Re-articulations of language, race, and place in transregional settler colonialism

Organizer: Patricia Baquedano-López, University of California, Berkeley

Discussant: Suhanthie Motha, University of Washington


In a time of dystopic language policy and surveillance, it becomes imperative that our scholarship and practice in applied linguistics address and disrupt the continued state of settler colonialism across social institutions, including those in which we do our work. Settler colonialism refers to the transnational and transregional structures of emplacement and replacement, that is, regimes and epistemes of white supremacy that continue to erase Indigenous people and knowledge and which also enlists non-Indigenous Others in projects of white dominance (Veracini, 2010; see also Blackwell, Boj Lopez, & Urrieta, 2017). Considering that language is central in the articulation of power vis-à-vis race (how difference is produced and for what ends) and place (how location and mobility motivate land and resources (re)appropriation), applied linguists have a particular stake in discussions of the ways in which the language disciplines consent to projects of white supremacy in the education of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and other racialized and minoritized student populations. The presenters in this colloquium draw on and expand on this central theme, offering reflection and intervention to disrupt dominant paradigms. After opening remarks by the Organizer (Patricia Baquedano-López), we will proceed with five 15-minute presentations followed by a 15-minute discussion of emergent themes and questions by our discussant, Suhanthie Motha, leaving room for session dialogue. In her presentation, Patricia Baquedano-López discusses transregional and settler colonial practices of Yucatec Maya linguistic purity and English language learning. Maneka Brooks examines English hegemony and practices of linguistic containment and segregation. Uju Anya demonstrates the need for anti-racist and anti-blackness practices and critical race pedagogy in world language programs serving African American students. Manka Varghese and Ena Lee urge us to reflect beyond discourses of whiteness and examine how teacher education reproduces white settler colonialism and colonial complicity. Finally, Ryuko Kubota calls for critical reflexivity in order to engage in decolonizing and antiracist action in the field. The papers in this colloquium offer us multiple ways to look back and move forward, pushing us to further dismantle language projects of white supremacy.

Language Purism as Settler Colonial Logics of Erasure

Patricia Baquedano-López, University of California, Berkeley

In this paper I draw on my research and work with Indigenous Maya families who move across hemispheric transregions between Yucatan and California. Indigenous people from Yucatan continue to experience colonial structures of racial domination that dictate modes of language and cultural expression. Fighting displacement with relocation, Indigenous Maya families who live in the U.S. rearticulate transregional circuits that often collide with the emplacements of the settler colonial state and its transit rendering this Indigenous group as unintelligible racial Others (Byrd, 2011). This is particularly evident when Indigenous children enter the bureaucracies of the school system in California where one of their first experiences is the completion of the Language Survey for placement and enumeration processes within schools, which further invisibilizes Indigenous students under the “Latino/Hispanic” label. I discuss examples from interviews with parents and students at a dual Spanish-English immersion K-5 school in northern California to illustrate how ideologies of language purism continue to be part of imperial transit, from Castilian Spanish as the ideal norm along with the imaginary of the “pure” or “real” Maya speaker produced in schools and society in Yucatan, to the embodiment of the perennial English language learner archetype in U.S. schools. My goal is to stimulate dialogue on the depth and reach of transregional educational settler colonial structures that potentially erase languages and selves. I ask how Applied Linguistics as a field can redirect its attention to support transregional Indigenous sovereignty, including the revalorization of Indigenous languages and cultures.

Testing without Consent: English Language Proficiency Assessment in U.S. High Schools

Maneka D. Brooks, Texas State University

Assessments of language have been (and continue to be) used to position minoritized groups within the United States as racially and linguistically inferior (e.g., Farkas & Beron, 2004; Willis, 2012). This use of language assessment has occurred alongside a history of transregional U.S. government-sanctioned testing of the bodies of minoritized peoples without their consent (Rodriguez & García, 2013; Thomas & Quinn, 1991). In this paper, I explore how the enactment of English language assessment in the lives of 30 Latinx High School students in Texas represents the integration of these two practices. As a result of federal and state policy, students did not have the opportunity to “opt-out” of English language assessment. The students were unaware of how assessments in which they participated were being used by the school and other institutions to make judgments about their English language abilities. Moreover, the consequences of these assessments for their academic trajectory were not shared with students. Building upon these findings, this paper calls for language testers, researchers, and educators to actively tackle the role of consent in the ethics of language assessment of adolescents. Specifically, it calls upon language researchers to examine their own role in testing without consent as a project of white supremacy.

