Summary: How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua
In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”, Gloria Anzaldua exposes her feelings about social and cultural difficulties that Mexican immigrants face when being raised in the United States. She establishes comparisons among English, Spanish and their variations and how cultural imperialism influence on people’s “preference” to speak one language rather than the other. She brings to debate important social problems such as sexism, cultural imperialism, racism, low self-esteem, reprimand, and identity construction. The author brilliantly starts the article with a metaphor in which she defines the acculturation process as something extremely violent and cruel. In addition, the article aims at showing both sides of the acculturation process: the Anglo side and the Hispanic side. On the Anglo side, there is the urgency of adaption. In other words, if an individual choose to immigrate to the United States, he should embrace the language and culture in order to be “accepted”; on the Hispanic side, there are the Mexican parents who want their children to succeed and live the American Dream, thus they’d better speak proper American English with minimum or no accent. It seems that all the author desires is to be able to freely speak Chicano Spanish and have their own language and identity respected. According to the article, some progress has being made. There are books published in Chicano Spanish, and political parties who defend Chicano’s rights. Nonetheless, there is still an interrogation mark with regards to their race, identity, language, culture, sense of belonging, freedom to express their thoughts in whatever English/Spanish variation they want and sexism due to the “macho” features of Latinos in general. In addition, the author expresses her feeling of outrage, exposing how Chicano Spanish is belittled by Latinos and Anglo people. To conclude the author points out that Chicanos are linguistically orphans and how it seriously affects their self-esteem.
The article “How to Tame a Wilde Tongue” by Gloria Anzaldua is extremely valuable since it brings to discussion important social issues such as sexism, cultural imperialism, racism, low self-esteem, reprimand and identity formation. The article has a solid argument base which can be corroborated by scholars such as Foucault, Goffman, Zizek and Fanon. Although it was publish in 1987 as part of Anzaldua’s book “Borderland/ La Frontera”, she was a contemporary of the Chicano Movement in the 60s. Culturally, she was influenced by the social turmoil when she wrote the article. In other words, the richness of her writing goes beyond knowledge, it also comes from personal experience.
One of the article’s strengths is clearly stated by the author when she qualifies the acculturation process as violent. She uses the term “linguistic terrorism” and explains how the First Amendment is violated, when an individual has his form of expression attacked with intend of censure. Another interesting point is the view of languages as subjective and passive of changes that go beyond new grammatical rules. Those changes incorporate social and cultural factors. In addition, there is an intriguing questioning on whether identity construction is a social input and to what extent individuals have control upon their own identity formation. All these thoughts were developed by the author among social turmoil caused by the Chicano Movement and I strongly believe that it contributed to the general strength of the article. Historically speaking, the Mexican- American society in California and Texas had been going through over twenty years of segregation. Among the claimed civil rights was the right to quality education in which Mexican-Americans would receive equal college opportunities and not merely be pushed into vocational schools. Mexican-American children or Chicanos, would be ashamed of their origins and of speaking Spanish since they were physically and psychologically punished at school for speaking Spanish in the classroom. Cultural imperialism promoted a stereotyped and stigmatized Mexican population: passiveness and low intellectual aptitude resulted in thousands of students dropping out of school.
At this point, I strongly believe that the author exposed her feelings and experience supporting them with historical facts in a very effective way. In a country where the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (Find Law); one should have the right to live according to their cultural backgrounds up to the point of not overstepping the bounds of the others. That said, I strongly disagree with the author, when she states, “[…] until I’m free to write bilingually and switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I’d rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate” (Anzaldua, 1987, p.80). One have the right to freedom of expression and might protest for things he believes will benefit society; however, how can one demand the majority to accommodate the language needs of the minority, when the official spoken language in the country, in this case the United States is English? At this point in the article, I sense that the author’s outrage oversteps the limit of common sense and she basically desires to pay back all the segregation she has faced so far in her life. I’d like to provide an example out of the American context in order to illustrate better my thoughts. Brazil is a country that received many Asians and Europeans immigrates during and by the end of World War ll. The official language is Brazilian Portuguese, there are many Italian, Japanese and German communities. Those communities are small when compared to the rest of the Brazilian population. Do Brazilians learn Italian to talk to Italians or do Italians learn Portuguese because they are living in Brazil and need to be able to integrate themselves into the Brazilian society? Are they going to be less Italians because they learn Portuguese? I don’t think so. The point I’m trying to make is: there are many advantages of being multicultural and one should try to accommodate the others’ needs to the best of their abilities. To conclude, I strongly believe that the author has a valid point when it comes to cultural imperialism, sexism, identity construction, racism, low self-esteem and reprimand in a country that has liberty as one of its pillars.
Thesis # 1: Identity construction is indelibly linked to social inputs. It is a variable that depends on political, economic and bellicose hegemony.
Thesis # 2: Language and culture are inseparable; with language suffering variations as the culture varies or changes. Political, economic and geographical conditions will determine cultural characteristics that will result in language variation.
Thesis # 3: Individuals play different roles in society that are pretty much socially determined.
Anzaldua, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue?” Borderland/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Second Edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987. 217. Print.
“First Amendment – U.S Constitution.” Find Law. 12 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Aug. 2014. <http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html>.