“First they Americanize you and then they throw you out”: A LangCrit Analysis of Language and Citizen Identity

MARINKA SWIFT, University of California, Davis


While the United States (U.S.) has the second-largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, second only to Mexico, an essentialized ideology persists of what it sounds like to be an American citizen, which impacts some speakers in distinctive ways. Generation 1.5 adults who have been repatriated to Mexico are uniquely impacted by this language ideology and the power structures that sustain it. The present study analyzes digital stories of deportation as spaces through which generation 1.5 adults perform citizen identity. Data for the present study is drawn from digital testimonies and are part of a larger archive of the Humanizing Deportation project. Guided by Critical Language and Race Theory (Crump, 2014b), this study aims to better understand the interaction between language and citizen identity for generation 1.5 adults. While scholarship around language and social identity has received much attention across a range of disciplines over the past few decades, little research has investigated the linguistic and citizen identities of adults repatriated to Mexico by the United States. I offer an analysis of the role of language in citizen identities and the implications of these findings for future research and activism.


Tandis que les États-Unis comptent la deuxième plus grande population hispanophone au monde, tout juste après le Mexique, une idéologie simpliste persiste quant à ce que cela laisse entendre d’être un citoyen américain, ce qui influence les locuteurs de différentes façons. Les adultes de la génération 1,5 ayant été rapatriés au Mexique sont particulièrement affectés par cette idéologie langagière et les structures de pouvoir qui la maintiennent. La présente étude analyse des histoires numériques de déportation comme moyens à travers lesquels des adultes de la génération 1,5 se forgent une identité citoyenne. Les données de la présente recherche sont tirées de témoignages numériques et prennent part à des archives plus vastes du projet Humaniser la déportation. Guidée par la théorie critique sur la langue et la race (Critical Language and Race Theory; Crump, 2014b), cette recherche vise à mieux comprendre les interactions entre la langue et l’identité citoyenne chez les adultes de la génération 1,5. Alors que l’érudition quant aux langues et à l’identité sociale a retenu l’attention de diverses disciplines dans les dernières décennies, peu de recherches se sont intéressées à l’identité linguistique et citoyenne d’adultes rapatriés au Mexique par les États-Unis. Une analyse est offerte sur le rôle de la langue dans l’identité citoyenne ainsi que sur les implications de ces conclusions pour les recherches futures et l’activisme.

Keywords: language, migration, identity, LangCrit.


While the United States (U.S.) boasts the second-largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, second only to Mexico (Burgen, 2015; Spanish Language Domains, 2014), an essentialized ideology persists of what it sounds like to be an American citizen, which impacts some speakers in distinctive ways. Generation 1.5 adults who have been repatriated to Mexico are uniquely impacted by this language ideology and the power structures that sustain it (such as educational agencies and governing bodies). The term ‘generation 1.5’ refers to individuals that immigrate to a new country before or during their teenage years. The label ‘1.5’ refers to the fact that often such individuals bring with them characteristics of their country of origin, though they also assimilate and adopt characteristics of their new country. Some of the authors we meet in the present study were, in fact, lawful permanent residents at the time of their removal from the U.S., while others were undocumented. The present study analyzes digital stories of deportation as spaces through which generation 1.5 adults perform citizen identity. Guided by Critical Language and Race Theory (Crump, 2014b), this study aims to better understand the interaction between language and citizen identity for generation 1.5 adults. While scholarship around language and social identity has received much attention across a range of disciplines over the past few decades, little (if any) research has investigated the linguistic and citizen identities of adults repatriated to Mexico by the United States. In the following sections, I will provide a brief history of forced repatriation, an explanation of the theoretical framework guiding the present analysis, and a summary of pertinent previous research on issues relating to language, identity, and translanguaging. I then offer an analysis of the role of language in citizen identities and the implications of these findings for future research and activism. Throughout the paper, I refer to the speakers as narrators, authors, and forced-returnees.