Critical Race Pedagogy to Combat Racism and Anti-Blackness in World Language Teaching

Uju Anya, Pennsylvania State University 

Racism is commonly portrayed as something only people who knowingly hate and discriminate do, and in world language programs—inclined toward multiculturalism and multilingual, multiethnic exchange—many consider the topic irrelevant. Critical race theory (CRT) and its evolution into critical race pedagogy (CRP) challenge this view by positing that racism goes far beyond mere displays of individual bigotry to operate in normalized cognition, structural realities and inequity deeply woven into all our educational institutions, practices, and interactions (Ladson-Billings, 1998; Lynn, 1999; Lynn et al., 2013). Racism manifests in language education, for example, through raciolinguistic ideologies that lionize the bilingualism of white elite world language learners and problematize that of poor and racially minoritized English learners (Flores & Rosa, 2015; 2019); through curricular silencing and erasure of non-dominant groups (Ligget. 2013; Guerrettaz & Zahler, 2017); and the positioning of white, upper class images and experiences as primarily representative of target language speaker populations (Taylor-Mendes, 2009; Lee, 2015). This talk presents research on the experiences of African American students in world language programs to demonstrate the need for anti-racist practices and CRP in curriculum and classroom instruction. It presents data from a yearlong ethnographic study examining the Spanish language curriculum and instructional practices at two minority serving postsecondary institutions (MSIs) compared with case studies of a Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese beginner language curriculum and Portuguese language study abroad program at predominantly white institutions (PWIs), to show how inequitable access, treatment, representation, and experiences in language classrooms, texts and teaching materials exhibit the anti-Blackness found in our broader societal contexts and challenge our values of multiculturalism. It shows how postsecondary language instructors’ perceptions and efforts to serve the needs of Black students often conflict with those students’ investments and what they believe is necessary for a relevant, meaningful experience in new language learning. Ultimately, this talk addresses how African Americans can authentically and successfully participate in language study. It also presents proposals for change in research and classroom practice, along with pedagogical recommendations to promote the meaningful inclusion, retention, and success of Black students in world language programs.


Decolonizing and Enacting Antiracism in Applied Linguistics

Ryuko Kubota, University of British Columbia

Issues of race in applied linguistics have been actively discussed in recent years from the perspectives of sociolinguistics and language education. While this trend demonstrates scholarly advancement, racism in institutional and epistemological forms continues to influence the lived experiences of our research participants (e.g., language users, learners, and teachers) and scholars themselves, especially women scholars of color (Henry, 2015). This indicates that the attempt to promote social justice by analyzing research data and theorizing findings may not always bring about antiracist change in real life contexts. Recognizing the gap between progressive research and oppressive social conditions, this presentation calls for antiracist action, examines conditions that may facilitate or inhibit its enactment, and explores critical antiracist actions (Kubota, 2015).

To enact change, we can start examining how we engage in antiracism in our own surroundings, including our workplaces and professional associations. As indicated by an example of institutional activism engaged by a group of women faculty members at a U.S. university (Motha & Varghese, 2016) and the recent efforts to demand implementation of diversity in AAAL (cf. Bhattacharya, Jiang, & Canagarajah, 2018), collective actions can transform institutional structures and practices. These examples and my personal experiences indicate that potentially facilitating conditions include: forging an advocacy group, focusing on result-oriented actions, and strategizing proactively. Inhibiting conditions include: emotional labor negatively affecting the participation of colleagues of color and white colleagues’ resistance (DiAngelo, 2018).

Forming a strong coalition requires decolonizing antiracism, which necessitates non-indigenous scholars’ awareness of their privilege as settlers of color (Lawrence & Dua, 2011). This would valorize inclusivity across individual backgrounds and positionalities. The inclusive vision and critical reflexivity of own privilege may facilitate engaged dialogues for overcoming resistance.