El Despertar: A Journey into Colonial Experience

Open Access
Vicente, Nancy Vanessa
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 17, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Dr Miryam Espinosa Dulanto, Dissertation Advisor
  • Miryam Espinosa Dulanto, Committee Chair
  • Bernard Joel Badiali, Committee Chair
  • Jane Juffer, Committee Member
  • Murry R Nelson, Committee Member
  • Auto-ethnography
  • Testimonio
  • Latino Studies
  • Self-study. narrative inquiry
The research project described here theorizes my own lived experience. This process is guided by the works of researchers who have made their lives a “source of inquiry” (Anzaldua 1987; Negrón-Muntaner, 1994; Villenas, 1996; Behar, 1996; Richardson, 1997; Ladson-Billings, 1997; Alvarez, 2001; and Delgado-Bernal, D., Elenes, C.A, Godinez, F., Villenas, S., 2006) in order for readers to hear my inner voice as I reflect about the cultural and educational world that has shaped me (Ladson-Billings, 1997). By doing this, I aim to start decolonizing my mind as I uncover issues that are relevant to members of the colonized and marginalized communities that I am part of. The main reason why I have chosen to pursue such a project is to illustrate the ways in which English, the language that I have chosen to teach others, and which in my country has become associated with U.S. colonial power, can be appropriated and used for the empowerment of my people. By appropriating the language and making it my own, English stops being the language of the colonizer and becomes a language of liberation that can be used to resist and denounce colonial experience. Therefore, in this dissertation I use personal and professional experiences to explore Puerto Rican colonial experience and the tensions that emerge from it in order to connect my personal experience to that of Puerto Ricans as a people. Even though English teaching in P.R has been studied from a variety of historical, critical, socio-cultural and post-colonial perspectives, a perspective that has been long overlooked is that of the Puerto Rican Spanish native speakers who teach English on the Island. This is an area that deserves to be studied because it can potentially empower those responsible for teaching English to Puerto Rican students. Studies that empower members from historically marginalized groups are important because they help us understand how local appropriations of languages and discourses associated with colonialism provide tools to develop teaching pedagogies that take into account the challenges and possibilities that members from minority communities face. Accordingly, these explorations can help teachers better understand the ways in which they contribute to the oppression or emancipation of their students and communities at large. To this end, the self-study explores my ownership of the English language as I use the language to share my encounters with colonial experience which illustrate how this appropriation serves as an act of ongoing empowerment that helps overcome the legacy of silence fostered in my historically colonized and marginalized communities. While existing literature is rich theoretically and politically, it does not specifically deal with the specific colonial experience of Puerto Rican English teachers. Therefore, throughout the research I draw on concepts from Post-colonial Theory, Latina Feminism, English Language Teaching (ELT), and Critical Pedagogy which contribute to the framing of a theory that fully encompass Puerto Rican colonial reality. That said, this theoriy supports the argument that even within the most constraining colonial relationships or conditions, Puerto Ricans have been able to resist their colonial condition and empower themselves through the negotiation and appropriation of the languages and discourses that have historically marginalized them. Consequently, when applied to English language teaching, such a perspective fosters the sharing of these strategies that have been useful to negotiate the cultural and linguistic tensions present within our colonial context. Finally, this perspective also calls for English teachers to reflect on their teaching strategies so that they can accommodate the immediate needs of their students in order to bring about meaningful change to English teaching. The results of this study agree with those of Canagarajah (2003) whose work explores how appropriation and redefinitions of the English language by members of minority communities contribute to their empowerment as well as for the democratization of English. According to him, this alternative is beneficial for English as well as for teachers and learners of the language because it contributes to resisting the colonial discourses surrounding English and ELT. These results suggest that when minority communities appropriate English and infuse their local cultures and languages into the language, these communities contribute to the re-constructing of English. Moreover, this presents learners with the opportunity of questioning not the reasons why they should learn English but rather on how they will do it. When minority teachers and learners engage in this type of questioning, their own knowledge about their cultures, conditions and uses of the language contribute to the transformation of English. Accordingly, this approach contests the notion that English should be viewed only as a colonial/hegemonic language. By viewing English as such, English then becomes a tool of liberation for minority speakers who as owners of the language are no longer excluded from the Inner Circle of English speakers. These views are fundamental for the decolonizing perspective to English teaching developed for this project because it presents an alternative for English non-native teachers who wish to empower themselves by appropriating English to uncover, denounce and share the tensions present in the ELT field. Furthermore, by acknowledging these tensions I can become more reflective in my English teaching practice. As I acknowledge my ownership of English, I become more reflective in my practice as I become aware of the struggles and needs that I share with my students. Moreover, this awareness helps me become more sensitive to the issues, strengths and limitations that my students bring into the classroom. This sensibility helps me develop teaching strategies that draw on my students’ strengths rather than on their weaknesses. By engaging in this type of teaching I am embracing the possibilities that a decolonizing perspective to English teaching can offer to my English language learners. Finally, a decolonizing perspective to English teaching gives me the opportunity to share my ideas and strategies with the larger English teaching community, and by doing so I am actively contributing to the transformation of English and our students.