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DIANA CANTALAMISA: Latinx? ‘I had to look it up because I’m old school’

DIANA CANTALAMISA IS a para educator for English Language Development (ELD) students at Wixom Elementary in Wixom, Michigan. Cantalamisa identifies as a second-generation Mexican American Latina.

What do you think of the term Latinx to identify people of Latin American or Spanish background? 

To be honest with you, when you asked me about meeting today about Latinx issues, I had to look it up because I’m old school, and if my understanding is correct that Latinx term is for gender neutrality I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever.

Some of the reasons that others might have a problem with the term Latinx is because it was not created by people in the Latino community. Some might think that it’s an excuse for corporations to lump all of the different Latino cultures together. Do you feel like it’s like that, or would you feel that it’s probably based on inclusion?

Now that you’ve enlightened me a little bit further about the term, I would have preferred to have had the Latino community have a say. In that respect, I love the gender neutrality of it, but at the same time I don’t know if there is a bigger picture or motive. I’d have to think about that because it’s new to me, and I did not know that it wasn’t created by the Latin community. That part I don’t like and I wasn’t aware of it.

Would you say that your experience as a Latina person has isolated you in the way that you grew up? Or was it not as much of an issue for you growing up, were you able to branch out culturally?

Are you familiar with the movie Selena?

I do not believe so.

There’s a scene in that movie. She is American born, like me, yet wants to break into the Hispanic music, Latina music. I’m using that as an example, the way I look, it’s expected of me to speak Spanish. So isolation, yes, because I grew up in a primarily African American community. And I wasn’t really wanted there. If I tried to join the Latino community because I didn’t know the language at the time, I wasn’t there. 

And so, yes, there’s a sense of isolation. I do know the language now because I went to school to learn it. But growing up there is a sense of isolation, but probably not in the way that you’re thinking.

As a U.S born citizen, does it bother you to be labeled?

I think visibly, people can see something other than, you know, another ethnicity. You can kind of guess what I am. So, I don’t really have a problem, because there’s a sense of pride that comes with my heritage. So, no, it doesn’t bother me.

You have said that you do speak Spanish. Do you view Spanish as an attribute to your identity? How important is knowing Spanish to you?

To me, it’s vital. I had to go to college to learn Spanish because during my formative years, it wasn’t encouraged. There wasn’t a lot of Spanish speaking in the home because being bilingual in those days wasn’t something that was really acceptable. So as an adult, I went back and I learned the language. So you know, it’s really important to me because I can communicate with a whole different group of people on a different level.

If my understanding is correct that Latinx term is for gender neutrality I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever.

Are you first generation?

Second generation.

Would you say that your culture is better than someone else’s or do you not really view it like that?

I would hope to never say that my culture is better than anyone else’s. I think people should learn more about other cultures.

Does cultural appropriation bother you? For example, we had a discussion on horchata coffee in class, and how it really bothers some people, and other people don’t understand why.

Could you elaborate on the term so I can understand?

Cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adaptation of the customs practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another, and typically more dominant people of society. So for me as a white person, if I were to get dreadlocks, that would be considered cultural appropriation. Because I am not from the Bahamas. I do not have those ties, even if it’s not coming from a place of offense, even if it’s coming from a place of “Oh, I just like the hairstyle.” It’s taking from a not as dominant culture and not necessarily giving credit to that culture.

Got it. I don’t have any issue with someone adopting any kind of style or habit from any other culture, because I think that’s how we expand ourselves. If we do that, I don’t have a problem with that.

Do you mind explaining a little bit more about what your job entails in the school? What is your day-to-day work life like?

I work with kindergarten through second grade students who speak a second language; not all of them speak Spanish. We are trained to work with all languages, but where my specific language comes in, is Spanish. If a student does speak Spanish, I can relate to them on a different level, and also the parent interaction, attending specific or special education meetings or something like that. Translating for these parents is a really important part of my job as well.

Do you deal with discrimination, or do you see your students dealing with discrimination on a day-to-day basis?

You know, it’s out there. I think there’s a stereotype for every culture. For example, my daughters have gone to University of Michigan, and they often get asked what campus they go to. There’s Ann Arbor, there’s Flint, and there’s Dearborn. And that in itself speaks to us because it’s not expected of a Mexican American to attend the Ann Arbor campus. So is it out there? Yes. Is it day to day? No. But there’s certain expectations or stereotypical thoughts that people do have. [Do] you have to constantly be proving yourself? Oh, yeah, I went to college. Yeah, you know, that kind of thing. So it’s out there unfortunately. And my students sometimes when their English is not the best, other students, sometimes they just don’t understand.

At the elementary school age level, would you consider it more of an innocent non-understanding or copying of parents as opposed to actually being mean?


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