CORE / El Centro (CORE) is a non-profit located in the heart of the diverse Walker’s Point neighborhood on the near south side of Milwaukee. Established in 2002, CORE seeks to provide a variety of holistic and integrative health services to all individuals regardless of income level. Community members can take nutrition and movement classes, learn about gardening and herbalism, or receive natural healing therapies such as acupuncture or reiki. As a reflection of its local context, 79% of the individuals served at CORE identify as Latino, therefore all services are offered in both Spanish and English.
Further, the holistic medical options provided by CORE are offered on a sliding fee scale to ensure greater accessibility, with 90% of clients receiving some sort of service subsidy. The organization also relies on partnerships with other non-profits, schools, and healthcare providers to build capacity and achieve their mission of achieving health equity and inspiring individuals and communities to optimal health.
Through my work I have helped facilitate the placement of University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM) service-learning students from an array of classes with diverse learning goals at CORE. Often, students from UWM work in roles in which little to no Spanish language skills are required. These students are placed at CORE to gain experience working at a non-profit or, more simply, to be immersed in a cultural context that might be different from their own.
Other students take on positions with the intention of developing their Spanish language proficiency. These students typically support and participate in CORE’s Intercambio. During Intercambio, language exchange games between “native” Spanish speakers and “native” English speakers encourage social interaction. The distinct language speakers are forced to communicate with one another; with the intention of developing their second language skills.
Although I have not directly witnessed how individuals are employing their everyday language practices while at CORE, it does seem that this environment would be a location where one would likely experience what Steven Alvarez terms translanguaging, which is extensively discussed in his work Brokering Tareas: Mexican Immigrant Families Translanguaging Homework Literacies. According to Alvarez “Translanguaging events are spontaneous moments when different kinds of literacies are used and participants socially interact across languages in the production of texts and performances that are both critical and creative” (p. xviii). The bilingual environment at CORE might expose monolingual speakers to new linguistic practices and allow a space for them to engage in translanguaging. Even those individuals who do not intentionally seek to develop their language skills while at CORE will likely have the opportunity to experience others perform a variety of language practices.
During Intercambio I imagine speakers of Spanish and English, each individual in possession of their own unique linguistic repertoire, engaging with one another to create meaning, with the common goal of learning a new language. In this environment multilingual speakers might “shuttle between (language) communities in contextually relevant ways” (Canagarajah, 2006, p. 593), constantly adjusting their language use to promote communication. In this practice these speakers are living examples of Rebecca Lorimer Leonard’s rhetorical attunement. They must negotiate meaning across difference and “rely on discursive and provisional truths” (p. 230). Their Intercambio, and its potential translanguaging, occurs through a dialogue informed by the contextual and instantaneous meanings agreed upon by the communicators.
I believe there are profound implications in this sort of activity. Translanguaging, and its embodiment in CORE’s Intercambio, not only serves as a testament to the social nature of language, it also encourages an orientation towards collaboration, mutual intelligence, reciprocity, and empathy. Translanguagers, through their everyday use of language, develop individual orientations that may, someday, contribute to the creation of a more equitable and just society.
CORE’s Intercambio program serves as a practice that demonstrates and enlivens their vision of, “a healthy and engaged community that has reached its full potential through the creation of a healing environment that respects the unique wisdom of each individual and community.” As we’ve learned in the work of Steven Alvarez, we must not deny the power of spaces or environments in which individuals feel safe to express themselves freely. These are the trusted places where, through translanguaging and rhetorical attunement, there is opportunity to build broad language skills and develop a sense of community.