Author Archives: suzannemateus

About suzannemateus

I write about my bilingual life on my blog, Interpretations of a Bilingual Life: http://suzannemateus.com/ I am also a monthly contributor for http://www.spanglishbaby.com/ where I write about my attempt to raise a trilingual baby. I have written (and am interested in continuing to do so) for other blogs focusing on my experiences about nursing my baby and about having an amazing intervention-free and med-free birth.

Ugly Suzanne or Navigating Academia as a Latina!

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2015

I wrote this post 4 years ago and never shared it. I am sharing it today because I have come a long way since then. I am now a doctoral candidate, and have several publications. I have applied to tenure-track jobs and have even been invited to go to an on campus interview. I decided to share it so that others that come across my blog see that it is possible to move past those lonely points in graduate school. This is my last year in the doctoral program. I am ABD and plan on walking next May! Si se puede!!!

2011

I was sitting in class (nervous about participating) and what happens every year in at least one of my graduate courses happened today! I said something, or at least felt like I said something stupid. Then it automatically feels like the whole room is spinning around me and the person speaking in response to my comment is moving in slow motion with a huge sticky note on her forehead that reads, “I am smarter than you will ever be and have ever been!” Of course this person is always Anglo and seems to be from a different upbringing. Yes, I am exaggerating!! The truth is that this was actually a reality when I was in high school and even as an undergrad at the same institution I am now.

There’s a part of me that will always be the attention-seeking, yet shy, Chicana from the barrio of Santa Ana, CA, kind of like Ugly Betty from Queens. I watched the show from the day it started and am currently rewatching the sitcom. It completely resonated with me because it reminded me of the experience I had as an undergrad in higher education. I started community college with such high hopes. I arrived almost two hours early on my first day because I really wanted to do well in the remedial math, reading, and writing courses I was placed in. Almost 20 years later I still feel like I don’t know as much as some of my doctoral peers. I hear their interpretations and think to myself, “Why can’t I interpret the reading as eloquently as they did?” or I compare my life story to theirs after hearing about how one of my classmates grandfather got his PhD from a Parisian university. I am pretty sure that about that same time my grandfather was immigrating to the U.S. as a bracero worker.

I’ll stop here with my self-reflection…..As I have mentioned before, this site is meant to help me understand various aspects of what it means to know more than one language, and that includes my personal story. In addition, writing can be very cathartic and after today’s episode, in class and on Ugly Betty, I felt the need to rant a bit….to better understand why, at times, I feel so alone in my doctoral program and why, at times, it feels like maybe I don’t belong.

**Don’t leave me, “Si se puede” comments, please. I was just ranting for therapy…for me.

I am Bilingual or Translanguaging Practices

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If you speak to me in Spanish and I respond in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If I start a sentence in Spanish and finish it in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If I can’t remember a word in Spanish, but remember it in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If you say you like my accent in Spanish, but not my accent in English it’s not because I don’t speak English well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

Translating the sense of “orderliness” in another country….

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After several months of living in Guayaquil, specifically Samborondon, I have finally reached a point where I can see their sense of orderliness. It happened when I was driving down, like I do everyday, the infamous peninsula strip in Samborondon. Driving in this upper-class suburb is nothing compared to the intensity and vibration Guayaquil, the nation’s largest city, across the bridge from Samborondon offers, but, still…this is MY reality. As I was saying, I was driving back from dropping off my daughter at school and I started to see how traffic really does flow. Yea, I can “cut” people off here, honk to communicate more frequently than in the U.S., and it’s, for the most part, okay. I started to see the role traffic cops play in keeping the street moving (some would argue otherwise), how pedestrians knew when to cross the street despite the lack of a cross walk, and how everything and everyone, including myself, seemed to flow in sync. It was a pivotal point in my time here because it meant that I had assimilated or gotten used to how things work here. In fact, the first time I drove here I remember spitting out every single cuss word I knew (in English and Spanish!) and feeling a sense of bewilderment when I analyzed how in the world I was going to get through the crazy traffic congestion that presented itself in front me. All in all, if I could offer any advice to future or current drivers in Guayaquil, I would say, “Worry about what lies ahead and let those behind you figure out the rest.”

My Book Review about Translanguaging

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If you are interested in a summary about what Translanguaging is, how it manifests in bilingual speech, and a little about how teachers can empower students through the use of 2 or more languages, click on the link below. http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/IMkqaHYpnNWh4VUmt6HV/full

Language use, accents, and stereotypes.

