Monday, February 23, 2009

The flow of spanglish & power of language

It was exciting to see what people had to say about our first question. It got me thinking that as a bilingual educator-FOR LIFE-I am finding that language is very misunderstood. In these times of looking down upon Spanish, immigrants, ebonics, we often forget that each language is beautiful and evolving. It is ever reflective of our place and time in the world. Nancy enlightens us with her words, "...could the f word come from "fuck you" and could fuku americanus be really as simple as "fuck you americans". Maybe the fuck you was returned to a Dominican and since we all [know] the strength of the return Fuck you, it probably stuck as a damnation..who knows..I am still savoring on that." There is no right language or wrong language. There is however power in crafting a phenomenal message.

Junot does this exceptionally well. I get his FLOW! The flow of mixing languages, thoughts that communicate. As ixchel33 put it, ”Seamless is a good word, I hadn't even noticed that there were words in Spanish, I didn't bat an eye when I read them” Why? ‘Cause the message is clear...well, at least for bilingual/bicultural readers.

Maureen shares the perspective of a non-native speaker of Spanish, “ Diaz just puts in the Spanish and lets you deal with it.” Rich says, "I say, no italics for Sterling Brown*, no italics for Junot Diaz. We're knee-deep in the new American idiom, y'all. Whether or not some folks are ready to accept that, of course, is a whole other story." Language is powerful!

I remember when I first discovered that I spoke Spanglish in my early twenties. I looking up at the sky (or my brain) searching for the best word after speaking English that would describe my thinking. This word was in Spanish not English! Ah yes…perfect! Is that what Junot did as he wrote Oscar Wao? How beautiful to be able to do that with your mind. Have one powerful message using words from different languages.

Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress and Blonde Faith states that Wao “is a book that speaks in tongues”. In more ways than one! Not only is Junot speaking to us in ethnic tongues, his references of sci-fi and comic books are definitely specific to a segment of American pop-culture language, and he also speaks in the tongue of Latin American history. Maybe, just maybe this is why La Mujer Maravilla (Love your tag name!) says, " The language seems more authentic."

I’ll think of African slaves screaming this curse word from the depths of their pain,” Jessica points out in reference to the word Fukú (Zafa! Just to be safe ;) Do you see the impact…the image…the context…the history that it brings? What a wonderful way to engage in history. Alejandra Ibañez captured my sentiments exactly, “It left me yearning to learn more about Dominican history.” I wonder if we can use this book with young people in high school?

*"In 1933 Sterling Brown published his first book of poetry Southern Road. It was a collection of poetry with rural themes and treated the simple lives of poor, black, country folk with poignancy and dignity. It also used authentic dialect and structures..." --from wikipedia


Irasema Gonzalez said...

Cynthia, I think this is definitely the kind of book that should be used in high schools. I've wondered about the relevance of some of the books that are assigned sometimes. I am so confident that it would engage students. I don't know if it would pass the censors, after all Bless Me Ultima and In the time of the Butterflies have both been banned in the recent past and compared to Oscar Wao the content in those books is g rated. The irony is that I know young people get (mis)educated on violence and sex through peers, tv and music.

Maureen Kelleher said...

I second Irasema's motion to use this book in high schools. As I've been reading I've been thinking about what a great book this would be to teach in *all* the schools where I've ever taught, including the suburbs.

Also, just had to make the comment that I was a big sci-fi nerd as a kid, so that piece of Diaz's language is native to me! It's so fun to see something I know very well (sci-fi/fantasy) used to explain things with which I am less familiar (Dominican history, I'm sad to admit).

Paloma said...

Yes! Oscar Wao should be taught in high schools. My son, at 13, attends a Jesuit Catholic middle school and they encouraged him to read it. He now can talk about Dominican dictatorship and hemispheric questions of colonization better than most of my suburban college students. Plus he can finally connect with a main character who is ostracized for being both smart AND brown. We don't get too many heroes/anti-heroes like that.

Also, reading moms should know: Chicago Jesuit Academy - all boys full scholarship middle school - accepting applications now. My son just got full ride offers to Latin, St. Ignatius and a boarding school on the W. Coast.

Jessica Phillips said...

Im pretty distant from the reality of high school, but Im guessing a book like this one wouldn’t be allowed, is that really true? If it is, how tragic that the education system can’t share people’s hard stories from adolescence with high school students. It is exactly the kind of book that I would have loved in high school precisely because, as many have said, it is honest. All the characters live every moment completely true to themselves, doing what they think is best or doing the best they can in each moment, even when everyone is telling them otherwise, and at times harsh are the consequences. Isn’t that what a lot of young adults struggle to figure out, how to be true to themselves, and learn what that means in relation to the world around them. Well hopefully all of us struggle with being true to ourselves regardless of age. Hmmm, this makes me wonder how we do teach people to follow their conscious, and how do we deal with the mistakes in that learning process.