen, 1909); see pheno- + type (n.). Related: Phenotypic.
Definition of Terms
Intersectional Learning is a space where ideas about the lives of emergent bilingual learners with(out) dis/ability labels, inside and outside of school, are explored.
While my goal is to make the ideas and notions shared here as accessible as possible, there is some technical terminology that may come in to play given the nature of the topics covered. As such, this is a brief intro to common terminology and abbreviations that you may see used throughout the blog:
Ableism: discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities; Discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.
Dis/ability: The use of “dis/ability” rather than “disability” is done in order to continue the work of disabilities studies scholars who “believe the ‘/ ’ in disability disrupts misleading understandings of disability, as it simultaneously conveys the mixture of ability and disability” (Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2013, p.285).
EBLAD – Emergent bilingual labeled as dis/abled: The use of the term emergent bilinguals labeled as dis/abled (EBLAD) rather than English language learners with dis/abilities or English language learners with special education needs aims to dismantle the double deficit model that is produced by combining the term English language learner, which fails to acknowledge the linguistic resources that a student brings in, with the terms “with disabilities” or “special education needs,” which negate the social and structural power dynamics that are at play making dis/ability a result of individual failure rather than systemic inequality. By using the terms EBLAD an attempt is made at acknowledging a student’s full linguistic potential as well as emphasizing the imposing nature of labeling and categorizing children.
EBL - emergent bilingual learner: The use of the term emergent bilingual is a direct response to the use of English language learner (ELL) and limited English proficiency (LEP) by educators, schools, policymakers and the federal government. The purpose of the term is to underscore “the bilingualism that these students can and often must develop through schooling in the United States” in an effort to diminish the educational inequities these students continue to face by bringing to the center “the home languages and cultural understandings of these children” (Garcia, Kleifgen, & Falchi, 2008, p.6).
ELL – English language learner: a term used within the United States to identify students who speak languages other than English. While the my preferred term is emergent bilingual because it is reflective of an individual’s full linguistic repertoire, the term “English language learners” may appear when a text is quoted or cited.
Hegemony: The dominance of one group over another, often supported by legitimating norms and ideas. This term is used often to discuss topics like white supremacy (in which, one racial group exerts dominance over other racial groups through systemic and/or individual levels of oppression.).
Inclusion: The instructional practice of educating students labeled as dis/abled alongside their non-dis/abled peers.
Inclusive Classroom Setting: A classroom where students with dis/abilities learn alongside their non-disabled peers for most, if not all, of the school day.
IDEA – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, previously known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94.142): A federal educational mandate that was passed in 1975. Since then “students with disabilities have been guaranteed a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment” (Connor & Ferri, 2005. p.454).
Intersectionality: A theoretical concept used by critical race and feminist scholars, intersectionality is “the notion that subjectivity is constituted by mutually reinforcing vectors of race, gender, class and sexuality” (Nash, 2008). In short, intersectionality is the ideology that an individual’s experiences are not the result, nor reflective, of any singular demographic factor such as their gender alone but also their race, their social class and sexuality.
LAD – labeled as dis/abled: this term is used in lieu of the stand alone “dis/abled” or the qualifier “with dis/abilities” in order to acknowledge the fact that dis/abilities are not inherent of an individual but rather the product of categorizations enacted by external evaluators such as educators, psychologist and medical professionals. As such, the term LAD also brings forth the understanding that “all dis/ability categories, whether physical, cognitive, or sensory, are […] subjective” (Annamma et al., 2013). Great effort has been taken to ensure that the language used here and throughout is inclusive. However, terms referring to “students with disabilities” or “disabled students” may appear when a text is quoted or cited.
Latinx: The term Latinx is used as a way of “embracing the intersection between cultural identity and gender” by shifting from a masculine identifier, Latino, to a term that is inclusive of those who live within and outside the gender binary (Licea as quoted by Reichard, 2015, slide 6)
LRE – Least restrictive environment: a clause within IDEA that states that “To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (Castle, 2004, Sec. 300.114). In essence, the least restrictive environment refers to the learning environment that is most similar to that which is inhabited by typically developing children as opposed to an environment which would result in the isolation and segregation of a student labeled as dis/abled from their typically developing peers (often called the most restrictive environment).
Mothering: According to Evelyn Nakano Glenn (1994), mothering is
“a historically and culturally variable relationship ‘in which one individual nurtures and cares for another.’ Mothering occurs within specific social contexts that vary in terms of material and cultural resources and constraints. How mothering is conceived, organized and carried out is not simply determined by these conditions, however. Mothering is constructed through men’s and women’s actions within specific historical circumstances” (p.3).
As such “mothering” within this blog is taken to mean the self-identifiable ways in which women engage in the process of raising, caring for and nurturing their children (and other family members).
MRE – Most restrictive environment: a setting within a school or community that would result in an increased level of segregation between a student labeled as dis/abled and their typically developing peers. While this term is colloquially used with regularity as the inverse of “least restrictive environment” it does not appear formally in IDEA.
Raciolinguistics: scholars have used the term raciolinguistics to discuss the ways in which race and language intersect in order to explore the racialization, discrimination and othering of people who speak languages other than English.
Segregation: The act of separating students from the general population within a school on the basis of demographic factors such as spoken language and/or dis/ability label. As such students may be placed in inclusive classrooms, self-contained special education classrooms as opposed to participating in a general education classroom.
Self-contained: A special education classroom setting where students with dis/abilities learn alongside other students with dis/abilities exclusively. This setting is also reflective of a smaller student to teacher ratio than that which is found in traditional general education and inclusive education classrooms.
Intersectional Learning is a blog that discusses educational matters at the nexus of disability, language, race, ethnicity and gender.