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Coconut or Wetback? ¿Coco o Mojado?

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Coconut or Wetback? ¿Coco o Mojado?

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By: Dr. José Medina, Director of Dual Language and Bilingual Education, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC

As a child, I lived in two worlds - one geographical and the other grounded in language and cultura. Physically, I lived in El Paso, Texas, but on weekends, I crossed the bridge hovering above the Río Grande and spent weekends in Juárez, México. At home and across el río, I spoke español, while at school, all instruction was provided in English. This language/culture divide, created two different environments that I was forced to navigate. Today, I still find myself wandering, sometimes aimlessly, about in both worlds.

I can feel the joy, remembering those lived experiences in Juárez, when we visited my Abuelita Juanita. It was wonderful to play mamaleche with my cousins, and to hear the laughter of my aunts and uncles telling stories, or my Mamá screaming "¡buenas!" when she won a game of loteria. But, I also felt the pain of being scrutinized and taunted by some family members, for living on the American side of the bridge.

Present anti-immigrant sentiment at the highest levels of government has the potential to fuel subtractive ideologies that will further negatively impact students whose first language is not English.

¿Te crees muy gringo? You think you are White?

¿Piensas que eres mejor que nosotros por hablar inglés? Do you think you are better than us because you speak English?

¡Eres un pinche coco – negro por afuera, pero blanco por adentro! You are a fuckin' coconut – dark on the outside, but white on the inside!

At school, six years old, I was a child that could not speak inglés. Although it was difficult, I tried hard to quickly learn this mysterious new language, especially because my teacher seemed pleased when I was willing to answer in English. It didn't matter that at that age, I was already able to read and write en español, or that I loved to write long letters to my favorite singer Juan Gabriel. The truth is that no one ever asked what I could or could not do in Spanish, my first language. The students in my class were not always kind and followed my teacher's lead in disapproving of the Spanish words that sometimes escaped from my mouth.

Please continue reading to hear more of Dr. José Medina's insights..

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