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Tame a Wild Tongue
Language and Identity in Anzaldua How to Tame a Wild Tongue
How to Tame a Wild Tongue is a fascinating internal expose of the evolution and development of language among immigrants of Spanish linguistic heritage. Gloria Anzaldua recognizes herself as a "blended" individual who speaks and contributes to a myriad of native and blended languages that are all varied and regionally expressive of both native Mexican and other "Chicano" immigrants as well as many of this heritage which were born in the U.S. To new immigrants or second generation immigrants to the U.S. Or even some who were isolated linguistically from their mother tongue by political borders. The work is powerful and expressive; it also lends itself to an internalized (externalized) idea of self. Anzaldua specifically discusses the cultural connections and disconnections that are created by language and its evolution and also addresses issues of internal social strife associated with the political and social expression of language, even among people of similar heritage.
Anzaldua discusses the variation of her own language describing no less than eight "languages," all of which she considers distinct and all examples of the heterogeneity of Chicanos and Chicanas. "1. Classic English, 2. Working Class and Slang English, 3. Standard Spanish, 4. Standard Mexican Spanish, 5. North Mexican Spanish Dialect, 6. Chicano Spanish (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California have regional variations) 7. Tex-Mex, 8. Pachuco (called Cal6). (pp.2948-2949) To her all these "languages" are a natural part of her own history, all were learned in social interactions among varied groups or individuals and Anzaldua stresses that she, being an second (possibly 3rd or 4th) generation immigrant from the Texas era most often self-identifies with Tex-Mex, which to her is "Spanglish" and amalgamation of Spanish and English that is distinct to the Texas region. For her when she is most relaxed and in the company of others from this area and with this heritage this dialect is the most comfortable. Yet, she also notes that in all of her social and professional experiences she has felt some pressure to conform to the dominant, respected language, whether that is Pachuco (Street slang) or Chicano Spanish (regional to mainly California, but charged with the political ideation of the Chicano inspired aspects of the civil rights movement. All of the various, "languages" of Anzaldua's heritage come together to form her identity. In an excert from the work in literary ciritcizm one researcher describes Anzaldua's identity as one that is specifically tied to her expression of living on the borderland in both thought and reality:
"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." Her language is a mix of languages. Her identity is a mix of identities. Many of us feel that we are on "the borders" of things, in one way or another, which explains, in part, the appeal of Anzaldua's book to so many audiences. (Fought, 2008, para 1)
Fought, stresses that many individuals in the U.S. And elsewhere, and especially those who are members of a disenfranchised group feel as if they are always living on the borderlands, between one culture and another, seeking acceptance in each, many through language.
Anzaldua begins with a discussion of how she grew up with pressure from family to conform to English only standards, standards that were not acceptable to her but were nonetheless a part of growing up and "succeeding" in the American culture. Anzaldua remembers distinct expressions by elder family members and teachers in school regarding the need to speak English without an accent, never to speak Spanish and most importantly never to blend the two together. This demand echoes in her mind as she reflects on self-identity and demonstrative social experience surrounding language, with those who challenged her academically for her desire to teach and learn Chicano literature, her family who stressed a need to acculturate for success and even among Chicanos (but especially Chicanas) who challenged her to represent herself as a certain way, through language in order to express her heritage and never to cross the line of complete acceptance of the dominant culture. (1993) Conversely Anzaldua also does well describing the strict sense of formalism that is present in academia, even later in her career as a teacher and a graduate student she faced demands by academics associated with the "purity" of her language and the limited allowance of teaching and expressing borderland ideation, such as the teaching of Chicano literature, as Chicano literature, no matter how many individuals identify with it is not the expression of "formal" "classical" or proper cultural expression. The academic resistance to acceptance of Chicano as a legitimate and real culture is a real problem for many Chicano academics, as they see the blended culture, as well as their many linguistic formations as an expression, like Anzaldua of the living and evolving nature of cultural identity. (Lynch-Biniek, 2009)
In addition Anzaldua expresses the distinct interplay of language within her own culture, a large heterogeneous mix of dialects, "languages" and standards that drive the interactions between peoples of all the Spanish speaking nations who come to the U.S. The interactions according to Anzaldua are sometimes heated and associated to a large degree with the language issue. Where some Chicanos and Chicanas demand linguistic purity, seeking to have the new entrant speak either pure English or pure Spanish others stress the social desire and need to be representatives of a newly developing culture, i.e. that of the Chicano, a borderland identity associated with a sense of respect for heritage and as sense of individual identity as an American of Mexican dissent. Anzaldua stresses that the dominant feeling among many people who self-identify as Chicanos believe that because they grew up speaking Chicano Spanish (Spanglish) their language is flawed and illegitimate, many according to Anzaldua have internalized this and associate it with their whole identity.
And because we internalize how our language has been used against us by the dominant culture, we use our language differences against each other. Chicana feminists often skirt around each other with suspicion and hesitation. For the longest time I could not figure it out. Then it dawned on me. To be too close to another Chicana is like looking in the mirror. We are afraid of what we'll see there. Pena. Shame. Low estimation of self. In childhood we are told our language is wrong. Repeated attacks on our native tongue diminish our sense of self. The attacks continue throughout our lives. (1993, pp. 2950-2951)
Anzaldua here stresses the reality of internalizing the political and social strife regarding language and the fact that in most cases it is very difficult to remove such innate, childborn ideations from the self. Much like the challenges associated with the variation in the color of one's skin internalized in the African-American culture, where the lighter the skin the less internal cultural power one has where this is the opposite in the dominant culture. An identity aspect that one has absolutely no control over, i.e. The culture in which one was born (or in the case of the above example the natural hue of one's skin) is utilized as a weapon against us. Or even an individual child who is berated for his or her weight or challenged all through life with regard to his or her personal appearance these concepts and attitudes become part of our self-identity, associated with poor self judgment and the need as adults to bridge the disconnect and rebuild our self-identity. Where the "constructive" criticism of a loved one or a leader is challenged as wrong by the child it is eventually accepted as a core belief about self, a negative, not good enough,…[continue]
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