Language, Race, and Negotiation of Identity: A Study of Dominican Americans

Language, Race, and Negotiation of Identity: A Study of Dominican Americans

Language, Race, and Negotiation of Identity: A Study of Dominican Americans

Language, Race, and Negotiation of Identity: A Study of Dominican Americans

Excerpt

1.1 Introduction

This monograph analyzes the language and identities of Dominican second-generation immigrant high-school students as they negotiate ethnic and racial categories in Providence, Rhode Island. Dominican second-generation ethnic/racial identities are often ambiguous because the ethnolinguistic terms in which members of the second generation think of themselves are frequently at odds with the phenotype-based racial terms in which they are seen by others in the United States. Up to 90% of Dominicans have African ancestry, which would make them African American by American “one-drop” rules of racial classification (Davis 1991). Members of the second generation, however, do not think of themselves as “Black” or “African American”--or “White”-but rather as “Dominican,” “Spanish,” or “Hispanic.” Everyday enactment of a second-generation Dominican, or Dominican American, identity thus involves resistance to American racial categorization, a fundamental form of social organization in the United States.

Through interviews, discourse analysis of naturally occurring, video-recorded talk, and description of linguistic forms, I show that language is central both to the ways Dominican American high school students see themselves and the ways that others see them. Dominican Americans explicitly define their race in terms of language, rather than phenotype, explaining that they speak Spanish, so they are Spanish. In the United States, African-descent phenotype has historically preceded all other criteria, e.g. national origins, language, or religion, for social classification, and African-descent immigrants have generally merged into the African American population by the second generation (BryceLaporte 1972). Unlike these other African-descent groups, Dominicans . . .

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