Published: Oct. 14, 2022 By ,

This article is part of the BUENO Center's Community Voices series. We invite community members to share their opinions, thoughts, commentary as related the our vision and mission.

Dual Social Identity

By Frank S. Dávila, Ph.D.

Normally, titles to essays and blogs should not have to be explained. In this instance, it is necessary so that we are thinking via the same wavelength.

Some of us in our U.S. society are bilingual and/or bicultural. We meet and greet and observe and listen to a host of languages spoken around us. And as we navigate our way buying groceries at Costco or going into a restaurant, we may converse in our native language and as we approach the reservation desk at the restaurant or the check-out station at Costco, we immediately switch to speaking in English while we have yet to finish our sentence in our native tongue.

That is “code-switching” and underscores how we have the gift and burden to operate in at least two languages and thus our dual social identity.

Some folks who witness this code switching are amazed at our skills and applaud them while others feel a discomfort and frown at our audacity to speak in a “foreign tongue.”

There are those, however, who understand this dual language skill set. I have personally witnessed individuals who are not bilingual nor display a bicultural spirit and yet fully accept, respect, and encourage our dual social identity. Many of these are parents who choose to enroll their children in schools that promote a dual language program knowing the value of speaking English and at least one other language.

Unfortunately, we have other individuals who want to castigate people who speak a language other than English. They interpret this as a threat from immigrants who are populating our current society and moving us all away from the God given principles of the United States. They also insist that those of us who choose to speak another language and who celebrate our native cultural traditions, are polluting the mainstream culture of the United States.

The population mix within our country is a plethora of an estimated 400 languages with English followed by Spanish as the primary languages.

Some folks point to Europe as an example of how citizens from different countries can comprehend and speak other languages. If we look at the geography of Europe, we can understand the necessity of learning other languages where your country is geographically attached to another country. The United States does not share a group of contiguous countries such as Europe. We do have Mexico and Canada, but they are large countries with a similar autonomous geographical and population layout as ours. All three countries have indigenous groups with different languages with Canada having a stronger presence of French speakers and us, a large group of Spanish speakers.

Why do we continue to engage in linguistic and cultural battles here in the United States? Does a person who uses their bilingual and/or bicultural status create a fear of mistrust or generate images of a new “normal” for the United States down the road? And perhaps, some US citizens are firmly convinced or entrenched in the belief that having multiple languages and cultures in our midst somehow dilutes the flavor and patriotic version of the America they perceive it to be and want it to be!

So, how do we help others understand the rich attributes of those who embrace their native culture and/or language? How do we help others see that this dual language and cultural expressions are similarly rooted in the deep respect and pride we all have in our family and heritage?

Languages and cultures should not be used as weapons to malign one group while elevating a single dominant group who refuses to be inclusive and equitable as it shuts the door toward a more diverse society. 

Perhaps those of us who display a dual social identity need to create palpable pathways that invite and provide more social comfort for those who claim English as their sole language of preference. This may be a daunting role but with it comes powerful and uplifting possibilities.