Am I a Language Traitor??

by multilingualmania on April 22, 2010

in Linguistic Discrimination, Personal Stories

As a white woman with advanced proficiency in Spanish, I have often been shunned by other white people throughout my life. I slightly remember feeling different than other white people when I was in high school, because I would often hang around with latinos and I was always interested in learning Spanish. Other students used to poke fun at me and say that I had an “identity crisis” and that I thought that I was Mexican. At the time I was very confused because I thought that bilingualism and multiculturalism were a positive thing, but many of my peers shunned me and made me feel as if there was something wrong with me.

Throughout college, I often found that it was difficult to relate to other white people who did not speak another language or had any sense of multiculturalism. I mainly hung out with latinos, but I had a few white friends who didn’t necessarily speak Spanish or another language, but they loved to travel and were very open minded. In college I didn’t sense so much that people were shunning me for speaking another language, because I was honestly too busy working, studying and attending classes. Yet I always carried with me that I was different than other white people in some way.

When I first was hired as a bilingual teacher, I could sense that many of the other white teachers were dissatisfied with me because I was a bilingual educator. They would often smirk if I talked about bilingualism or they would make slightly rude comments. Over time, some of them became extremely vicious towards me-many of them began to be much more vicious to me than they were to some of the other native Spanish-speaking teachers. I could never really understand what it was about my speaking Spanish and being a bilingual educator that was so unnerving to them.

In my current position, I have noticed (and I am not sure if this is really happening, or if it is something that I am imagining), but I have noticed that this same trend has continued in my current job as a bilingual coordinator. I sense that I make certain other people in the school district very upset because I am an advocate for bilingual programs and English language learners. I have spoken to some of my latino colleagues, and they have also noticed that the same people who are nice (but often patronizing) to them are just downright mean and vicious to me, often making subtle remarks about bilingualism.

The other day I was in a meeting and I approached two of my monolingual white colleagues. I asked them, “How do you say triptongos in English? I know that it’s not tripthongs. Is that a word in English? I don’t know what the English equivalent is”.

They both looked at me incredulously with an extremely dirty look on their face until finally one of them sneered at me with a disgusted sound in her voice, “How do you not know how to say something in English? Isn’t English your native language? That’s ridiculous!” She then turned her back on me.

I felt so hurt and humiliated at the time.  And sick and tired of often being treated this way by people. At the time I couldn’t help feeling ashamed that I felt hurt, because I know that this incident is nothing compared to the daily acts of racism that many people of color and language learners are subjected to on a frequent basis. But deep in my heart I also felt a sense of resistance and a fire that caused me to finally blurt out for the first time in my life, “I suppose that if you don’t know another language that you wouldn’t understand”.

I used to frequently discuss this dilemma with my father and he often told me that other monolingual white people probably treated me like this because they were jealous that they couldn’t speak another language. I guess so. But I’ve always suspected that there is something much more sinister going on with this dynamic. But then again, maybe I am just a big conspiracy theorist.

It wasn’t until I was in college when I brought this up to my African American adviser and he told me a story of a white pastor who had organized with the black community in the 1960s. He clearly recalled one occasion when a group of other white people on the sidelines attacked the white man and began screaming, “You race traitor! You ____ (insert offensive racial term) lover!” I can still hear it clearly in my mind when my professor turned to me and said, “You are a race traitor to these people. They despise you because you stand in solidarity with people of color. And they hate you for it”.

Or am I a language traitor in their eyes, challenging their monolingual dominance???

Is that what is going on here?? I just don’t know. And quite frankly, if this is what is actually occurring, then I don’t even know why I am letting it bother me because they are just a bunch of intolerant jerks.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

wenjonggal April 23, 2010 at 6:07 am

“”How do you not know how to say something in English? Isn’t English your native language? That’s ridiculous!””

Yes, right. That’s why Roget’s thesaurus, multiple dictionaries etc exist ONLY IN ENGLISH… they are just for foreign language learners, because every native English speaker knows how to say EVERY SINGLE THING THAT EXISTS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. It is on a memory chip that was inserted at birth, don’t you know that?

I think that there is a great deal of truth in your assessment re the “traitor” thing. I read quite a long time ago, so cannot reference it, about this acrimony towards “traitors”, and it mainly exists when a member of a dominant group of society voluntarily takes on traits of “subordinate” or “lower” groups of society.

A woman behaving in a masculine manner may be accepted, a target of slight amusement etc, or even encouraged … a tomboy is not necessarily negative, a sissy (boy acting like a girl) is bad. A woman in a tux looks offbeat but spiffy. A man in an evening gown? Ridiculous and may be beaten by other men. You can put down a man by saying he throws like a girl… can you insult a woman by saying she throws like a man?

