Guest speakers address problems of nationalism in U.S. politics

Linguist Mary Louise Pratt during a panel discussion at UNC Asheville. Photo by Larisa Karr.

Maggie Haddock
Assistant News Editor
mhaddock@unca.edu

A panel with linguist Mary Louise Pratt and anthropologist and poet Renato Rosaldo discussed important topics regarding language, nationalism and broader analysis on acceptance of those different from oneself during a discussion with UNC Asheville.

“Nations’ states differ a whole lot on how they feel about language and multilingualism. Nation states all want to have one official language that they can conduct their democracy in and that everybody shares,” Pratt said. “They often feel that is important for solidarity, national identity and for just connecting in national communication systems, for publishing laws.”

Pratt continued by explaining the uniqueness of the U.S. and the paradox surrounding multilingualism.

“The U.S., on one hand, is permanently multilingual, just by the way it built itself. At the same time, the U.S. has had for, since the beginning of the 20th century, an ideology of monolingualism, where if you don’t speak English, you’re not a true American,” Pratt said.

Rosaldo noted a divide between cultures and the gray area faced in the U.S. today regarding the definitions used to categorize Americans.

“Culture is measured by difference by some, ‘We.’ If there is an ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’ it’s good. The question has to do with what’s going on with the White House narrative now as we speak about immigration. Who’s the ‘we’ and who’s the ‘them?’ I’m a little puzzled about the ‘we.’ I expected the ‘we’ to be the people of the United States,” Rosaldo said. “There seems to be a different ‘we’ operating.”

Pratt discussed the misconception of safe houses and how the necessity of safe houses on college campuses evolves as the political climate changes.

“A couple things are happening. One is the idea of sanctuaries, a particular version of safe houses. The word ‘sanctuary’ is used to define safe house spaces in all different ways all over the country,” Pratt said. “A lot of these are now for the protection of undocumented people who are facing deportation and separations from their families.”

Pratt continued by defining sanctuaries and by noting what makes a sanctuary strong.

“You get that word sanctuary to create that idea of safety. Yes, space is really important. I think another thing important for creating safe houses is having allies. In letting allies in, they are people who support your doing and will stand up for you in forms of humanity when you’re not able to stand up for yourself,” Pratt said. “Creating allies and letting your allies know what you need from them is really valuable.”

Following the panel, a happening was led by Assistant Professor of Spanish Juan Sánchez Martinez.

“I had this idea because I really admire their work so I said that it would be good to create this conversation with the students and with other ways of expressions,” Martinez said.

The happening, which involved participants drawing on large pieces of paper hung around the room, creates a unique experience, according to Martinez.

“A happening is a beautiful story getting told with a happening. It’s a concept, it’s a cultural activity,” Martinez said. “You don’t know when it’s going to happen in the world, but suddenly something happened because of the atmosphere that we created here. So only we could do this. Nobody else. And this is only going to happen once, ever.”

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