Language, Identity and Social Networks among LGBTQ Latin@s in Phoenix and the Urgency of Queering Research on Spanish in the U.S

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ABSTRACT. In this essay I reflect on where I have been and where I am going in my research on the occasion of the 2012 Presidential Address at the meeting of the Linguistic Association of the Southwest in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I contextualize this reflection within a brief survey of the research on Spanish language maintenance and shift to English, with passing mention of the fields of queer linguistics and queer Latin@ studies. Finally, I argue for why sociolinguistic research on Spanish and bilingualism in the U.S. should pay attention to LGBTQ Latin@s and queer communities.

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1. INTRODUCTION. I attended my first LASSO conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2001, the same year I defended my dissertation at the University of Michigan and began my first tenure-track job at Arizona State University. Just over a decade later, I am honored to be giving the presidential address at LASSO XLI in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It is no exaggeration to say that LASSO has been with me my whole career, and I hope that it always will be. It has always meant so much to me to participate in LASSO over the years, and to be welcomed with open arms by a community of scholars whose work I respect and whose collegiality represents everything that is right with academia. To be elected to the leadership of this organization, to coordinate the program for LASSO XL in South Padre Island, Texas (2011) as the Vice President and Program Chair, and to give the Presidential Address are things I could not have imagined that fall in Albuquerque, just weeks after the horrific events of September 11, when I met in person people whose research had shaped my thinking on Spanish in the U.S. and became acquainted with people who would become my valued colleagues and unofficial mentors, whether they knew it or not. I look forward with great excitement to what the next ten years may bring, and I fervently hope that I can give back to LASSO and the next generation of scholars what it has given me.

Since I have been given the honor of addressing LASSO as the organization's president, I have decided to take the opportunity of this address to speak from the heart as well as the head, as a human being as well as a sociolinguist, and to make a plea for the inclusion of research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (or questioning), that is LGBTQ (1), Latin@s in sociolinguistic research on Spanish in the U.S. I will contextualize this plea within a description of my current research, which builds on decades of research on language maintenance and shift and draws on insights from queer linguistics and research on queer Latin@s in cultural studies and social sciences.

2. BACKGROUND (I.E. HOW I GOT HERE). I began my work on Spanish in the U.S. doing a rather traditional dissertation on Spanish language maintenance and loss, incorporating into it the investigation of code-switching in conversation (Cashman 2001). My work was situated in the Chicano/Latino community of Southwest Detroit, Michigan, under the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge, which connected the city to Windsor, Ontario. At this spot, I learned a lesson on how bridges can both unite and divide, as the busy international bridge spanning the Detroit River and connecting the U.S. to Canada also bisected the neighborhood known as 'Mexicantown', leaving one side of it to grow while the other withered, cut off from the business center and social services. In this research, I examined the patterns of language maintenance and shift, following in the footsteps of decades of work in the field (see 2.1. below) while bringing into the picture the question of social network. I found that the latinidad of an individual's social network--that is, the percentage of network ties that were Latin@--impacted the use of maintenance of Spanish (see also Cashman 2003). In the years that followed, I pursued a research agenda that built more on the code-switching in conversation aspect of my dissertation, branching into politeness and impoliteness, looking into questions of identity in interaction, and I left behind for the most part the topic of language maintenance and shift. …