We have fourteen weeks of theory resting between our ears. Throughout the semester, we’ve interrogated how language, culture, and race are theorized in the field of composition and rhetoric. Importantly, our understanding of these theories has not been developed in isolation. We did not read tucked away in the library or at our desks over our lunch breaks, only to sit and ponder these ideas in isolation. Each Thursday evening, we convened in a small simple room to talk, to question, to criticize, and to understand. We engaged in rhetoric to convey ideas and relied on literacies to understand our texts and each other. Through our linguistic repertoires, we engaged in a collaborative social process to develop our ideas. We navigated meanings, and hopefully, developed an attuned orientation towards the interaction of race, culture, and the practice of language.
This is where we are, shortly after our penultimate class meeting, in the moment that I sit down to converse with you about our experience. Our professor challenged us before our discussion, “What is theory?”, and an underlying question rose to the surface, “How do we apply theory in practice?”. These questions seemed to shape the conversation during the first half of our weekly gathering.
Echoing and enforcing our ongoing semester-long dialogue, we dug into the theory and practice of translingual approaches to literacy and writing. Drawing upon the words of Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur, one classmate oriented us towards a recurring theme from not only this week’s readings, but also from across the semester. We were reminded that stances of openness towards language and literacy practice require us to view “language differences and fluidities as resources to be preserved, developed and utilized” (Horner et al., 2011, p. 304). This flexible view of language, taking a position that language is an inherently dynamic process rather than a static perfection, allows the space to ponder Horner et al.’s recognition that “we are all language learners” (p. 304). In class there was an acknowledgement that, for some, this is a profound perceptual change to the nature of language. What are the implications of this reoriented perspective, of engaging in what A. Suresh Canagarajah terms “linguistic pluralism”?
No longer is language a thing to be tamed, taught, and tested. Rather, it assumes mutable organic qualities we often associate with living beings; growing, changing, responding, and evolving. The translingual approach pushes this concept a bit further. Language cannot be wrangled into a singular truth--because core to its nature is difference. According to Min-Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner, “difference is the norm” (2013, p. 585). In class we pushed this theory towards practice by recognizing that there is not a singular way of speaking or writing. Linguistic practices are not monolithic, and we ought to keep this orientation at front of mind when we work with students. We must create environments where students can draw upon their personal linguistic repertoires not only to navigate, but also to co-create the contextual language practice in our learning spaces. An act Lu and Horner have cited as language sedimentation.
After discussing Jerry Won Lee’s Beyond Translingual Writing we intentionally moved the conversation towards the practical application of translingual approaches. How can we make these ideas work for us and our students? Linguistic agency, the ability of language users to recognize and control their own practice and experience with language, can inform the way we understand our student’s language practices. We can assess linguistic agency by incorporating reflective writing into our curricula, and in conjunction, committing to engaging in dialogue with our students regarding their language production.
Even though we engaged in a rich and rigorous discussion, I still wonder about Won Lee’s linguistic social justice, something we only briefly touched on. Or, what about the relationship between language practices and power dynamics? These might be theoretical questions for the next class to tackle.
It is imperative to note that there is no set of practices, no how-to guide, no tricks of the trade. The translingual approach, is an orientation, not a dogma. Therefore, it serves as a guide that ought to be thoughtfully and lovingly applied in our specific contexts. The embodiment of this orientation in our practice might create a space where students--each in possession of a unique linguistic finger print--can freely engage in the social nature of language, collaboratively constructing the norms of practice.
On April 12, 2018 and again on May 8th, 2018, I joined the Education Coordinator from Woodland Pattern Book Center at after school programming at Franklin Pierce Elementary School. Woodland Pattern Book Center is a local bookstore and literary arts nonprofit in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. As is clear from their website, Woodland Pattern focuses on working in the community through poetry readings—often bringing in renowned poets from around the world—and adult and children’s educational programming in the form of poetry camps, workshops, and after school programming. Along with after school programming at Franklin Pierce, Woodland Pattern also regularly does programming at Hopkins Lloyd Elementary School as well.
