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  • Writer's pictureVianney Gavilanes

Language and Identity: Twin Skin

“So, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language.” Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Lately, I have been thinking about the connections between Spanish and English and the push and pull of bilingualism and voice. I have been working on a special creative writing project that is dear to my heart and has brought up many things for me. As I design this project for adolescent Latinx girls, I reflect on my six-year-old self, a young child who had just arrived in sunny California from Mexico in late August of 1992. I think about the excitement filling her heart when she was told she would soon learn English. Learning English was a positive thing for this little brown girl because she loved learning, and the thought of communicating with others in another language intrigued her. Little did she know that for the educators of the time, it meant learning English at the expense of losing her Spanish. She couldn’t understand why her Spanish was not valued and celebrated in school; instead, it became a hindrance, a problem to her becoming proficient in English. That little girl entered American schooling ready to become an emergent bilingual but English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching was not prepared for her; she was ahead of her time. So she, just like many other English language learners, was implicitly taught that Spanish was the language of home and English the language of school.

Over 30 years have passed, and we are still confronting the politics of bilingualism and, in particular, the second-class status of Spanish. When I listen to the voices of youth of color, I think about language and the work of love needed to affirm their authentic selves. I am reminded that embracing our students means affirming their creative dreams, cultural wealth, and linguistic repertoire in all aspects of learning. Ultimately, recognizing the inextricable connections between identity, language, and culture inheres, acknowledging our twin skin.

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