bilingualism Archives - The Jose Vilson


The Latino Namesake

by Jose Vilson on July 8, 2012

in Jose

I landed in Orlando / Cocoa Beach a few hours ago, and had the fortune of getting a van all to myself to escort me to the hotel. On such occasions, I usually don’t think about the privilege I have to work in an environment where my boss places cultural barriers on my person.

As for my driver, that wasn’t the case. I read his name tag: Domingo, same as my uncle. As we walk away from his dispatcher, I start to notice his English isn’t too fluid. Noticing his struggles, I wait until the elevator to code-switch.

I said something in Spanish. He kept quiet. We start walking to the car. He asks where I’m from. I tell him he is my uncle’s namesake, or tacayo in Spanish, and thus, he can infer from there. He kept chatting me up in English until we got in the van. Once in the van, I switched interchangeably from English to Spanish just to see if my suspicious were true. He replied in English.

As we started to pull into the hotel, I started to wonder aloud whether his bosses’ insistence that he speak in English was just a useful technique to ensure his employees learn how to speak the dominant language or a manifestation of the debilitating acculturation in the name of so called professionalism. That is to say, what would a Dominican in Miami need to speak to help customers?

Presumably both.

To that extent, I have to be of the belief that we don’t have to suppress our language of choice in order to survive in this country, no matter if you’re speaking Spanish, Cantonese, or patois. The United States of America we strive for should let people be themselves. Wholly. Without judgment.

Solo diciendo …

Jose, who has a book giveaway coming up soon …



While we should always have a skeptical eye towards new research, here’s hoping this movement towards bilingual education doesn’t die the way the movement towards the metric system. (As a math teacher, I’m still annoyed at having to use inches instead of centimeters.) At this point in education, we’ve only had a passing fancy with other languages. Spanish, French, German, and Italian seem to dominate the foreign language category, but how many people actually learn these languages in their 45-minute classes? For instance, I have friends who took Spanish language classes in high school who can tell me what “frio” and “hola” mean, but can’t ask me what my name is in Spanish without sounding like they’re talking about llamas. (“Como se llama?” is the operative phrase here.)

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Jose, who needs Pitbull to not sample another dance hit for a little while …