Franklin Pierce is one of the bilingual schools in the Milwaukee area, and one of a few in the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system. According to their website, “Pierce is a multi-ethnic, Title I school” that “serves approximately 450 bilingual and monolingual students.” A large portion of the bilingual students at Franklin Pierce are bussed in from the south side of Milwaukee, where a large community of Latinx residents reside (more information about that community can be found in the posts “A Walk Through Walker’s Point” and “’Expansive Threads’ at Latino Arts, Inc. and the Busy Nature of the United Community Center”).
Woodland Pattern’s afterschool programming at Franklin Pierce focuses on art and poetry. On the days that I visited, the Woodland Pattern team was working with 4th and 5th grade students on writing haikus and making drums. The students wrote their own haikus and then built hand-sized drums using small pieces of wood and packing tape. In the building stage, students were able to paint their drums using the haiku that they wrote as inspiration. Then, on top of their art work, they wrote the words of their haikus. Finally, once the drum was complete students would practice singing or saying their haiku while also providing a drum beat.
Students at Pierce were often users of either African American Vernacular English or aform of Spanish, so it was refreshing to see the Woodland Pattern staff encourage all students to work and write in their own preferred languages, whatever they may be. It helped to make clear what the work of translingualism has theorized. Of the Spanish-speaking students, many wrote variations of haikus that were entirely in Spanish while others mixed both Spanish and English to create haikus that were uniquely theirs. It was absolutely refreshing to see these children so engaged with work that encouraged the use of their languages, because, as some of the staff explained, the point is not to get them to speak a specific language, but to think about who they are as individuals and how they can contribute to their communities.
Additionally, because some students were still learning English, I was able to see some translanguaging in action. Some of the staff members at Woodland Pattern are familiar with Spanish, but none of them are fluent. As such, I was able to see the ways in which both teachers and students make use of props or drawing or even bodily signs to make clear their meaning when the words that each person has are not the same. Students who were learning the language showed a ramarkable rhetorical adeptness at working through these issues with teachers. It, of course, made me think about reading Rachel Bloom Pojar’s book Translanguaging Outside the Academy: Negotiating Rhetoric and Healthcare in the Spanish Caribbean earlier this semester. My time with these students helped me to see the ways that this work is important beyond the walls and ivory towers of our academic strongholds, and pushed me to think about how we can continue to break down those false oppositions between academia and the larger community.
This Monday we met Laura Gonzales, esteemed author of Sites of Translation: What Multilinguals Can Teach Us about Digital Writing & Rhetoric, who shared her thoughts about the book, her dissertation experience, research interest among many other things. Following our Google hangout with her, we continued our discussion on the book ideas, rhetoric of translation, shared relevant experiences, and also our projects towards the end of the class.
During our chat with Dr. Gonzales, she shared that her most favorite part about the book is it being a space where she could extend her reflections on the bonds that she created with the community she worked with—something she humbly mentions in her book too. She valued the human connection that was established with the community as much as she loved creating the academic lore on the rhetoric of translation. She also added this bond gave rise to different dimensions of looking at translation process—অনুবাদের মুহূর্তগুলো (onubader muhurtogula—translation moments)—a recurring theme in this week’s class discussion both preceding, during and following our hangout with Dr. Gonzales. We appreciated how Dr. Gonzales talked about multimodality, and how it is not only a digital realm but a bodily realm, too. We discussed how the book “fits in” nicely with the other readings we have already done so far for the class—a kairotic moment for our reading, perhaps. Classmates also appreciated the straightforward and easy writing style of the book.
Dr. Gonzales offered her thoughts about theory dynamics in language: theories constantly change based on our readings, constant research, also on our own experiences. She also talked about the intersectionalities between translation studies, translingualism and many such theories. She also shared her views about different conversations and contentions about language theories, and how to talk about people and language practices who have broad range of linguistic experiences.
She also responded to different queries we had about the book. Classmates expressed their thrill and joy to read Dr. Gonzales’s book and also mentioned how the translation moments (অনুবাদের মুহূর্তগুলো)—one of the talking points of the book resonated with their personal experiences.
When we came back to class after the break, we continued talking about the translation moments. The hermeneutics of “translation’’ kept coming back in class conversation this week. Our class discussion centered on the fact that translation itself a rhetorical act. We also discussed how the author use translation as a metaphor. We pointed out how multi-modality and multilingual connections is something that Laura brings to the table and that there isn’t much talk on this topic. We also thought that we should do more studies on other languages than English to find out more how the language process work in those languages if we want to decenter English.
