Voices of Excellence interview

Anna Babel, associate professor of Hispanic linguistics in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, spent 17 years gathering ethnographic data for her 2018 book, Language at the Border of the Andes and the Amazon. She discusses how language use creates similarities and differences among speakers of Spanish and Quechua with host David Staley. She then turns to a topic closer to home, her experience leading ally trainings for campus community members interested in supporting undocumented students. Tune in to the Voices of Excellence from the College of Arts and Sciences podcast, available on Soundcloud and on iTunes.

The Last Word: To my Latino Languages and Communities Class

Estimados estudiantes,

Ya terminada la última clase, les escribo para expresar mis mejores deseos para un exitoso fin de semestre para todos Uds. Espero que you can do a good job on your course work, and finish the semester well, but remember lo que les dije en la primera clase: you are not defined by a grade in a class. You have value as a person, and you have dimensions that go beyond lo que se mide in a gradebook. Keep it in perspective.

Ahora que ya pasamos el trabajo de establecer a new academic standard of code-mixing, atrévense a usarlo en sus otras clases. Push the envelope, experiment, and desarróllense una voz propia. Think about what it means to be a speaker and a writer of standard languages, y lo que implica políticamente to recognize and push back against these naturalized practices. Para citar a Anzaldúa, How have your wild tongues been tamed?

More broadly, I hope you will move forward with your life in ways that reflect the qualities that I have seen in our class: academic acuity, critical thinking, empathy, deep engagement with structural inequalities and an appreciation for the private joys and struggles in our world. Recuerda la responsabilidad que tenemos cada uno de dedicarnos no sólo a la lingüística, sino a anthropolitical linguistics – respect for, advocacy on behalf of, and cooperation with the people who speak our languages and live in our communities.

And finalmente, please remember to fill out your SEIs. Gracias por su colaboración, and I’ve enjoyed having you all in class this semester.

Anna/Profe B

An open letter to my students

Originally published in The Lantern.

As you know from the conversations we’ve had over the past few days, I do not assume that all of us share the same political opinions.  In fact, quite the reverse — I know and respect the different points of view that each of you bring to our collective conversation.

I do believe that we share a common commitment to basic values of tolerance, respect and mutual trust.  These are values that I work hard to instill in our classroom, and they apply equally to all students, indeed to all of us — regardless of political affiliation, race or ethnicity, immigration status or religion.  I call on you speak out for those values today.

This Friday, Veteran’s Day, posters that advocated white supremacist ideas were hung the walls of Hagerty Hall, the building where I work.  Many of you have seen these images circulating on social media and feel upset and scared.  It is frightening to see these views openly expressed in spaces that we have all worked to make safe.  It is even more frightening to hear that this is part of a national pattern of harassment and violence against women, people of color and Muslims in the days since the election.

I feel vulnerable too.  I am a woman.  I work in higher education.  I am married to a man who is not only an immigrant, but brown and a Spanish-speaker.  I have two Latino children.  I feel vulnerable personally and I am also worried about people I love and about my children’s future.  But feeling vulnerable is different than being afraid.  It is not surprising that a political cycle that has been centered on divisiveness, resentment and mistrust should breed a legacy of fear and hate.  I refuse to be part of that.  I refuse to be afraid, and I refuse to look around me with hate and distrust.

The university is a community that is built around a set of common values.  At its best, the university is a space to explore difference, to engage with new and potentially radical ideas.  It is a space for discussion, for experimentation, for debate, for idealism in its best forms.  We cannot do that when we feel angry, afraid or hateful.  Do not close in, reach out.  Do not shut down, open up.

And so I call on you to act.  Listen to people who you know disagree with you.  Speak out when you see injustice. Stand up for what you know is right.  Get active at the community level — make this a better town, state, nation and world over the next four years.  And most of all, finish your education.  Graduate and get out there in the world to pay it forward.  I am proud to be an educator and a part of this institution.  I am proud of all of you.  We are strong not despite our differences, but because of them.  And we are all in this together.