Latinx Students and their Teachers Rompiendo Fronteras sin Miedo

This month we published Transformative Translanguaging Espacios edited by Maite T. Sánchez and Ofelia García. In this post the editors tell us what readers can expect from the book.

Even before you open this book, Transformative Translanguaging Espacios, you will be confronted with the image of Latinx students raising their fists without fear, sin miedo, drawn by Ángela Paredes Montero. The Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd, the #metoo movement, and the pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have given us the impetus to “lift the veil,” in the words of W.E. du Bois, to reveal the social and cognitive injustices of US language education policies for Latinx students. Sin miedo, and joined mainly by other Latinx scholars and teachers, this book shows how translanguaging spaces in education can weave a different tejido, a weave that is different from the tight knots that institutions have drawn around English and Spanish. The chapters here show how translanguaging spaces in education create openings through which we can view Latinx students and their communities desde adentro, so that from the inside, through their own knowledge system and ways of languaging, we can see their capacidad and inteligencia.

Sin miedo has been at the forefront of our trajectory with this book on the transformative power of translanguaging. Both of us have witnessed how opening up translanguaging spaces is transformative for Latinx students and the teachers who enable it. We bring the experience of CUNY-NYSIEB where Maite was project director and Ofelia was co-principal investigator. But we also have witnessed the refusal of many school leaders to allow their teachers to implement these spaces because they supposedly go against the strict language policies that are said to “benefit” students. We have seen teachers disagreeing with the possibilities of translanguaging pedagogical practices because they themselves were victims of elitist notions of academic standard language and additive bilingualism as separate languages. And we have experienced the fear of state education systems to adopt translanguaging theory and pedagogical practices because they thought that the teachers were just too unprepared, the students too deficient, and they too dependent on federal policies that made them mainly accountable for students’ “standard English.” After many years of trying to work with individual teachers and transform practices one by one, our outrage has enabled us to speak out sin miedo from the perspective of the Latinx students and communities themselves. The death of civil rights leader John Lewis, during the writing of this book, reminded us that it was time to get into “good trouble” – “Speak up, speak out, get in the way.”

Through this book, and thanks to the contributors in this volume, we get in the way of educational institutions that do not put racialized bilingual Latinx students and communities at the center of their efforts. We made a conscious editorial decision to begin the book with chapters that look at how translanguaging pedagogical practices open spaces to disrupt the trends of gentrification that are working against the interests of Latinx communities. That is, we are convinced that translanguaging pedagogical spaces must be foremost of benefit to the Latinx community for its own sociopolitical good. The question raised by Heiman, Cervantes-Soon and Hurie in their chapter – Good para quién? ­– must always be at the forefront of translanguaging pedagogical practices.

We identify and call out educational policies and practices that serve the interest of white dominant communities, families, and students, but that have been camouflaged as good for Latinx communities. The book questions, for example, the logic of the dual language/two-way immersion model that is becoming prevalent as the only way to bilingually educate Latinx students.

We have spent our academic careers working for the benefit of Latinx children and youth and upholding their right to bilingual education. At the same time, we have questioned and been critical of the assumptions that have been made about language, bilingualism, and language education policy. Career-wise, Ofelia is at the end of her academic path; but Maite and many of the other Latinx scholars in this book are moving along a camino that not only questions and disrupts established knowledge, but that also produces new knowledge. This book, in which Latinx theorists, scholars, educators, and students co-exist as agentive beings, reconfigures power and reinvents who can produce knowledge, who can name it, and who can access it.

