Language and Identity: An Exploration through Anzaldua and Tan

Exploring the essence of Americanness entails delving into the diverse narratives of individuals shaped by their unique experiences, backgrounds, and languages. In this academic exploration, we delve into the captivating stories of two women, Gloria Anzaldua and Amy Tan, both children of immigrants, as they navigate the complexities of identity and language in America.

The Intimacy of Language at Home

Within the confines of familial bonds, individuals often find themselves using a language distinct from that employed in the broader societal context.

Tan reflects on the duality of her language, noting, "It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with" (Tan, page 143). Anzaldua echoes this sentiment, highlighting that her "home" tongues are those shared with family and friends, emphasizing the importance of familial language as a cornerstone of identity (Anzaldua, page 134).

For Tan, growing up as the daughter of Chinese immigrants in America brought forth a linguistic duality.

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She vividly remembers moments when she was conscious of the English she used around her mother. Walking down the street, she would speak a different English than the one she used with her mother or her husband. This unique linguistic code became a language of intimacy, a bridge connecting her with her family's heritage (Tan, page 143).

Anzaldua, on the other hand, introduces the concept of Chicano Spanish, a subcategory of Spanish that became her "home" tongue. In her cultural context, the diversity of Spanish dialects varied by region, and she had to adeptly navigate these linguistic nuances.

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She writes, "My 'home' tongues are the languages I speak with my sister and brothers, with my friends" (Anzaldua, page 134). Both women played chameleons with their languages, seamlessly blending into various linguistic environments, wearing a mask to the world until they were home. At home, they were safe to use the language they grew up with without fear of judgment.

Educational Challenges and Triumphs

Education, a fundamental aspect of shaping one's identity, presents unique challenges for Anzaldua and Tan. Anzaldua, burdened by societal expectations, faced admonition for incorporating literature by Chicanos into her curriculum, showcasing the societal bias against her linguistic and cultural background (Anzaldua, page 132).

Her experience as a high school teacher highlighted the systemic challenges she faced. The prevailing notion that one must speak English well to secure a good job deeply impacted her, reinforcing the idea that imperfect English could limit opportunities, even with education. The struggle for linguistic acceptance in educational spaces underscored the broader societal norms that both Anzaldua and Tan grappled with during their formative years.

In contrast, Tan's educational limitations were set by standardized testing, particularly in English and Math. Despite excelling in math and science, her English scores were not deemed sufficient to override societal opinions about her true abilities. She recalls, "My English scores were not good enough to override the opinion that my true abilities lay in math and science" (Tan, page 145). Both women, despite feeling constrained by societal expectations, discovered a love for writing, using it as a medium to voice their perspectives and challenge the limitations imposed upon them.

Societal Perceptions and the Struggle for Acceptance

The broader societal lens through which Anzaldua and Tan were viewed significantly influenced their self-perception. Tan's experience of being forced to speak for her mother, whose English was deemed "broken" by society, shaped her understanding of imperfection and limited expression (Tan, page 144).

Her mother's struggle with the English language led Tan to internalize societal judgments, as she writes, "because she expressed them imperfectly, her thoughts were imperfect" (Tan, page 144). Anzaldua, facing similar challenges, encountered societal disdain for her Chicano Spanish, which was often labeled as "poor Spanish." She boldly declares, "If a person, Chicana or Latina, has a low estimation of my native tongue, she also has a low estimation of me" (Anzaldua, page 136).

The societal perception that their languages were "poor," "broken," or "limited" according to established standards created internal conflicts for both women. These judgments seeped into their self-perception, compelling them to challenge societal norms and assert the richness of their linguistic heritage.

Voices Beyond Constraints

Gloria Anzaldua and Amy Tan were raised in two different cultures, with two different types of English. They grew up in families that spoke with accents and different dialects. Both women navigated their way through the educational system, which was not designed with them in mind. They were also viewed by their communities as being limited because their home language was not the standard.

These two women, despite societal constraints, transcended limitations and fought against a system that sought to silence their voices. They became writers, documenting their personal journeys and giving voice to the intricate relationship between language, identity, and societal expectations. Through their eloquent writings, Anzaldua and Tan not only captured their individual struggles but also contributed significantly to a broader dialogue on the diversity of American identity.

In conclusion, the narratives of Gloria Anzaldua and Amy Tan provide profound insights into the intricate interplay between language, identity, and societal expectations in the American context. Their experiences, though distinct, converge in the shared struggle against societal norms that sought to limit their voices. Through their eloquent writings, these women not only documented their personal journeys but also contributed to a broader dialogue on the diversity of American identity.

Cite this page

Language and Identity: An Exploration through Anzaldua and Tan. (2016, Apr 28). Retrieved from

Language and Identity: An Exploration through Anzaldua and Tan
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