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.

Bilingualism in Ecuador

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Bilingualism is highly valued in Ecuador. There is no doubt about that. That being said, I have been trying to understand how Spanish and English work here.  All of the private schools I have visited promote becoming bilingual. The public schools, from what I have heard, also promote bilingualism, but at a completely different level. Here’s the interesting observation I have made. Rarely, if ever, do I hear locals speaking English. In fact, I sense a level of discomfort interacting in English. It’s as if English is a tool with a certain purpose. The purpose being several ones: travel, business, or to speak with someone from another country.

There is something about Spanish and English that definitely stands out. People here code-switch or it could be a form of language mixing (which I can explain in another post). For example, I was speaking to another parent about sleep training her children when she said, “No fue facil. Tenia los dos mellizas durmiendo en el mismo cuarto o como dicen los gringos, ‘it wasn’t a piece of cake.”

There is English everywhere we go. You will see it as the name of business, like Sweet & Coffee. Thought I think it should read: Sweets & Coffee. Which leads me to my next observation. Sometimes the translations are off like a store in the mall advertising: joyas de boda. In English they wrote, marge jewelry. Huge mistake.

All in all, our experience as a bilingual family in Ecuador has been amazing. I look forward to sharing more about those experiences in future posts as well. Our daughter has certainly improved how to associate people with language. She switches between Spanish and English almost flawlessly. I think we are on track in raising a prolific code switcher and someone who is proud to know more than one language. Just the other day she said, “En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!”

 

My First 30 days in Guayaquil, Ecuador

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If I had a video of the images or words that caught my eye during my first 30 days in a 3rd world country you would see the following:

Brown skinned workers arriving early in the morning to work in the homes of those more privileged…
A new sound of birds chirping…
Rain, rain, rain, and more rain…
Taxi drivers honking here and there looking to make another dollar….
Palm trees and coconuts….
The woman outside the church parking lot asking for something to get her by….
Stores with merchandise double to triple the price compared to the U.S.
Flip flops worn by the empleadas….
Eggs sold in non-refrigerated aisles….
Some of the only items less expensive here includes Chilean and Argentine wine…
Quechua, the language of the indigenous people, is completely devalued by many…..
English, on the other hand, maintains a high level of superiority….
Across the bridge (away from la puntilla) is a completely different world….

(still revising, but wanted to share what I have seen)….

Female Warrior

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I am a female warrior.

I have earned the scars I wear.

Sometimes with shame or embarrassment.

Though they are earning my respect.

A friend once told me, “Women of our age can walk into a room with a different presence than when we were in our 20′s”

I am a female warrior.

These scars I wear came with great passion, pain, emotion….

They represent how I have evolved.

These scars tell a story.

The ones on my legs show the hours I spent on my feet working to pay the bills, to get by, to get an education.

I am female warrior and I am determined to wear my scars with pride.

The ones on my stomach were intimately stretched as a bore my two daughters.

I have scars.

Like Ricardo Arjona sung so beautifully, “No le quite años a su vida
Pongale vida a los años que es mejor”

As I move through my 30′s, leaving the 20′s further and further behind, I am also redefining my sense of what it means to be a woman. A beautiful woman.

Each scar I wear carries with it a story of the journey I’ve made in life.

My hands are worn—they have worked, they have written, they have carried, they have lived.

I am a female warrior.

And I am learning to be proud of my scars.

Who makes it to the rooftop? A perspective of how social class and race play pivotal roles in shared experiences.

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The following post was inspired by two other blog posts and an assignment by one of professors in graduate school. In other words, as you have seen on my blog a lot of my stories interweave with each other. They all contribute to the dense fabric that makes up  my ever-evolving, never static identity. ENJOY.

As I was sipping my delicious peach cream martini from the rooftop of a prominent bar in Manhattan I glanced around and noticed that most people, lucky enough to enjoy this experience, were, or appeared to be, white. It’s truly a small percentage considering the hundreds of people that walk the streets of New York City, not to mention the amount of diversity amongst pedestrians! There are obvious factors to take into account, such as the possibility that the faces making an appearance on the rooftop are mostly those of tourists, although I think I can still pose the same question. This thought exactly is one of the reasons why I am pursuing a PhD in bilingual education. Analyzing how certain individuals make it, to say a rooftop to enjoy a view and cocktail, seems to have always permeated my mind to the point of frustration, making me wish I could see beyond the “benefits” of race and social class (i.e., gender, immigrant generational status, ethnicity). In other words, sometimes I wish I knew less, questioned and analyzed less. Frankly put, sometimes I wish I could change the way I interpret life; sometimes ignorance is bliss.