We have insisted throughout the book that translanguaging is transformative. The chapters show ways in which real teachers and students engage with the transformative power of translanguaging.  Some chapters also envision what needs to happen so that these translanguaging transformative espacios can support the education of Latinx children and youth. The path P’alante with which Maite ends the book includes questions for educators so that they can reflect on ways in which translanguaging in education can be transformative for their own contexts. As Ramón Martínez and his colleagues say, translanguaging may not transform the material inequalities and systemic oppression that racialized bilingual students face, but it is transformative “in the everyday actions of students and their teachers.” The concepts of standard academic language and additive bilingualism that have plagued the education of racialized bilinguals in the US have only succeeded in producing academic failure and creating subjectivities of inferiority. By enabling Latinx communities and their children to become critically conscious of how language and bilingualism operates to produce their domination, translanguaging pedagogical spaces indeed are transformative. We hope that this book brings all of us – scholars, educators, students, communities — along a transformative path, as we take steps sin miedo to center the knowledge system and ways of languaging of Latinx communities in our efforts to enact a more equitable educational system.

Maite Sánchez and Ofelia García

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu.

Putting Gender Inclusive Language into Practice in English and Spanish

This month we published Hablar español en Estados Unidos by Jennifer Leeman and Janet M. Fuller, a Spanish edition of their 2020 book, Speaking Spanish in the US. In this post Jennifer discusses the translation process between the English and Spanish editions.

Although non-sexist language has long been a subject of discussion and debate, in recent years gender inclusive language has received increased attention around the world. Regardless of the context, these discussions reflect similar concerns, such as whether the use of masculine forms as the generic is exclusionary, which pronouns to use for people who don’t identity with a gender binary, and what impact the linguistic representation of gender might have on individual and societal understandings of gender identities and roles. Underlying and running through these debates are broader tensions between linguistic innovation and conservatism, disagreement about whether the emergence of new ways of expressing gender reflects ‘natural’ language change or ‘artificial’ social and linguistic engineering, and different understandings on the locus of linguistic authority: language academies and other institutions or language users themselves. Despite these commonalities, there are also language- and context-specific differences.

In the English-language edition of our book Speaking Spanish in the US: The Sociopolitics of Language (2020) we discussed the competing positions regarding gender-inclusive language, the ideologies that underlie them, and their connection to broader social and political issues. In addition to talking about gender inclusivity, we also used gender-inclusive language throughout. As we prepared the Spanish-language edition, Hablar español en Estados Unidos: La sociopolítica del lenguaje, the cross-linguistic differences between English and Spanish came into sharp relief. Specifically, although we were able to adapt our discussion about gender inclusivity for a Spanish-speaking audience without much difficulty, putting it into practice proved a bit more complicated.

Because English has a relatively limited system of gender marking, it was easy to use gender inclusive forms in the English-language edition. For one thing, except for pronouns and possessives, the majority of English nouns (including animate nouns) and adjectives lack gender marking, so phrases like many Spanish-speakers, Mexican immigrants and researchers are all gender inclusive. Whereas the masculine form was long prescribed for generic cases (e.g. Every parent wants the best for his child), the use of singular they/their is now widely accepted (i.e. Every parents wants the best for their child), and it is also fairly easy to avoid the issue by simply using the plural (i.e. All parents want the best for their children.). Along the same lines, nouns that were once gender-specific, such as those referring to professions (e.g. fireman, mailman, and waiter/waitress) have largely been replaced in common usage by gender-neutral forms (i.e. firefighter, mail carrier, server). Thus, in English, gender inclusive language is easily achievable and for the most part, uncontroversial.

One exception to English’s lack of gender marking, and one that is particularly salient in the context of our book, is the identity label Latinx/a/o, which is believed to originate with the Spanish word latinoamericano, and which exhibits patterns of gender-marking similar to those found in Spanish. In the US, the term Latinx has taken hold as the most commonly used gender inclusive form in English, and it is particularly popular among younger adults, activists and academics. We too adopted Latinx for the English-language edition, and took advantage of the opportunity to explain how our choice to do so constitutes an example of language use as a way of positioning oneself as a particular kind of person (in this case as people committed to gender inclusivity), a subject to which we dedicate sufficient attention in the book.

