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2022 Distinguished Lecture

Saturday, November 12th

Livestreamed from Seattle

José Can You See?: A Nuyorican View of Unsettling Landscapes

Image of Dr. Ana Celia Zentalla. She is a female wearing a brown sweater. She is smiling at the camera and is front of a gray background.

Dr. Ana Celia Zentella

Professor Emeritus
University of California, San Diego

Our conference “Unsettling Landscapes” theme brought to mind a sad joke. When José finally secures a perch atop the flagpole after having been denied a seat in all sections of the stadium, he is touched when the huge crowd stands, looking up at him and singing: José can you see. Viewing the landscape from the point of view of those who have been denied basic rights but are thankful for any indication that their needs are of concern to the deniers, reminds me of the immigrants who work tirelessly in bad conditions for little pay, but are grateful for cast-off clothes or food. They and their communities are viewed as unsettled: illegal, uneducated, dangerous, unworthy, and in need of control. They in turn may view the landscapes of the powerful as settled and worthy of being in control. Clearly, whether a landscape is settled or unsettled depends on who’s looking.

Part of anthropology’s mission is accounting for why social/cultural/linguistic landscapes might appear settled to some when they really are not, or vice versa. My experiences and research, beginning in the South Bronx and other working-class New York and Philadelphia communities and more recently in affluent southern California counties, reveal the role that language, particularly distinct varieties of Spanish and English, plays in obscuring or unmasking our views of unsettling landscapes. Increasing acts of violence against speakers of varied languages across the USA who are viewed as out of place/ unsettled demand our attention and response; I build upon the work of generations of scholars in linguistic anthropology who have concerned themselves with these issues by centering politics in what I refer to as anthropolitical linguistics. How can an anthropolitical linguistic approach counter linguistic intolerance and promote social justice?


Dr. Ana Celia Zentella, a Puerto Rican / Mexican linguist known for her “anthropolitical” approach to linguistic research, will deliver the Distinguished Lecture: José Can You See?: A Nuyorican View of Unsettling Landscapes, at the 2022 AAA Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA, November 9-13. Her lecture will address the role that language, particularly distinct varieties of Spanish and English, plays in obscuring or unmasking our views of unsettling landscapes.

Dr. Zentella is an expert on multilingualism, linguistic diversity, and language intolerance, especially in relation to U.S. Latinx languages and communities. Her book, Growing up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York, won the Book Prize of the British Association of Applied Linguistics and the Book Award of the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists of the American Anthropological Association. Manhattan’s Borough President Ruth Messinger declared October 30, 1997 “Doctor Ana Celia Zentella Day” for “her leading role in building appreciation for language diversity and respect for language rights.” The Society for Linguistic Anthropology honored her with its Public Outreach & Community Service award in 2016. In 2014, she was named Public Intellectual of the Year by the Latino Studies section / LASA.