A black person imitating whites in dress, behaviour etc gains in status, a white person who ‘defects’ is like you said, a *******-lover. “Going native” with aboriginal people is likewise looked down on, unless you maintain a steadfastly

An anglophone learning French or Latin is a wonderful thing. A hispanic learning English is a good thing, but to be patronized. An anglophone preferring to speak a “lower” status language and hang out with “those people” (unless it is to mentor and teach them) is rejecting their birthright privilege.

Of course if the “lesser” status person or group appears to be actually threatening the status quo, then the anger comes out and action can be swift and vengeful. But unless there is a real threat, it is usually a good thing for the lower status to aspire to and imitate the higher status: it confirms the privilege of those who have it and maintains the status quo.

You are flying against the current. It is a hard thing, but really, do NOT give them an inch. They are in the wrong. Ironically, here in Canada where Spanish and hispanics are not a large oppressed minority or threatening the status quo, I don’t think you’d get that attitude for that particular language… I think it mayyyy (but not absolutely certain) be up there with other European languages like Italian. In much of Canada it would be Canadian French (vs Parisian French) that would cause problems I think.

beri April 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm

i want to know who the miserable wretch of a woman is who said that to you…..( i really wanted to say bitch but i will refrain)….i have this issue often myself….my first language is english and the spanish i do know i many times have no english word for….so whatever

multilingualmania April 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm

I will tell you privately on facebook beri! You probably know her! She works at the district level

Sarah April 25, 2010 at 11:24 am

I can’t believe that woman would say something like that! My native language is Spanish, I live in the US and sometimes I forget how to say something in Spanish so I say it in English; I can understand what you mean because after school specially when all I have been speaking is English I tend to forget some Spanish words. It is not something you do on purpose! Sometimes you just forget. I am really sorry that you have to go trough this, these people ARE jealous, but they should bite their tongues and poison themselves before being so rude. This is something you like, and as long as that is the case, you are doing the right thing! Never back down because of someone else’s comment!

wenjonggal April 26, 2010 at 9:23 am

To top it off, it wasn’t a word like “window”, it was “triptongos”… heck, I spoke only English til I was about 20 yrs old, and I have no idea what that is in English… I just looked it up on google, and apparently it is triphthong… but heaven’s, let up, people!

multilingualmania April 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I think someone told me that it is called vowel clusters with three vowels together. I had never even heard triphthongs used in English before! And I am a native English speaker and an English major in college lol~!

multilingualmania April 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I often forget what a word is in one of the languages. But sometimes there are always words in each of the languages that just doesn’t have a similar meaning in the other language, you know? And it is just easier to say the word in one language because it doesn’t really have same meaning in another language. That tends to happen to me a lot.

Sarah April 26, 2010 at 7:54 pm

yes! that is the main reason, some words don’t translate well, or have the same connotation.. or just make more sense if you say them in one specific language, I completely understand and my brothers make fun of me because sometimes I would rather say something in english

Sarah April 26, 2010 at 7:59 pm

wow haha.. I’m hispanic and some words I don’t know in spanish either only in english.. geez! but it’s not like you’re forgetting your language just because you can’t remember a word or because you heard it for the first time in another language so you don’t know what it is in your language.. this was a really interesting article!

multilingualmania April 26, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Thank you Sarah! Have you seen all the answers that people have left? They also left some on facebook, on the autism article and on another article I think that I had blogged your questions.

Sarah April 28, 2010 at 2:05 pm

yes! I saw them, they really helped my paper =) I turned it in yesterday. Thank you!

multilingualmania April 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Good thing! Hope you get a good grade!!

Norte Americano March 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

The problem with Spanish in particular is that it is largely deemed by North Americans as the official language of ridiculous, laughable, dangerous, pathetic 3rd-world Catholic-guilt-dominated Latin American countries.

You wouldn’t get the same reaction if you knew German, or French, or Russian, because these countries aren’t renowned for their ignorance, poverty, corruption, crime, poverty, and filth. Oh, and poverty.

You also don’t have a flood of people from those countries trying to swarm across the Southern border of the USA, bringing their ignorance, corruption, poverty, crime, and filth with them.

Have you ever LIVED anywhere in Latin America?

The problem with Spanish isn’t the language itself. It is the perception of people of those who speak it. Yes, we know, there are many nice people who speak Spanish *yawn*. But, until the Spanish-speaking world divorces itself from poverty, ignorance, corruption, and all the trappings of Spanish Catholicism, it will always be regarded with low esteem.

If you want people to accept your choice of language, choose one that isn’t used by 90 percent of the cocaine-producing countries in the world.

multilingualmania March 7, 2011 at 11:29 pm

@Norte Americano I considered not posting your comment because it’s obvious that you are a troll. But I believe in free speech and I don’t believe in censorship so I will give you your fifteen minutes of fame. I wish that I could say something snarky back, but that would take too much effort out of the time that I am devoted to promoting the beautiful Spanish language!!!

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