How do individuals talk about language in digital stories of deportation? How do speakers identify themselves and their sense of belonging? The present study contributes to scholarship at the intersection of language, identity, race, and citizenship. The analysis shows how essentialized notions of language, as linked to national and citizen identities, impact the linguistic identities of forced-returnee adults both before and after deportation. The present study contributes to scholarship around language and forced migration through a critical discourse analysis (van Dijk, 1993) of five digital narratives archived as part of the Humanizando la Deportación digital storytelling project (see http://humanizandoladeportacion.ucdavis.edu/en/). The study urges social scientists to further investigate how language contributes to experiences of generation 1.5 adults. Such an understanding is necessary to best support the social and linguistic identities, as well as the linguistic needs of generation 1.5 adults after repatriation. Through such inquiry we can contribute to existing scholarship that acknowledges and challenges essentializing notions of language and national identity, and bring attention to the perceptions and experiences of racialized speakers. There is little research, if any, which addresses the linguistic practices, identities, and experiences of adults deported from the U.S. The present study aims to reduce this gap.

Recent History of Forced Repatriation

According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI, 2015; 2016), of the 207,000 Mexicans repatriated by the United States in 2015, “fifteen percent (29,000) had six years or more of U.S. residence before being deported” (p. 5). It is not clear exactly how many generation 1.5 (gen1.5) adults have been repatriated, nor how many gen1.5 adults reside in the United States. While one estimate claims that about half a million gen1.5s have been repatriated to Mexico over the past decade (Lakhani & Jacobo, 2016), this figure cannot be confirmed with any source. While these figures may bring us closer to a countable representation of gen1.5 forced-returnees, it is evident that additional measures are needed in order to gain clarity about the extent to which repatriation impacts generation 1.5 individuals repatriated to Mexico from the United States.

Another facet of repatriation that complicates our understanding of the situation are the legal categories that determine the deportability of an individual, which are complicated and often not known or understood by gen1.5 individuals who arrive in the U.S. as minors. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there is not an aggregated explanation for the reasons leading to the forced repatriation of gen1.5 returnees. Some gen1.5 individuals are Lawful Permanent Residents at the time of their removal from the U.S., a distinct categorization that is not the same as legal citizen status and is often unclear to gen1.5 individuals. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2018), “Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are foreign nationals who have been granted the right to reside permanently in the United States.” LPRs are often referred to simply as “immigrants”, but they are also known as “permanent resident aliens” and “green card holders” (Department of Homeland Security, 2018). While LPRs may live and work in the U.S., in order to become legal U.S.citizens they must meet additional eligibility requirements and apply for naturalization. LPRs are eligible for deportation under a variety of circumstances. One way that an individual with LPR status can be eligible for deportation is by committing a “Crime of Moral Turpitude” (CMT), which is only broadly defined by U.S. immigration law. Various offenses may be considered a CMT, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. In some cases, no actual court conviction needs to be made for an offense to be considered a CMT (Bray, 2019; 8 USC;1227).

The language of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act is broad enough to allow states and local law enforcement agencies to independently interpret the type of infraction that would qualify an LPR for deportation. In this way, even individuals who have lawfully entered the U.S. and have valid legal documentation (such as a “green card” or LPR status) are still eligible for forced-repatriation. In many cases, gen1.5 individuals do not have LPR status and are entirely unaware that their parents (if they immigrated with their parents) did not apply for such legal status on their behalf. For these individuals, learning that they are in fact not legal U.S. citizens and are deportable is shocking news, to say the least.

It should be understood that, while I mention some legal violations that can result in forced repatriation, I am in no way suggesting that gen1.5 returnees have been repatriated as a result of a CMT. Rather, I provide these legal classifications to point out the range of legal codes that may be utilized by U.S. law enforcement to justify the forced-repatriation of individuals. Furthermore, such legal codes are often cited by law enforcement agencies and the Trump Administration as justification for the portrayal of immigrants and forced-returnees as criminals, despite the fact that there is “no evidence that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born American citizens” (Ye He Lee, 2015).