Classmates also talked about “memory trigger”, another translation moment Dr. Gonzales elucidated in her book. Some also shared how reading parts of the book triggered their memories of high school English experiences where teachers sometimes were not quite supportive of students’ academic interest and growth, and overcoming such challenges as the book also talks about similar high school experience for some multilingual translators.
Towards the end of the class, we took some time to discuss our final projects in pairs. Later we shared our peer’s projects. We also talked a bit about next week’s reading before the class came to an end. Overall, the class ended on a positive note and like always had all the perks of an invested graduate level class—an open-ended discussion of book ideas about translation process, sharing of classmates’ candid thoughts and relevant personal experiences, and last but not the least occasional laughs. ধন্যবাদ সবাইকে (dhonnobad sobaike—Thanks, everyone!).
“Pero cual es esa luz, it the east and Juliet es el sol. Rise up beautiful sun y mata los celos. Solamente los mendigos aguantan their virginity.” During my student teaching experience at Hamilton High School, I witnessed ninth-grade Latino, white, Asian, and African-American students translating an archaic language in to various types of languages. Some students chose Disney, other students chose “ghetto,” and some even chose hillbilly. There was also sports, diva, and superhero. The language that impressed me the most was Spanish telenovela. I thought it was the most difficult translation to accomplish because the students had to understand the scene which contained archaic language, they had to translate it in to standard English, and they had to translate it once again in Spanish. However, they were eager to do it, even though some group members only considered themselves to be native English speakers.
This story made me think about our past and most recent class discussion in our Latinx Rhetorics and Community Writing course. We were thrilled to meet our guest speaker Dr. Steven Alvarez, who is an assistant professor in the English department at St. John’s University. Dr. Alvarez eloquently recited anecdotes about his life and how he became passionate to bring a bilingual library in to a Kentucky town. Dr. Alvarez formulated a pedagogically well-thought course titled “Taco Literacy” to explain much deeper concepts within Latino history. Alvarez spoke highly of his father because of what he went through in his own life with education. Teachers reprimanded his father whenever he spoke Spanish. As a high school teacher, I could never imagine telling a student that they do not have a right to their home language and even punishing them for using it. Thinking of his own father’s personal experiences, Dr. Alvarez advocated for a resource that would allow students to use the spaces to practice their own language and being translingual, which is what most teachers should implement within their own pedagogy.
Translingual pedagogy is a practice where students can move through various languages to develop their reading and writing skills. As an African-American woman, I found it easier to explain novels, poetry, and informational texts using African-American vernacular with my students at Washington High School while combining the language of standard American English. Even if they knew that I was using AAVE or not, they were able to comprehend complex texts and were able to write well-thought essays without worrying about using English “correctly.” Implementing translingual pedagogy does not mean that teachers should eliminate all Standard American English rules. A translingual approach offers a chance for students to retain their identity within their home and community. Students can also think in ways where language is not a barrier for them, but in a way, it helps them understand complex concepts, strategies, etc. When I think about the students who used Spanish to translate Shakespeare, they all showed a sense of passion that their language mattered within the context of Shakespeare’s own language.
Community building is also an important theme that relates to our course, and Dr. Steven Alvarez built a bilingual library to build the community of bilingual or multilingual learners. Unfortunately, community building can become difficult to obtain when the idea of language faces harsh governmental policies such as Proposition 227 and Arizona HB2211 where such bilingual programs are eliminated. These types of policies not only take away that sense of community building, but it takes away students’ identities as well. If policies were adhered in Milwaukee, Hamilton would not be the school that I saw. The neighborhood itself was already not a community for its bilingual students because the school is on the borderline between Milwaukee’s Southside and Greenfield, which is a predominately white neighborhood. Mitchell, Burnham, and Caesar Chavez were neighborhoods the students spoke highly of that represented their culture and their own community spaces. With a segregated city such as Milwaukee, we need those community spaces to allow our students to practice their language across different borders of literacy inside and outside of school. Therefore, this blog post is meant to have people continue a conversation about the translingual approach. What are the ways in which we can support our own pedagogy to help students beyond high school? How can we continue to support them in a college classroom and within their community in Milwaukee?