language Archives - The Jose Vilson


We Fight We Love [On Immigration]

by Jose Vilson on April 29, 2010

in Jose

Arizona arrest

A couple of days ago on the train, I saw a young Black man with a Cubs hat, a multi-colored jacket and a Black t-shirt that read, “You’re in the USA: Now SPEAK ENGLISH!” A large segment of Black communities (and by Black, I mean from African-American, Caribbean Black, etc.) find this meme so self-evident that they’ll completely ignore their own histories. I started making a few assumptions about the young man in my mind. He probably heard this sort of stuff his whole life from parents who were subjected to the sort of bigoted thinking that puts disadvantaged groups against one another regularly. He probably had a few arguments like this with peers who came from different countries too. He probably gets eye-rolls left and right from people who look similarly to him. He’s probably talking about those who speak a “lower class” language instead of the ones that make you intelligent, ones I’m not sure of myself. He probably doesn’t speak or write in the Queen’s English either.

Then again, that’s me making presumptions based on looks alone. My headphones were on full blast (Rage Against The Machine, if you must know), so I didn’t hear a sound from him. I had no way to quickly scan his employment status, Social Security number, DNA, lie detector, parents, neighborhood, voter status, or anything of that nature that would give me reasonable suspicions about any of my previous assertions.

It means I have to do all this guesswork based on only one human sense, my eyes, and that makes no sense.

That’s why the Arizona immigration bill makes no sense to me. After reading through the whole bill (here’s the quick fact sheet), I found a few things disturbing. First, the bill explicitly outlines provisions that justify the “guilty until proven innocent” mentality. No provisions under the bill ensure that law enforcement officials can’t discriminate based on race or cultural background in employment or arrest. Furthermore, the bill gives freedom to law enforcement officials to hunt down, without warrant, anyone they choose just on the premise of “reasonable suspicion,” whatever reasonable means. It’s like a state-level USA PATRIOT Act, but replacing “terrorist” for “illegal alien.” Also, it makes it unlawful for people to pick up workers from one locale. hire them for work, and move them to another place. On the surface, I agree with this, but how effectively will law enforcement officially really carry this out when some of the wealthier individuals in this country hire those very workers?

This bill is symbolic of the constant dehumanization efforts by intolerant and uncooperative government hellbent on proliferating divisions, and laws like this prove me right. In the book On Writing Well, William K. Zinsser believes we’ve become too PC by replacing “illegal aliens” with “undocumented workers.” Usually, I’d agree except that the former accentuates the foreign and inhumane versus the latter highlights the purpose of so many of these workers coming here. While there’s definitely diversity amongst these undocumented workers (Irish, Russian, Chinese, Haitian, Dominican, etc.), only a certain segment of our population gets stigmatized with this bill (Mexican / South Americans) and that’s wrong.

This entire country was built on the backs of undocumented workers from all walks of life and never as a collective had the backing of the United States government. It’s time now for real reasoning. Let’s make just and appropriate laws that address the reason why people hire cheap labor over borders, bring them here, and then dispose of them as soon as they’ve become acclimated to the culture and understand their rights as citizens. Let’s talk more concretely about how corporations would prefer not to pay minimum wage to workers here, thus limiting jobs that people purport lower classes “should take.” Let’s talk about the myriad of “internships” and “volunteer” work popping up all over the country where the places essentially ask these people to do jobs for next to nothing for a promised chance in the future.

And only when we address this do we see that change comes with a sense of love and humanity. Understanding can’t always be signed into law, but we can certainly promote and encourage it as part of the culture. When the protestors wave their signs and strike their fists in the air on May Day (May 1st), trust that this comes from an emotion deeper than anger. We fight, we love. We do so throughout our lives and people definitely know this. Revolutions are born from that emotion.

For sure, a few seats away from the standing young Black man sat a young Mexican man, dirty cap and so beat, he might have missed every stop on the train if not for the constant shuffling of people through the busy stops.

I suspect they were both just trying to get home. Wherever home was.

Jose, who stands in solidarity …


Bart Simpson, "I Will Not Encourage Students To Speak Good English"

Bart Simpson, "I Will Not Encourage Students To Speak Good English"

I never got why you tried to make me conform to your supposedly standard English … until I read Lisa Delpit.

You see, it’s easy even to this day to look at one form of English as inferior to another (instead of appropriate code in different settings), and when teaching children of color, such a prejudice against (and suppression of) another’s English takes precedence over establishing a meaningful connection between what the child understands and what the child WOULD understand if explained better. And while you certainly did an excellent job of insinuating this to me, Lisa Delpit actually explained the matter clear to me in a way that almost prevented me from even writing this.

But it’s a good lesson for all of you language arts teachers who wonder why even some of your brighter students have no motivation to do anything remotely close to their potential. So fuck it.

In case you forgot, let me recap what happened (a play on words the reader will soon giggle at):

In 7th grade, you, the bearded tall fellow with the nervous caffeine-induced twitch and penchant for particulars, taught me language arts, a class seemingly geared towards the technical aspects of standard English. With orange-red textbook in tow, we would pick apart sentences looking for articles, pronouns, and conjugations, underlining like a literal treasure hunt.