Theoretical Framework

Critical Language and Race Theory (LangCrit) lends itself to the examination of how gen1.5 adults do citizen identity through language. The concept of doing language describes the notion that language is a performative tool used by speakers to enact certain expressions of identity. From a LangCrit perspective, identity is fluid and complex rather than fixed. Through an analysis of the identity experiences of multilingual Japanese-Canadian children in Montréal, Alison Crump proposed LangCrit as a lens that identifies and challenges the complex interactions between “audible and visible identities” (Crump, 2014a) because “fixed identity categories do not recognize the acts of identity that individuals perform through language” (Crump, 2014b, p. 208). Crump challenges essentialized notions of belonging which equate language with membership in a one-to-one relationship. Critically, this framework challenges ideas of what it means to sound like and look like someone that “belongs”. LangCrit scholars examine “the ways in which race, racism and racialization intersect with issues of language, belonging, and identity” (p. 207-208); through this critical lens, it is possible to capture the full spectrum of identity possibilities and the expressions of belonging enacted and perceived by speakers.

Power manifests in many ways through policies related to immigration, education, and language. Power also lives in the beliefs that individuals, communities, and societies have about criteria for belonging. According to LangCrit, “power has come to be clustered around certain linguistic resources in certain spaces” (Crump, 2014b, p. 209). In other words, certain spaces and contexts often elicit specific linguistic practices. In these spaces, particular resources are made available in the language or languages associated with social access and power. LangCrit is interested in examining the power in linguistic resources and spaces in order to understand how individuals do language, the values they associate with language, and the identity possibilities that result from the interaction between power and language in space. Existing sociolinguistic scholarship posits that language may, in all its complexity, index identities (Bucholtz & Hall, 2009). In analyzing the interaction between conversational code-switching and social identity, Auer (2003) argued that bilingual speech indexes extralinguistic social categories, referring to categories that are not intrinsically about language. Examples of such extralinguistic social categories might be ethnicity, nationality and citizenship status. More simply, certain ways of speaking are associated with certain identities (or certain ideas of belonging). Sometimes this indexing is imposed onto a speaker and other times a speaker actively engages in particular language practices in order to enact a social identity or to perceive themselves as having a certain identity (Auer, 2003). In this way, language is performative and the identities permitted through language are contrived and dictated by larger social structures rooted in essentialized notions of belonging, related to what an individual sounds like and looks like. Through LangCrit, Crump offers a framework through which to engage these concepts of belonging, language, race, and identity.

As a social practice, language and language ideologies have been studied by many researchers as a function of social identity. Particularly over the past two decades, scholars in the social sciences have approached questions about language ideologies to explore topics such as social identity and bilingual identity (Auer, 2003; Song, 2010; Zentella, 1997), the racialization of language (Leeman, 2004), and power structures rooted in language ideologies (Kroskrity, 2004). The present study explores the use of language in digital narratives as a tool for performing citizen identity, an extralinguistic category, and the implications this has for deportation experiences.

LangCrit views language as a social practice that informs social norms, such as how individuals and groups engage with each other and society. Crump proposed that boundaries around languages have been socially contrived and constructed, produced and maintained (Crump, 2014b). Specifically, “power is clustered around certain linguistic resources in certain spaces” and explores how such language boundaries inform what individuals can and cannot do with language in daily life, as well as the values associated with language use and possible identities (Crump, 2014b, p. 209). Importantly, language boundaries are not language barriers, rather boundaries refer to the socially constructed ways of doing language. The difference being, language boundaries refer to the social norms that dictate what language use is acceptable, whereas language barriers describe the discrepancy in language proficiency between interlocutors (Crump, 2014b citing Hill, 1998). I will elaborate on this concept of language boundaries in my analysis of the digital stories presented. While a linguistic perspective shall not adopt essentialized notions of language and identity, the reality is that many speakers do. Crump reminded us that, “even though languages are social constructions, the ideology of languages as fixed entities still carries a powerful social force” (Crump, 2014b, p. 209), which explains why in the present study we see the ideology of English as a tag for U.S. American belonging and citizen identity, linking a fixed language entity (English) with a nation-state identity (U.S. American).

