Race and language turmoil investigated in Brown Bag Series

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS) virtually hosted their faculty, research-focused discussion as part of the Brown Bag Series on March 19. Featuring world languages and cultures assistant professor Rebecca Pozzi and humanities and communication assistant professor Roopa Singh, each educator presented their findings of racial biases when having verbal interactions while traveling.

Singh began the discussion explaining issues of “racial tourism,” “racial mobilities” and “justice storytelling.” Delving into the turbulent terrain of race, Singh furthered her dissertation research and scholarly activism in critical yoga studies. 

“There is an ongoing issue of dealing with race in the [academic community],” Singh said. “In one way, it is manifesting through what some people call racial fraud, which traces back to Blackface, redface and different ways of occupying race that are problematic.”

Using her experience of legal studies, Singh created a poetic form of “justice storytelling” through the publishing of her research, analyzing her findings through the perspective of critical race theory. She informed the audience of #MeTooSTEM founder Bethann McLaughlin, who she said has a racially targeted alternative Twitter personality. Singh said McLaughlin disguised herself as a Native professor of Arizona State University and then ultimately killed the pretend professor off from COVID-19 after developing a large following.

“I use a poetic narrative to evoke some of the loss,” Singh said. “While there’s no murderous crime, I use the poetic narrative to describe, in this circumstance, the element of the genocidal project of Natives.”

Asking framework questions to viewers, Singh implored guests to challenge the idea of when applying critical race theory is necessary. Speaking on civil rights issues, Singh mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement, in response to George Floyd’s death and the advocacy for change. 

Pozzi discussed the findings of her research which focused on heritage speakers in study abroad contexts. Following Latin Americans down to Argentina and back, Pozzi was able to interview a wide array of students who participated in the journey. 

“A heritage speaker is someone whose language is spoken at home, but not spoken by the majority outside of the home,” Pozzi said. “Hispanic (and Latinx) students on our campus tend to be heritage speakers.”

Pozzi described how heritage speakers are criticized when they are not demonstrating monolingual, cultural and linguistic norms. Citing a case study example of a woman named Lidia, the interviewee developed insecurities after being considered low-class by her host family for speaking stigmatized forms of the Spanish language. Despite the unfriendly gestures, heritage speakers have been found to find comfort in the community, embracing their identities and connecting with what Pozzi referenced as their “Mexican-ness.”

The various differences of conversational Spanish in the United States and Argentina proved challenging for another woman, Leticia. Being made fun of for using different phrases than her host sister, Leticia formed linguistic insecurities over her stay by believing her form of speaking was perceived as incorrect.

Concluding the presentation with the positive experience of heritage speaker Juan, Pozzi elucidated the linguistic awareness of the Argentine Spanish dialect and characteristics. Pozzi enforced the idea that host families, academia and language partners should be properly trained in the diversity of speakers’s backgrounds. 

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