Achieving gender-inclusive language was far more complex in Spanish than it was in English, because almost all Spanish nouns, pronouns, adjectives and articles are marked for gender. As in English, Spanish grammars and language authorities traditionally have prescribed the use of masculine forms for generics, as well as in instances where there is even a single male among many females. For example, whether you are referring to students in general, a specific group of all male students, or a specific mixed gender group, prescriptive grammars and language authorities such as the Real Academia Española (RAE) mandate the use of the masculine generic los alumnos. Earlier critiques of this usage focused on the linguistic invisibilization of women and girls; some more recent proposals for gender inclusive language also call for greater recognition of people who do not identify with a male/female gender binary. Proposed alternatives to the masculine generic include ‘doubling’ (e.g. los alumnos y las alumnas) as well as the use of new non-binary gender morphemes such as -e (e.g. les alumnes) or -x (e.g. lxs alumnxs). Some speakers see gender-inclusive language as a way not only to recognize the diversity of human gender, but also to promote greater societal inclusivity. Others (including many well-known authors and members of the RAE), have pushed back at what they see as unnatural, arguing that the masculine generic is in fact inclusive according to the long established norms of Spanish. It’s worth noting that the RAE has also rejected ‘doubling’ as unnecessary, despite the fact that it is fully consistent with traditional Spanish grammatical patterns. The reaction to –x has been particularly harsh, in part due to the difficulty of pronouncing it when it occurs before a consonant, such as in lxs. Moreover, some critics argue that the use of –x reflects an unwelcome linguistic influence of English on Spanish in the US, a topic of concern among language purists. (It’s worth pointing out that these critiques are often also leveled against the English-language use of Latinx, seemingly advocating for maintaining Spanish norms to a word borrowed from Spanish into English, and thus raising questions about the directionality of language influence in the case of this particular neologism).

We wanted to be true to the English-language original and the US context (where Latinx is widely used) without making it overly difficult to read, especially for readers unfamiliar with non-binary gender morphemes. Moreover, we were aware that some instructors would be hesitant to adopt the book for classes in which many of the students are learning Spanish as a second or additional language. Ultimately, we opted for a multifaceted approach in which we avoided the use of masculine generics through careful rephrasing, as in the following examples;

English Masculine generic Gender inclusive rephrasing
students los alumnos el alumnado


‘the student body’

many Spanish-speakers muchos hispanohablantes muchas personas que hablan español


 ‘many people who speak Spanish’

Mexican immigrants inmigrantes mexicanos inmigrantes de México


‘immigrants from Mexico’

researchers los investigadores quienes han investigado este tema


‘those who have researched this topic’

Although somewhat laborious, this turned out to be possible in almost every case of generics and mixed gender groups, far more than I had expected. In the few isolated cases where such gender-neutral phrasings were either impossible or awkward, we settled for doubling, such as when we referred to the children of immigrants not as hijos de inmigrantes but hijas e hijos de inmigrantes (‘daughters and sons of immigrants’). However, in order to include explicit reference to non-binary gender we used the -x morpheme specifically for the word Latinx. Through this combination of approaches, we sought not only to use gender inclusive language but also to highlight the limitations of normative binary gender marking. We hope that our approach also underscores the fact that language is a type of social action and language choices are influenced by multiple, sometimes competing factors.

Jennifer Leeman

For more information about this book please see our website.

The English edition of this book is available here.


Disability, Language and Mothering

This month we published (M)othering Labeled Children by María Cioè-Peña. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book.

I never sought to study mothers. To be honest, mothers were never really a part of my professional circle. Yes, I worked with women who were mothers and I also engaged with my students’ mothers, but I rarely saw mothers as an asset; truth be told, I probably didn’t really see them at all. I remember many of my former students but very few of their mothers – the ones I do remember often tended to be the “squeaky wheel” mothers – the ones who came across as “irrational” and “demanding”.  As an educator, I didn’t really think about mothers, not the way I do now.

