What’s special about an audio essay?
Audio essays allow us to focus on the persuasions and intricacies of the human voice. We’ve discussed at great length its power and persuasion, which is organized and resented as language. Even as I sit in Starbucks writing this (my apartment building’s fire alarm is going off), I can hear bits of Spanish as one man talks into his phone. The girl behind me is warning a stranger girl off a guy she used to date in English. One man calls to another from the door in a language my ignorance is labelling as vaguely Indian. All of these voices with their own agendas out in the open. This gave me an idea.
I want to talk about prejudices against Spanish in America.
Why. Not only is this a relevant concern for millions of Americans, it’s an unfound prejudice which belittles a minority based on something that should be a source of study, admiration, and culture. Language. People have been using it to construct their identity for longer than Spanish has been around. Just like there’s a difference between how people from different classes dress, they use their speech to set themselves above. In America, English is to diamonds as Spanish is to quarts. Both unique; both beautiful. But, someone decided diamonds were worth more money, so diamond jewelry is priced above quarts.
A similar social stamp is given to language. Even within English alone, there are dialects that are considered high-class and others are lowly. Just think about how people judge southern accents. If they talk slowly, they must think slowly too. Look at African American Vernacular English (AAVE – a name I strongly oppose). It has all the rich complexities of a language, yet people may hear it and think speakers less intelligent. It’s all a lie. AAVE, which many English speakers consider to be broken-down English, has simply evolved along a different path. It has a grammar some consider more complex than standard English. The stigmas society has placed upon it are just that – human designed stigmas.
Spanish faces a similar struggle in the U.S. Even though according to the 2013 census, 38.4 million people (around 13% of the U.S. population) speak Spanish. And, 58% of those Spanish speakers speak English “very well” but choose to speak Spanish at home. Why do so many Spanish speakers choose Spanish over English if they live in America? Wouldn’t it give everyone a better chance if English was spoken at home for practice? If you’ve contemplated one of these questions, you aren’t alone.
Many English-speaking Americans don’t understand why everyone doesn’t just learn English. It’s in every way except name the national language. There are several good points there. Not only is English the primary language of almost every school, most government documents, road signs, grocery stores, things we encounter daily, are in English. Knowing English can help you communicate with a great number of people and can help you conform to the majority.
And, therein lies the problem – conforming to the masses. If everyone thinks and speaks the same way, isn’t self-expression doomed? We preach the benefits of “together, not the same,” but do we believe them? (Everyone who owns an iPhone, I’m looking at you.) This assumes the impossible, but the ideology is what’s at play. People think one language is superior to another when really each is equally complex in its own way. It’s people’s xenophobia that’s attached to language. It’s different therefore it threatens my normal therefore my values are in jeopardy and that won’t do. That’s what’s going on here.
How does this apply to your audio essay?
I want to tear open those stereotypes and prove why they’re wrong. I want to show what xenophobia does to people, how it squashes their individuality. In my audio essay, you’re going to hear different sides of the story. One of my girls grew up in Mexico. She came to the U.S. to go to college and had to learn English to achieve that goal. I’m also looking for a heritage speaker, meaning their parents are from Mexico, but they grew up in the U.S. Finally, I want to look at someone who doesn’t know any Spanish. I also have an excellent linguistics professor who can add his considerable experience in this matter.
The end product is designed to show the stereotypes against Spanish speakers in America in different lights. I’m trying my best to remain neutral, but shades of my dissatisfaction with the treatment of Spanish as a second-class language are sure to color this essay. People need to know that different isn’t bad. Different isn’t as different as we may think.