Stanford professor discusses research on Latinx identities at Texas State


Rosa, March 7, speaking at his presentation.
Photo By Brianna Benitez

Brianna Benitez

Jonathan Rosa is an assistant professor of anthropology and linguistics in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. He has completed a variety of research focusing on socio-cultural anthropology: the study of culture and society, and linguistic anthropology: the study of how language affects social life.

Rosa presented his research at Texas State Thursday, March 7, in his lecture of Latinx Languages and Identities Beyond Borders.

Rosa was invited to speak at Texas State through his colleague, Lux Murillo, associate professor of Bilingual Education at Texas State. Murillo said it was critical for Rosa to speak and present his platform at Texas State.

“We are a hispanic institution,” Murillo said. “We should be listening to hispanic researchers.”

Murillo said Rosa’s presentation is built to aid educators in better understanding why Latinos exhibit low graduation rates in the country, and how universities like Texas State can improve in preparing bilingual educators on how to teach Latinx students.

“We are sensible to the education of our Latino students at the university, but what is important to me is the education of the Latino children coming into the schools here in the area,” Murillo said.

Michael O’Malley, dean of the College of Education, introduced Rosa to the audience Thursday night.

O’Malley said he has learned an immense amount from Rosa’s research and book. He said the book recognizes how languages can be taken for granted and how the linguistics used in educational settings are critical for learning.

The majority of Rosa’s research was done at a Chicago high school and in the surrounding neighborhood. Rosa said 95 percent of the school’s population was a combination of Mexican and Puerto Rican students.

“I wanted to do research in this community to see how students understood the challenges of identities, and how they respond to the challenges they encounter,” Rosa said.

Rosa’s book, Looking Like a Language, Sounding Like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinadad, examines the categories of race, ethnicity and language by analyzing the students and families of Latnix communities.

Rosa said the large population of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in the high school created a segregation that shaped the everyday lives of the students. He said since the students are constantly surrounded by their own ethnicities and cultures, whiteness is something only represented in elite or authoritative figures like educators and law enforcement.

Rosa said the students he researched are deeply invested in rethinking national identity and reworking the idea that borders separate languages, race and ethnicity. For example, one student wore Nike shoes with the Mexican flag painted on them along with the Chicago skyline. This combination of regions signified this student, as well as others, believed national borders serve no purpose.

Additionally, Rosa conducted research in a heavily Puerto Rican community in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which can be further explained in his collaborate book, Language and Social Justice in Practice. He said this community is associated with high rates of educational underachievement, which allows educators and government officials to assume the problem is language. The community believes if the students were as well-versed in English as they were in Spanish, then the problem would be solved.

Rosa challenges this ideology with the fact the white mayor of this community is celebrated for his bilingualism, even though the same bilingualism in the students of this community is seen as a disability.

Throughout his research in Holyoke, Rosa worked with educators and students in practices such as oral history and linguistic landscape, where Rosa asked students to interview their parents and ask them about their primary language.

In one interview, a student communicated with her mother by asking the question in English and the mother replying in Spanish. When asked what her primary language was, the mother answered in Spanish that her primary language was English.

Rosa said this household is an example of how English can be someone’s primary language, but doesn’t necessarily have to be reflected in the linguistic norm. He said if school’s recognized this as normative, language would no longer be considered the dominant problem.

Furthermore, Rosa noticed an inequality in the linguistic landscape of the school through the various signs displayed around the building. The welcome sign in the front of the school was in English and Spanish, but the fliers for scholarship applications and college information were solely in English. Warning signs outside the school were in Spanish.

In sum, Rosa said his research is not about advocating for immigration, but is instead about learning from political movements in order to transform the idea of citizenship.

Patrick Smith, professor of Bilingual Education, is an applied linguist himself. As an applied linguist, Smith studies solutions to language-related issues that occur in everyday life. Smith attended Rosa’s lecture and said it was brilliant.

“Dr. Rosa is talking a lot about ideas that aren’t thought or talked about as much in college,” Smith said.

Smith said Rosa’s presentation is an opportunity for students to think and see how language has been treated in their lives, as well as understand linguistic prevalence.

“His research is spot-on in regards to the stuff we’re talking about in our classes,” Smith said.

Rosa said he hopes his audience is able to draw connections between research and everyday experiences so students and faculty are able to recognize how language and culture tie into one another.

Stay up-to-date with Rosa and his research on Twitter @DrJonathanRosa. For more information on Latinx identities, check out Rosa’s book.

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