To be clear, I thought about parents. As a special education teacher, I had been trained to communicate with parents, to consider their emotional capacities, particularly around disability diagnosis or program placements, as well as their education level when communicating information and interacting with them. I was taught to be a co-conspirator, always working with parents towards more inclusive placements. As a bilingual educator I was trained to be culturally responsive and to consider parents’ cultural identity and language practices when communicating. All of this was under the guise of compliance and rarely under the umbrella of collaborative partnerships. After all, I had been trained to believe that culturally and linguistically diverse families needed teachers like me to advocate for them.

My relationship with parents in many ways took on similar characteristics to my relationships with children in special education – I was a helper to the helpless, a voice for the voiceless, an advocate for the powerless. Thus, my relationship to parents took on the same deficit framing that plagues emergent bilinguals and students labeled as dis/abled. So it makes perfect sense that parents, especially mothers, were outside of the scope of my inquiries. This is not to say that I did not have beautiful and meaningful relationships with mothers. On the contrary, I credit those relationships with my growth both as an educator and as a researcher, but at the time I did not recognize them as a part of my practice, rather I saw them as another feather on my cap; another thing that I did that made me great.

I was really interested in studying the ways in which my teacher training had failed me. I recognized that my teacher training had been an amalgamation of parts (special education training with a bilingual extension or a bilingual education training with a special education extension) and as such had failed to prepare me, and others like me, for the unique challenges that a bilingual special education teacher might encounter. It wasn’t until I did a pilot study centered on teachers that a participant made a claim that shifted my whole perspective. When speaking about changes that had arisen as a result of special education reforms in NYC, changes that encouraged Emergent Bilinguals Labeled As Disableds’ (EBLAD) placement in monolingual English Inclusive Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms over bilingual self-contained special education settings, she commented that she felt badly for the mothers because they had no say in this transition. The bilingual special education classrooms were closed and students were placed in monolingual ICT classes, and while the children could adjust, the mothers had lost a huge connection to their children’s learning. While in the bilingual special education setting they could encounter a teacher who spoke their home language – that was not true in the monolingual ICT classes.

That comment sat and rattled around my head for weeks and months, until finally I realized that the problem didn’t lie in my training. It originated from the fact that these children were being treated as the sum of their classifications: English language learners, students with disabilities, culturally and linguistically diverse, Latinx, etc. My training was a hodgepodge of programs because the students were being viewed as the sum of their parts rather than as whole. Thus, in order to foreground children as whole, I needed to step out of the classroom and into the home. I needed to center their foremost teacher: their mothers. They are the ones who saw their children as whole first. They are the ones who rooted their children’s differences in a disabilities studies perspective. They are the ones who saw their children’s bilingualism as a linguistic human right central to survival not just capitalism. In order to help EBLADs, I first needed to center mothers’ expertise and experiences.

This book, (M)othering Labeled Children, does just that. It centers mothers, their successes, their struggles (inside and outside of their children’s schooling), their ideologies on disability, language and mothering. In order to see children as whole, we need to see their parents, especially their mothers, as whole first. In doing this work, I have come to better understand myself as a teacher and as a mother. In these women’s testimonios I see my mother, my aunt, and myself. I hope that in reading this book others will see the complexity that is motherhood and the ways in which schools can make this work both easier and significantly more difficult. I hope that this book becomes a step towards a more inclusive school model.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu.

Hispanic or Latino? A Sociolinguistic Perspective

We recently published Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman. In this post Jennifer writes about the difference between the terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’.

