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How we pronounce Uvalde says a lot about the power of language in mixed communities (


Because Uvalde is a town made up of mostly Latino or Hispanic residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data, landing on a "correct" pronunciation is tricky — the language of the people who live there exists on a sliding spectrum between Spanish and English, and often consists of a combination of the two.

But how we say Uvalde matters, because it represents a long lineage of how Latinos have been racialized in the U.S. and in South Texas, specifically.

But Uvalde is just one example of how many Spanish-origin words are anglicized in Texas and other parts of the country — names like Del Rio, San Marcos, Refugio, or even Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"We know that English was forced upon Mexican-ancestry people living in Texas, probably beginning with the Texas War of Independence and thereafter," says Ainslie. "Spanish was forbidden in schools and children were punished for speaking it."

Spanish itself is an imposed colonial language, forced upon the native Indigenous people of the region. But there's a difference between the way language is understood in Latin America and in the U.S.

In this country, language became a signifier of race, says Kirsten Silva Gruesz. She's a professor of literature specializing in Latino and Chicano literature at the University of California Santa Cruz, and author of the forthcoming book Cotton Mather's Spanish Lessons: A Story of Language, Race, and Belonging in the Early Americas.

"There's an additional layer within the U.S., which is that [Spanish] is a language that was associated with a certain kind of working-class identity," she explains. "It was associated with people who were racialized, who were discriminated against, who were prohibited from using certain drinking fountains or coming into certain schools."

To read more of Isabella Gomez Sarmiento's article, please click here.

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