The theoretical concept of intersectionality has forced me to reconsider the aspect of my identity I have honed in on for most of life: ethnic/racial identity. The readings and critical class discussions have made me realize how much the other aspects of my identity have influenced how I participated in the construction of my overall identity.

This paper will address how my ethnic/racial identity has been shaped by the intersection of my other identities: gender, class, & immigrant generational status. My multiple identities were partly shaped within the context of the school setting. In other words, the social location from where I will deconstruct my overall identity comes from one context that has resonated with me the most: the academic school setting.

The concept of intersectionality describes identities in relation to each other where each one constitutes the other. An individuals’ social location within this intersectionality helps shape the experiences we have within certain contexts (Moya, 2002). For instance, if we think of my ethnic/racial identity in relation to my immigrant generational status, gender, and class in the context of a school setting where the majority of the students share a similar background one could argue that my positionality carries nearly equal footing with others. In a completely different context, where my social location (as previously described) is completely different from my peers one could argue that my positionality has also changed. According to Holland, Skinner, Lachiotte, and Cain (1998), “Positional identities have to do with the day-to-day and on-the-ground relations of power, deference, and entitlement, social affiliation, and distance—with the social-interactional, social-relational structures of the lived world.” (p. 127). This analysis will explore how aspects of my identity were negotiated and mediated using cultural artifacts or tools to (re)position where I stood on the hierarchy of social relations (Garcia, 2012; Holland et.al, 2008).

In the eighth grade my family moved from a predominately Mexican and working class city (Santa Ana, C.A.) to a predominately White and middle to upper class city (Mission Viejo, C.A.). By moving to a very different city aspects of my identity and how they related to one another also seemed to change. Additionally, there were several pivotal changes that occurred almost simultaneously. My father passed away changing the way our home was organized. In retrospect, this is when my mother gained her sense of agency as the matriarch of our now entirely female home. My identity as a female, though I did not realize at the time, was now being shaped by my mother’s transformation from a devoted wife to an independent woman who really wanted to see her three daughters take on more feminist roles in society outside the home.

Due to my father’s passing (cerebral aneurysm) our economic status changed because he left behind several life insurance plans. My mother saw this as an opportunity to try and provide us with a better education and safer neighborhood to live in. The ways my change in class intersected with other aspects of my identity was influenced by the new context (as mentioned earlier) I found myself in a predominately white, middle to upper class neighborhood.

The aspects of my identity that seemed to have changed the least as a result of the move included my ethnic/racial identity and my immigrant generational status. Interestingly, it was those two aspects that seemed to have also changed the way the school setting positioned me. In Santa Ana I was positioned as the smart student by teachers and by my peers and in Mission Viejo I was placed on a remedial track. Slowly and painfully I began to see myself as just that: remedial. When I graduated from high school in 1994 I had an academic GPA of 2.49 and I ranked 226 in my class of 367. Most, if not all, of the courses I had taken were not college prep. They were courses for students who, as one teacher described, “designed for those who will go straight to work” after graduating.

This remedial status followed me through community college and my first semester at UT. I started community college with high hopes of exiting the remedial reading, writing, and math courses I was placed in (again!), which I did within a few years. Once transferring to UT I failed my first semester and was put on academic probation due to my 1.5 G.P.A. During my second semester I was removed from academic probation and I wish I could say the rest is history, but it wasn’t. I still felt like that remedial student and in many ways it has prevented me from exploring other aspirations.
Fortunately or not, it took pursuing a doctorate to understand what happened to me and how I really am not the person the track I was put on labeled me as. This past academic year (which is also my fifth year in a doctoral program) I have repeated parts of the following mantra to change this perceived remedial student identity of which I have carried the weight of since junior high (1989):

My Identity Mantra
I am not a remedial student.
I’ve got this.
I can write and articulate just as well as privileged peers.
I am not that other(ed) person.
I have agency.
I can create spaces of agency.
I know when I am living in a figured world that oppresses me.
I know how to mediate and negotiate oppressive spaces into agentive ones.
I can identify and counter discursive practices that position me as weak, dumb, quiet or submissive.
I have tools that will help me construct the identity I need to achieve my academic goals.
I am not that person.
I am who I say I am.

