Newsletter 2006
Leaving My Home, Finding Myself

Throughout my experience at Muhlenberg I have had the privilege of working with many Latino students from Allentown, as I recently finished my student teaching placement at Trexler Middle School and have been working with our Community Admissions Program for the past three years. The students with whom I work are extremely diverse, but the majority share a very complex characteristic: they are neither completely monolingual nor truly bilingual. Many of the students can converse casually in both Spanish and English, but cannot write or read fluently in either. Instead, many speak easily within their communities in ‘Spanglish.’ language.

This phenomenon poses a very complex dilemma for educators. As a future English teacher and a Spanish minor, I have learned that there is tremendous value in recognizing and implementing students’ cultures and languages into literature and writing curriculums. I have found that doing so is extremely difficult when the cultures and languages addressed in textbooks are not necessarily those of the students. Students must be allowed to express themselves in their most familiar and intimate languages within educational systems in order to best feel as if they belong within those systems. They also must hear from authors and other voices that are similar to their own in order to understand their own voices as having a valid position within the educational venues in which they participate. At present, though, there are few such voices viewed as legitimate voices within society and education. These students express themselves as part of a separate culture, a young Latino American culture that is not exclusively part of the Spanish speaking community or of the English speaking community, but occupying a unique space in between. 

Another, possibly more pertinent, problem is that the students enter the schools without a deep understanding of either language. In order to succeed, they must learn to converse, read, and write in a language that they do not use on a regular basis. The difficulty faced by many of our students today is not that they must move from being monolingual to bilingual, but that they must learn to be trilingual, conversing in Spanglish with their peers, and learning to speak, read and write fluently in both standard English and standard Spanish in order to communicate with the rest of their communities. The difficulty then faced by teachers is in helping these students to overcome such obstacles while still validating their place in the educational systems through the recognition of their everyday language and unique culture.
--Stacey Artman, ‘06