Yet, the games stopped being fun when you took a particular fondness for my use of the phrase “What happened?” after missing what you had said. At first, I would say it once every few days, and you’d correct me with “You mean to say ‘Excuse me.’” I’d say, “Oh …” and go about my merry way. Then, for some reason, I went partially deaf in one ear, or so I’d like to believe, repeating “Excuse me a good 11 times.” My friends who were closer to you said, “Yo, after you said ‘What happened?’ the second time, he said, ‘For each time you say ‘What happened?’, you’re going to write ‘What happened?’ for punishment 100 times on looseleaf front and back.”

I only started to piece together the scene after the 556th ‘What happened?’ with mouth agape, shocked that this just transpired. 7th grade had already sucked from first day to last. While I still did well academically, I was an anti-social misfit, and even my teachers probably found this brown know-it-all-who-secretly-just-needed-some-guidance a bit obnoxious. I couldn’t wait to get to school and just say “Excuse me,” meekly, just to get the big elephant off my back, just to have my good-student-card reinstated, just to ease the glare of those darted eyes staring at me.

I flashed back to this as I read the Language Diversity and Learning chapter of Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children, hardly able to get past how much of this experience reflected my own. In it, she says, “Teachers need to support the language that students bring to school, prove them input from an additional code, and give them the opportunity to use the new code in a nonthreatening, real communicative context.” Harder to swallow still is that your role in making my small faux-pas in the context of whether I had an acceptable code of English only solidified who we believed “owned” the language of English. You tried your honest best to superficially teach it but secretly pose yourself the master of said language.

Yet, I write. In that very English. For any language teacher, one might think that the language never reaches to youth like me because of our incompetence towards it. In the face of such adversity by the arbiters of English, many of us can still read and write English well. You might even wonder what happened.

Well, what happened?

Mr. Vilson, who’s often left wondering that, too …


Because My Commenters Rock, Even In Spanish

by Jose Vilson on December 8, 2009

in Jose

Spanish Inquisition: Just When You Least Expect Them

Spanish Inquisition: Just When You Least Expect Them

Please check the first gem spilled upon my blog yesterday concerning my discussion on Spanish (with some edits from me):

So here’s the funny part of all this: in English, the Spanish language is called, duh, Spanish but (I was discussing this with my dad who’s a brilliant, highly-educated man and Dominican) in Spanish there is no such thing as Espanol to mean the language. Now we commonly say “Hablo Espanol” but really it is Castellano. Back when Spain wasn’t a unified Spain yet and it was all kingdoms (Aragon, Castille, etc) and they were breaking their heads with the Muslims, forcing them to unify, Castile was the more dominant from the union with Aragon. So when Spain began to romper culo all over the world, Castillians (?) had more pull. Like Columbus’s voyages were apparently full of men from Castille so they spread Castellano. There was no Espanol. Even today, Spaniards will say they speak Castellano or Gallego and they sound very different yet they are both speaking Spanish. So are Castellanos speaking “proper” Spanish as opposed to Galicians? They’re both from the “mother” country, right?

Also, if you go even further back, Castellano is a dialect of Latin from when the Romans introduced it to the area, after which it got even more convoluted with a crapton of invaders and especially with the Arabic language the Moors brought. So Castellano is itself a dialect. It’s fascinating stuff (my nerd-ass thought it was interesting when my pops was telling me). You always have to wonder about people under the delusion of being some sort of purists. It’s some sign of insecurity I think. And really what are you insecure about? Who sounds more like the conquistadors that broke everyone’s will to live wherever they went? Yeah, I want that prize. Anyway, I love hearing Dominican Spanish, it’s kind of robust and jolly and then you have the sing-song of Puerto Rican Spanish, Mexican Spanish (which is different depending if you’re from el D.F. -they have some awesome curse words- or if you’re from Puebla or Guerrero). They all have their respective charms. C’mon son. (Had to do it, been itching to, sorry.)

Glendaliz dropped the bomb.

Are you kidding? And then that’s followed up by CK’s great twist on the topic:

When you first spoke about this on Twitter, my first instant reaction was like yours — what the fuck?

But this reminds me of a very common people among my community. The Deaf community. The primary language of use is American Sign Language. There’s this whole camp called “Deafhood” where some radical deaf people believe only those born from deaf parents/went to a deaf school/live in the deaf community/use ASL all the time belong.

And there are others who believe everyone belongs, no matter what their communication mode is — as long as they have a hearing loss.

Because of this “label”, things get complicated quickly, and often uneasy.

I’m going to use the onion as a metaphor here. You have an ordinary yellow onion. You peel away the outside, it’s still an onion. You peel away another layer, it’s still an onion. You keep peeling each layer off until you get to the core. It’s still an onion.

You do the same with a speaker of Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, English, ASL, Russian, French, anything. They all are the same. There’s no such thing as a “better” way of using a language.

But don’t take it from me. Keep reading for yourself. You’ll be happy you did.

Mr. Vilson, who has yet to address the issue of Spanish. Soon come.


My Spanish Is Way Better Than Yours

December 7, 2009 Jose
Dora The Explorer and Diego

Scenario: Let’s say there are two native Spanish speakers, both of whom don’t come directly from Spain, but have Latino backgrounds, one comes from a South American country and the other from a Carribean-based country. While discussing language, the first comments that their Spanish is “better” than the other. After the second suggests the lack […]

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