Monday, May 7, 2018

Rosina Lozano's "An American Language"

Rosina Lozano is Assistant Professor of History at Princeton University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to An American Language: The History of Spanish in the United States, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 is not a winner for An American Language.

The book begins when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the U.S.-Mexican War in 1848, extended citizenship to the former Mexican residents in the ceded territories. I unite these new citizens who almost universally spoke Spanish under a single term, treaty citizens, and the book explores the ways that these new citizens—with the help of official state, territorial, and federal language policies—used the Spanish language as U.S. citizens.

Page 99 follows an extensive look at the ways that California and Colorado used translations to reach treaty citizens in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Both included Spanish-language translation protections in their constitution. It begins a less than two-page section on how the territory of Arizona approached the politics of language very differently:
In the generation following Arizona’s establishment as a territory, treaty citizen families—and the territory’s other Mexican inhabitants who naturalized—voted with no legal restrictions, regardless of their language preference. But while the territorial government made few attempts to restrict these Spanish-speaking residents’ access to the franchise, neither did it do much to ensure their participation.
Despite Arizona’s limited language-related laws that would have addressed its Spanish-speaking citizens, the territory did extend some Spanish-language translations to help with the courts.
The legislature voted in 1875 to permit interpreters in all courts of the territory at the rate of $5 a day upon the request of the presiding judge. Relatedly, in 1887, the legislature permitted police officers to employ an interpreter for taking depositions. The use of interpreters in the courts may have worked from Spanish to English as well as from English to Spanish. At least some local justices of the peace lacked English-language skills, leading the territory to authorize the translation and printing of five hundred copies of a Spanish-language version of court laws in 1881. The proceedings unfortunately offer little commentary on why this project was undertaken so late or what the general practice was prior to the 1881 translation.
Translations of official documents and proceedings into the Spanish language was crucial if states and territories in the U.S. Southwest wished to reach all of their constituents. The section that follows this Arizona one examines New Mexico, where Spanish speakers made up the vast majority of citizens in the nineteenth century. Arizona’s neighboring territory not only required the use of Spanish, but they made it the norm in the legislature, courts, and in elections.

Page 99 not only offers a limited view of this chapter on translation, it also offers a mere sliver of the book’s larger arguments about the politics of Spanish.

Spanish was a language of politics in the nineteenth century following the U.S.-Mexican War as was described a bit here, but it was also a political language in the twentieth century that intersected with such distinct national interests as Americanization and Pan-Americanism. The United States had competing perceptions of the Spanish language—as useful for hemispheric relations, and, as foreign, radical, and expendable. These debates continued in federal agencies, schools, courts, and in territories like Puerto Rico. Part II of An American Language covers these themes.

I welcome a reader to offer an alternative page they think works better.
Learn more about An American Language at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue