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Alejandra Jimenez Gonzalez

English 28

Holly Batty


Bilingualism and its Effects on Identity

Who are you? When asked this question most of us are left in awe. Who are we and how

did we get this way? Identity is something so complex that questions like those are almost

terrifying to answer because there are so many factors that led us to our current identity that we

don’t know where to start. What I would like to bring forward is the notion that bilingualism,

among many things, is a main factor in the development of one's identity. Analyzing How the

Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, as well as other texts I would like to argue that

bilingualism in relation to culture affects identity, variations of a language can create entire sub

cultures of identities, and lastly colonialism and how it affects the development of folks who

grow up bilingual.

Speaking two languages often times can mean having 2 cultures. In the case of the Garcia

girls it is English and Spanish, as they are from the Dominican Republic. We are very familiar

with latin american culture in the U.S. and how assimilation is one of the requirements to be

truly accepted in American society. How is this linked with identity? Specifically for someone

who is living in the U.S, and is from another country speaking a different language, it’s heavily

emphasized that in order to be american one has to be monoculturalized. What does this mean?

To leave behind your culture, leave behind your identity. Being in touch with your culture means

having a well grounded image of yourself, typically. Culture can mean nationality but what it

really has to do with customs and groupings of people. Customs of which you grow up with or
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identify with and have contribute to your personality. Not having a well grounded relationship

with your culture does the same. In the book How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents this is a

clear example of how of the lack of connection with both their culture and the loss of their

mother tongue conflicts with the girls and in especially Yolanda.

In the text Borderlands: How to Tame a Wild tongue, Anzaldua uses the example of how

the lack of control of one's tongue creates self identity issues, not only that but further supports

the idea that the lack of one's ability to speak in perfect bilingual tongue one is left to create an

entire subculture.

“What recourse is left to them but to create their own language? A language which they

can connect their identity to, one capable of communicating the realities and values true to

themselves — a language with items that are neither espanol ni ingles, but both.” (Anzaldua


She makes a great point on how folks with double identities struggle with those who are

from both but also neither group, the very common “not enough and too much of”. In this section

Anzaldua makes a point of saying that there is more that English and Spanish, there is 1.

Standard English 2. Working class and slang English 3. Standard Spanish 4. Standard Mexican

Spanish 5. North Mexican Spanish dialect 6. Chicano Spanish (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona,

and California have regional variations) 7. Tex-Mex 8. Pachuco (called calo). Each one of these

variations have its own identity and affect who we are and how we act. For example the way I

speak to my parents in standard Mexican Spanish is different from how I speak to my friends in

slang English and a mixture of slang Spanish. Both represent who I am and creates a sense of

belonging with my friends, who also have two cultures, two languages, two identities. Now

sometimes these different variations can be an entire identity itself. For example the Chicano
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slang language known as Calo is a variation created through 1st and 2nd generation Chicano’s in

the 30’s and 40’s during the pachuco era. Words like “ese” and “vato” were used when mixing

Spanish and English. The pachuco identity consisted of this and the zoot suit style. This was

something that an entire generation of Chicano’s we’re able to identify, it made them confident

and strong which unfortunately didn’t sit well with Anglo folx and sailors.

Lastly in How the Garcia Girls lost their Accents we can clearly see the many identity

issues the girls have. From the oldest to the youngest they seem to be lost in between their

Dominican Republic side and their American side. The effects of self identity issues can be seen

in The Chicano Labyrinth of Solitude written by E. Orozco, a Chicano scholar. In the book he

gives clear examples of how monoculturalism is one of the main reasons why self esteem and

identity crisis begin. Dating back to pre columbian era it’s clear that language is the heart of

spirit. Anzaldua quotes from Ray Gwyn Smith “Who is to say that robbing a people of it’s

language is less violent than war?” During Spanish colonialism the spanish knew that in order to

conquer they needed to break the spirit of its people. How did they do that? Striping the people

of thier native language Nahautl. This is not unique to pre columbian mesoamerica but to all

colonized people. During the Atlantic slave trade the same tactic was used to break the spirit of

newly arrived Africans, they were not allowed to speak in their native languages. While this is in

terms of colonialism dating way back it has also been a pattern in modern society in which they,

the dominant population, know that to strip ones linguistic heritage they are taking something


“Language, afterall, is the symbolic world that binds a white Chicano with a brown or

black Chicano. It is the soul or whatever symbol man may use to describe the spiritual cord of

people.” (Orozco, 3)
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Orozco describes that bilingualism in the early formative years of a child are crucial to the

making of the Chicano mind.

In conclusion language is a crucial part of the making of one's identity in the U.S. While

it can be source of joy, confidence, something to identify with, we have seen that in many

common settings in the U.S. it is used as a way to keep bilingual folks down. It up to the person

to learn and appreciate the gift that hey have as a bilingual speaker. This is something Yolanda

learned and came to terms with. This narrative is no stranger and the next time you think about

who you are and what made you the way you are, take a look and perhaps your linguistic

heritage has had some part in the making of you.


“How to Tame a Wild Tongue Page 34.” Borderlands = La Frontera the New Mestiza, by Gloria

Anzaldua, Aunt Lute Books, 1987.

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Orozco, Enrique C. Chicano Labyrinth of Solitude: a Study in the Making of the Chicano Mind and

Character. Kendall Hunt, 2013

Alvarez, Julia. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Algonquin Books, 2013.