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In Anjelah Johnson’s “Nail Salon” comedy act, which aired on the Comedy Time network in 2007, there is a deliberate use of marked language or speech markers by a speaker from outside the group in question. In fact, mocking speakers from outside her ethnic and racial group is a common theme in many of her acts. In the act, “Nail Salon” she is, in my opinion, attracting anyone that has ever frequented a nail salon where the majority of the employees were Asian. The sociolinguistic variables this paper will focus on include: the stereotypes towards Asian speech, attitudes towards code switching, and how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways.
Johnson demonstrates a common stereotype towards Asian speech, specifically Vietnamese female manicurist speech. Having grown up in Southern California, where a large Vietnamese community resides, and also where Johnson is from; I could completely relate to her comedy act. According to Ronald Wardhaugh, “To say of a member of such a group that he or she will always exhibit a certain characteristic behavior is to offer a stereotype (p.120).” Johnson reinforces the female Asian manicurist stereotype through her use of speech markers, which include, “…social categories of sex, ethnicity, social class, and situation [which are] clearly marked on the basis of speech (p.121).” Whether or not the video attracts or repels members of targeted group, Vietnamese female manicurists or people of Vietnamese origin, is questionable. According to YouTube’s statistical information about who is viewing this specific video it is evident that the group most attracted to Johnson’s act are women between the ages of 13-54 years old.
By deliberately using the speech of a working class, Vietnamese female, in the particular context of a nail salon and as a speaker from outside the group in question Johnson is sending several messages about attitudes towards Asians in general. In particular, she is sending a message about the way Asian speakers code-switch and the attitudes associated with it when it occurs in a nail salon. Wardhaugh describes code switching as having two distinct purposes: situational and metaphorical. “Situational code-switching occurs when the languages used change according to the situations in which the conversants find themselves; they speak one language in one situation and another in a different one (p.104).”
In the case of the “Nail Salon” comedy act, Johnson exemplifies the use of metaphorical code switching. According to Wardhaugh metaphorical code-switching occurs as, “…a change of topic [which] requires a change in the language used…it has an affective dimension to it: you change the code as you redefine the situation- formal to informal, official to personal, serious to humorous, and politeness to solidarity…to show how speakers employ particular languages to convey information that goes beyond their actual words, especially to define social situations (p.104).” The particular instance where Johnson demonstrates metaphorically code-switching is when she criticizes the manicurists’ work on one of her nails. The manicurist, after some debate as to whether or not Johnson’s nail was actually flawed, decides to fix the nail, and instantly begins to code-switch with another employee. It is implied that Johnson is left wondering what Tammy, the manicurist, could possibly be saying to her fellow employee. In the middle of speaking Vietnamese, almost to cover up what was really being said, Tammy says in her heavily accented English that her fellow manicurist thinks Johnson is pretty. She was, according to Wardhaugh’s definition of metaphorical code switching, using Vietnamese and English “…to convey information that goes beyond her actual words (p.104).” In other words, Johnson does a great job of showing us how quickly the manicurist went from being “all about customer service” to extremely annoyed when Johnson critiques her work and doesn’t, for the first time in the act, give in to the manicurists requests or suggestions. This leads to the final sociolinguistic variable: how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways.
Earlier I mentioned the use of speech markers as a variable. According to Wardhaugh’s description of speech communities it is, “…through speech markers [as] functionally important social categorizations [that can be] discriminated…For humans, speech markers have clear parallels…it is evident that [these] social categories of…sex, ethnicity, social class, and situation can be clearly marked on the basis of speech… (p.121).” In the comedy act, “Nail Salon” the “female Vietnamese manicurist” is obviously from a certain social class: she is an immigrant serving American standard English-speaking individuals.
The last variable, how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways, is in my opinion a mode of survival for the manicurist. At the beginning of the act Johnson mentions how the women at the salon are all about customer service. In fact, Johnson demonstrates how good they are at getting you to purchase more services repeatedly throughout the act. The manicurist has learned how to use language in socially meaningful ways. She is constantly complimenting the customer and acting very interested in her life, which is important because Asians are known to be very modest people who don’t like to bring attentions to themselves or others, but in this act Johnson demonstrates how the Asian manicurist has learned that Americans favor an individualistic perspective and the manicurist taps into that knowledge in order to get Johnson to buy more services. In other words, there is more than one stereotype being displayed.
As a Mexican-American and Native American comedian Anjelah Johnson falls under the category of being a speaker from outside the Vietnamese community. It is interesting to note whether or not the targeted group would actually repel or be attracted to Johnson’s comedy act of “Nail Salon.” After reviewing comments the video received on YouTube I could only identify one that may have been from an Asian person given his/her name, SgtTsuki’s. He/she stated, “Gahh!! It’s so wrong to laugh and feel offended at the same time!!” I am still left wondering if people who belong to the Asian community would feel offended. Maybe some members would, such as those who speak with an Asian accent, but others who are American-born and do not speak with an Asian accent may not.

Written in 2010—in rough draft form, but worth the share.

 

My Disclaimer

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Though my explorations of bicultural/bilingual experiences may allude to, or state quite blatantly, general perceptions about “Latinos” I by no means intend to offend anyone reading my blog. In addition, I consider my comments mere attempts to better understand why we communicate or hold certain ideals about one another. My main objective is to gain a better understanding, both personally and professionally, about my bilingual and bicultural experiences as I mentioned in the category titled, “About my blog”

This disclaimer was originally published in 2007.

*This applies to any other social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) venue I use to express my experiences, perspectives, & observations.