Date of Degree

9-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Angela Reyes

Committee Members

Jillian Cavanaugh

José del Valle

Nancy H. Hornberger

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Higher Education | Linguistic Anthropology

Keywords

bilingual education, whiteness, critical race theory, raciolinguistics, higher education, racialization

Abstract

At the southernmost tip of Texas, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) opened its doors on August 31, 2015 as a ‘bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate’ campus—the only one of its kind and at a scale never before attempted in the United States. This is a categorical achievement in the near 200 year-long quest for the educational advancement of Latinxs in Texas—a state historically structured by white supremacist ideologies, violent economic and political disenfranchisement, as well as a racially segregated education system designed to maintain exploitative labor practices (Montejano 1987; González 1990, 2013, 1999; Blanton 2004). This constitutes the racializing ground on which UTRGV was built upon, which often positions Latinxs, Mexicans, and the Spanish language as threats to American life (Santa Ana 2002; Ruiz 2017[2006]; Zentella 2009; Rosa 2016; Chavez 2008). This places the university in a precarious political position: it must present the Spanish language and English-Spanish bilingualism as non-threatening to American social life.

My research asks: 1) How do various university actors (students, instructors, administrators) understand what bilingualism is? 2) How is this understanding related to questions of racial and economic value? 3) How do these racial and economic values attach to language and their speakers? To answer such questions, I take a semiotic approach to race and language (Dick & Wirtz 2011; Urciuoli 1996; Smalls 2020; Reyes 2021; Rosa 2019). This research illustrates how commonly deployed constructions of language and language use (such as “academic language” and “bilingualism”) were highly contested categories mediated by “raciolinguistic ideologies,” which entail the perspective of the “white listening subject,” a mode of perception that enacts and reproduces ideologies of race and language, often based on idealized white middle-class norms (Flores & Rosa 2015). This year-long ethnographic investigation relied upon interviews and participant observations to analyze how university actors deploy, leverage, and/or ignore such categories and their underlying ideologies to achieve particular ends, which might include contexts as wide-ranging as everyday personal interactions between individuals as well as large-scale marketing strategies meant for international audiences. This research found that historically descendant racializing ideologies designed to disenfranchise Latinxs continued to operate at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

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