Making Research Personal

There is one crucial component of being a member of the McNair Scholars Program: you must conduct research! I was very excited to become an undergraduate researcher, but I didn’t know what I wanted to explore. My love for language made me want to investigate everything and anything, but realistically I had to find a specific topic- and fast. With only eight weeks to develop and execute an original project, the clock was ticking.

My mentor provided me with classroom video recordings for her own research to use as data for my project. Not knowing what linguistic goldmines the data would hold, I watched all the recordings and noted segments that interested me. One interaction in particular immediately caught my attention. Two Latina high school students shared their experiences of being labeled because of their language use. What really struck home for me was a classroom discussion in which they revealed that they had been labeled as “sounding pocha” by their own families. Pocha is a negative term that is used to describe Mexicans who are born and raised in the U.S. who speak American Spanish. I was immediately able to relate to these two girls because I too have been called pocha by various family members. From that moment, I knew I wanted to explore language-related experiences of Latinas. I wasn’t doing this research just to fulfill a McNair requirement; I was doing this research for me: I wanted answers.

After going through systematically going through the data, I identified four ideologies, or cultural beliefs, about language that Latina youth face in their daily lives. The first ideology I came across was the idea of the superiority of the standard. In this belief, Standard English (English that we learn in the classroom) is believed to be “better” than other varieties of English, such as African American English and Chicano/a English. The second belief I identified was that for any social group, such as Mexican Americans, there is a specific linguistic variety that is essential to its identity, such as Mexican Spanish. Third, if someone doesn’t use the same linguistic variety as particular group, they are considered to be inauthentic. The final ideology, I came across was the idea that English is the dominant language and all other languages are beneath it.

These beliefs are problematic because they create linguistic insecurities; that is speakers don’t feel proud of or confident in language. I have been able to relate to all of these ideas at one point or another in my life and so I know first-hand the negative repercussions of these ways of thinking. On the bright side, just as I was able to relate to the two girls in the data because of our similar experiences, youth can relate to each other and form bonds to help deal with and fight these ideas. I am fighting them through my research; my research isn’t just information: it’s power.