Skip to main content

Latina/o Heritage Month Kicks Off with Discussion of Language and Identity

Latina/o Heritage Month Kicks Off with
Discussion of Language and Identity 

by Maki Somosot '12

Aurora Camacho de Schmidt

Aurora Camacho de Schmidt



Latina/o Heritage Month at Swarthmore recently kicked off with a panel discussion, "Language Panics and Latin Identities." Facilitating the event - designed to define the relationship between language and identity in the Latin American community - were Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies Aurora Camacho de Schmidt, Ana Celia Zentella, Eugene M. Lang Visiting Professor for Issues of Social Change, and Jonathan Rosa '03, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. The panelists also addressed issues such as immigration, migration, assimilation, and bilingual education.

Drawing on the "English-only" movement and several legislative initiatives such as Prop 227 and 187 that have tried to hinder the assimilation of Latina/o immigrants into mainstream society, Camacho de Schmidt said increased migration from Latin America to the U.S. only seems to have resulted in distrust and discrimination from the greater American public.  She also focused on the central role of John Tanton, an influential immigration activist and founder of U.S. English, a political advocacy organization that has repeatedly lobbied to formalize English as the country's official language.

According to the panelists, the apparent misuse of the Spanish language among immigrants and the creation of Spanglish is one of many current problems faced by the Latin American community. While Spanglish has wide usage in Latin American communities, the actual label itself is problematic and suggests negative connotations. Zentella advocated "semantic inversion" for Spanglish for it to become a more positive term, just as the words "black" and "queer" have been reclaimed, respectively, by the African-American and LGBT communities. "We should be embracing both English and Spanish and become mutually enriched by them," Zentella said.

"Spanish is evolving in contact with other languages," Camacho de Schmidt added optimistically. "Every language always is."

This event was sponsored by the Intercultural Center, Latin American Studies, Department of Linguistics, the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, and ENLACE, Swarthmore's Latina/o student organization. Future events for Latina/o Heritage Month include a Fulana Latina performance and video collective artist talk/q&a on Mon., Sept 28th, at 4:30pm, a brown bag lunch session with Visiting Lang professor Ana Celia Zentella, and Kitchen Table Revisited: Women of Color Poets Speak! For the latter, an artist talk will take place on Fri., Oct. 2, and concert on Sat., Oct. 03.