A former professor and author told a crowd of dozens last week about her obstacles in promoting the Spanish language.
Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, a Harding County native, spoke as part of the Highlands University Department of Humanities lecture series on Chicano literature.
Following introductions, Gonzales-Berry related themes of language and society, crossing the color line, and the loneliness and alienation associated with these issues, in the context of her role as a writer.
She cited various obstacles and barriers she has perceived in her linguistic odyssey of the decades since her childhood. Gonzales-Berry’s anecdotal reminiscences of the language barriers ranged from the comic to the poignant.
Recalling various events from her childhood, Gonzales-Berry gravitated toward her key point of “leaping across the borderline with the flag of the opposition captured,” an allusion to a children’s game played at Rosebud Grammar School.
The allusion referred to linguistic barriers and standards of linguistic acceptance in society.
Stating that that this game was “stamped on my unconscious mind ee as a metaphor for border crossings ee my ethnic identity, “ the writer’s musings on “release of prisoners, and better yet, stealing, the flag of the enemy” provided the audience an understanding of Gonzales-Berry’s intellectual rationale and strategy as a writer of Chicano literature.
The Gonzales family’s move from the llanos of northeastern New Mexico to urban Guadalajara, Mexico, during her early childhood set the stage for further honing of the speaker’s linguistic insights. There, the local higher classes resented the pochos (loosely translated as “those who don’t speak the language (Spanish) correctly,” somewhat akin but in reverse of the local-regional term of mocho, referring to speaking broken English.
In Guadalajara, the author learned to read Spanish, which recalled to her the language of her abuelitos. Upon her family’s eventual return to New Mexico, the writer felt the freedom of having been released from the “prison house of the English language.” Nonetheless, she felt replete with having been “a thief of language.”
She carried the audience with her developing perspective on the advantages of possession of “Language of Other,” but noted that soon, in American society, “Code Switching” (the ability to move fluidly and effortlessly from one language into another within an iteration) gave way to “English Only.”
While in graduate school, Gonzales-Berry said, she felt relief in the focus on Spanish; the literary names and other experiences set free the language she had buried as a child in her obsession to “capture the flag.” Spanish set her free, she said.
Time and aspirations progressed for Gonzales-Berry, and linguistically speaking, she had “come into her own.” She felt more confident in Spanish but was not so sure she could measure up in English.
She iterated a Spanish precept someone had suggested to her, “El escritor que inscribe in espaol es un escritor sin destino.” (Loosely, the writer of Spanish has no destiny.) A pronouncement of misgivings, as her heart told her to write in Spanish, but her pocketbook dictated that she write in English. As an act of resistance, she said, she wrote the novel, “Paletitas de Guyaba” (1991) in Spanish.