Recent growth in the share of the US population that identifies as Hispanic or Latino (as well as feminine Latina and the gender-neutral and non-binary Latinx) has been accompanied by increased attention to the labels themselves. There are ongoing debates about whether these pan-ethnic labels correspond to an ‘authentic’ identity, or people’s own sense of themselves as well as their lived experience or if, conversely, they are an ‘artificial’ creation of the US government. Nor is there consensus among scholars, advocates or anyone else whether that identity, assuming it actually exists, should be considered ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial.’ While we explore both of these issues in our new book, the focus of this post is on a third point of contention: the labels themselves. Specifically, is there a difference between Hispanic and Latino/a/x, and if so, what is it? The meaning of these labels is a perennial topic of lively discussion. It is especially timely this year, given that 2020 is a census year and the US census includes a question on Hispanic or Latino origin. Sociolinguistic perspectives on language, and on the relationship of language to identity, can offer insights into the meaning of the terms as well as into why such discussions are important and never seem to reach resolution.

On one hand, many dictionaries present Hispanic and Latinx/o/a as synonyms, as does the US Office of Management and Budget (the federal agency that mandates the race and ethnicity categories to be used on the census), and many speakers use the two terms interchangeably. One the other hand, numerous scholarly essays, news articles, and social media posts insist that they are not in fact the same. Although there is some variation in popular and scholarly explanations of the purported differences, etymology typically figures prominently. Specifically, most authors trace the origins of the word Hispanic to Hispania, the region of the Roman empire that comprised the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal today); some accounts also describe Hispanic as an Anglicized shortening of hispanoamericano, an inhabitant of Spain’s former American colonies. For its part, Latino is described as a deriving from latinoamericano, and many authors note that Latin America is a 19th century construction differentiating the areas in the Americas colonized by France, Portugal and Spain from those colonized by England. Thus, many claim that Hispanic refers to people with a connection to former Spanish colonies (but not Brazil) while Latina/x/o includes all Latin Americans and their descendants (but not people from Europe). Ethnoracial and linguistic diversity within Latin America and Spain is often glossed over in such discussions.

For the most part, etymologically-based accounts of the difference between Hispanic and Latinx/a/o assume a straightforward and enduring one-to-one correspondence between words and their meanings, as well as a similarly rigid understanding of identities and their relationship to labels. In this view, once we know the origin of a word, we know its meaning. However, one of the basics of human language is that it is always undergoing change; not only do pronunciations and sentence structures change over time, so do the semantic and social meanings of words. Thus, while etymology is interesting, and it can tell us something about how words have been used historically, it doesn’t reveal their complete meaning. For sociolinguists, the meaning of words is not contained within the words themselves but in the way they are used and understood in a given context. In the case of ethnoracial labels, this often goes hand-in-hand with varied social constructions of ethnoracial categories, which can vary from place to place as well as over time.

In addition to characterizing identities as socially constructed, sociolinguist approaches also stress that language plays a central role in the creation and performance of identities. Indexicality, or the way that particular linguistic forms or practices ‘point to’ particular attitudes, stances or identities, is key to this process. Specifically, when speakers speak in a particular way, or use one particular word, they rely on socially shared associations between linguistic forms and social meanings to signal something about themselves. Symbolic and indexical meanings play an especially important role in shaping people’s preferences for either Hispanic or Latino/x/a. For many people, the term Hispanic is seen as elevating European heritage and erasing Native and African cultures, peoples and languages. Despite the equally Eurocentric etymology of Latino/x/a, this term for many people indexes a more inclusive recognition of diversity.  In some contexts, using Latino/x/a (and especially when pronounced with Spanish, rather than English, phonology) is a way of enacting a particular kind of ethnoracial pride and/or sociopolitical awareness. In addition, the use of Latinx can signal one’s support for gender inclusivity. In sum, the choice between Hispanic and Latino/x/a (as well as other identity labels) depends not only on the specific ethnoracial identity of the person it refers to, but also on the sociopolitical stance and identity of the speaker. Importantly, indexical meanings are also variable and contextually dependent, rather than fixed within the words themselves. As such, it’s not surprising that the precise meanings of these labels, as well as which one is ‘better’, is highly contested, as are debates about just what it means to be either one.

Jennifer Leeman

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning and Not Learning in the Heritage Language Classroom by Kimberly Adilia Helmer.