Holland and Lave (2001) described how individuals or groups enact their sense of agency by acknowledging their histories. By learning about and coming to the realization of how the school system can track immigrant and minority students I have come to terms with the fact that our public school system is not perfect. One of the ways I have been able to create spaces of agency within oppressive setting like the classroom (in public schools and higher education) is through the use of cultural artifacts. Holland et.al (2008) described these artifacts as occurring in the moment whether they are “verbal, gestural, [or] material productions—emerging from the situation” they are taken up by individuals and used as tools to navigate and reposition oneself in order to open spaces of agency. Reflecting on my academic trajectory and how my ethnic/racial identity has, and will continue to change, I have to admit that I cannot pinpoint exactly how I was able to reach my current social location as a privileged, middle to upper class Latina pursuing a doctorate. Perhaps I am in many ways like the woman who climbed up the house (Holland et.al, 2008) and was able to perform a great deal of how I navigated the academic institution that positioned me as remedial for many, many years.

My Identity Mantra

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I am not a remedial student.
I’ve got this.
I can write and articulate just as well as privileged peers.
I am not that other person.
I have agency.
I can create spaces of agency.
I know when I am living in a figured world that oppresses me.
I know how to mediate and negotiate oppressive spaces into agentive ones.
I can identify and counter discursive practices that position me as weak, dumb, quiet or submissive.
I have tools that will help me construct the identity I need to achieve my academic goals.
I am not that other person.
I am who I say I am.

My many roles….

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I just wanted to let those who actually read my blog (always wonder who does) that I haven’t forgotten about writing posts. I have become extremely busy with my many roles the more I delve into my studies as a doctoral student.

Quick update: I have 3 courses left before I can take my qualifying exams. Those 3 courses are only offerred in the spring semester, so right now I am working on courses related to sociolinguistics.

I plan on continuing to keep this blog active as I enjoy writing creatively about subjects related to living a bilingual life, although the time between posts will be undetermined as I seem to always be reading, writing, or being a mom to my nena.

Nos vemos pronto world wide web!

Bilingual Instructional Strategies

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There is some ground-breaking work to be done in the field of bilingual education. This work involves the development of instructional strategies that has the heritage language learner in mind. The following are a few terms (used by various researchers) who are starting to do work in naming and developing those strategies:

Cross-language Transfer

Translanguaging Pedagogy

Border-Crossing Pedagogy

Instructional Applied Linguistics

Hybrid Literacies

Multilingual Pedagogy

Multilitericies

Critical Additive/Bicultural Pedagogy

Flexible Bilingualism

Multilingual Pedagogic & Curriculum Research

Unfortunately, unless researchers from competing fields come together to develop these strategies we will continue to keep language minorities marginalized. In other words, the field of Second Language Acquisition, Bilingual Education, and (Socio)linguistics need to merge and get passed their paradigmatic tensions so that we can begin to create a pedagogy that benefits various models of bilingual education (e.g., dual language, transitional, ESL) where many of heritage language learners are placed to either learn another language or develop their native one.

Poetic nuances in our bilingual life…

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its a smile
a caress
its the fluttering lashes on your smooth skin
its the the tone in your voice
its the way you dance
a smile, a kiss
its what we do everyday
play with arena
point to aviones
try out new words
its the look in your eyes
the tiza
the paint
el papel
all the new discoveries
that remind me
of the things I miss
because the details get smaller
as time passes
besos
mi’ja

 

A glimpse into my academic life…..

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This semester I am learning about language policy and discourse analysis. I am utterly reading pages and pages of material that are of utmost interest to me. I feel as if I have found my niche…or as I explained recently to a friend how my desire to become an anthropologist when I was a child is finally coming true. I am not becoming an anthropologist, but I am using research methods grounded in anthropology to study/research the way people use language. So below I offer a glimpse of how my thinking about language is evolving as I read pages and pages of salivating information about discourse analysis and language policy. Enjoy!

When speaking, researching, studying language-in-use it is impossible to leave out the political, economic, and social factors that influence language because language is a social construct. Yes, from a Chomskyan point of view all languages are inherently equal when it comes to structure and how they are acquired, BUT what is different is how the perception of each language is constructed as a result of political, economical, even religious factors SO how do we study or speak about language-in-use without considering our subjective views as they are influenced by our social, economical, and political ties. Is it in how we frame our research question and/or in how we analyze the data?