LangCrit shares much in common with Raciolinguistics, first popularized by Flores and Rosa (2015) and elaborated on by Alim, Rickford, and Ball in their 2016 publication titled Raciolinguistics: How language shapes our ideas about race. Raciolinguistics focuses on the socially cyclical relationship between race, racialization, and language: language is used to construct race (“languaging race”) and perceptions of race influence how language is used (“racing language”). This framework has been utilized particularly well to better understand how sociolinguistic variation is intertwined with social and political factors. In this way, language may be used to seek or demonstrate (racial) group membership (Alim, Rickford, & Ball, 2016).

Crump explored these questions as well through her research on the linguistic racialization of speakers and the issue of “whiteness as a norm associated with native English speakers” (2014b, p. 207). LangCrit asserts that different physical and social spaces interact with racialized discourses impacting how speakers use language and perform identities. Understanding this power dynamic between normative spaces and language practices, Crump proposed LangCrit as a necessary contribution to critical studies on language.

Both LangCrit and Raciolinguistics acknowledge that linguistic racialization contributes to identity formation and expression, and is perpetuated through power structures. Examples of such power structures are governing bodies, such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement which seeks to identify and enforce categories of belonging and not belonging. Another example is that of educational institutions, which have historically segregated individuals in the U.S. on the basis of race, language, gender, and religious affiliation. Although LangCrit is the theoretical framework for the present study, it should be clear that Raciolinguistics is also a suitable lens.

Review of Previous Research

In 2012, the Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends published a report titled “When labels don’t fit: Hispanics and their views of identity” claiming that nearly half (47%) of Hispanics in the U.S. do not identify as a “typical American[s]” (Taylor, Hugo Lopez, Martínez, & Velasco, 2012, p. 3). Importantly, the report also claimed the opposite, that 47% of Latinos do identify as “typical[ly] American.” Taken from data collected as part of the 2011 National Survey of Latinos, the report highlighted the range of identity labels used by Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S., as well as their language beliefs and practices. Using data from a telephone survey of 1,220 Latino adults across 50 states, the report found that 21% of Latinos in the U.S. identify themselves as “American” most often, while 51% use their family’s country of origin to describe themselves, and 24% prefer the term “Hispanic” or “Latino.” Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, generation status appeared to influence these identity label preferences in the U.S.; first-generation immigrants born outside the U.S. were less likely than U.S.-born Hispanics to identify as a “typical American.”

The report demonstrates the complexity of “American” identity as experienced by Hispanics and Latinos, as well as the role of language and generation status in identity. Our interpretation of these findings influences how we think about identity as experienced and articulated by Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S. While it may be true that many adults surveyed for the report did not identify as a “typical American,” many do self-identify in this way. Furthermore, the report does not explain what it means to be a “typical American.” From a LangCrit perspective, we cannot essentialize notions of belonging, there is not one look or one sound that qualifies “American” identity. Raciolinguistic identities do not preclude citizen identity, as suggested by the “either-or” model of the report, which offers “American” as a category separate from the categories “Latino” and “Hispanic.” However, Crump also acknowledged the power of such essential notions of identity: “we cannot ignore that fixed categories do exist, problematic as they are. . . they are powerful in shaping an individual’s possibilities for becoming” (2014b, p. 209).

Therefore, LangCrit insists that we identify and challenge such essentializing notions, especially because individuals adopt them as part of their sense of identity. With regards to generation status, the study does not indicate the age of arrival of foreign-born respondents and thus, creates an overgeneralized interpretation of the identifiers used and preferred by first-generation Latino and Hispanic adults in the U.S. From a linguistic standpoint, language acquisition and language attitudes are quite different for young learners than for adult learners. Additionally, the use of English and Spanish tends to differ depending on the generation status of the speaker. This reflects a difference not only in language acquisition across ages but also in language use and ideologies. However, this study does make clear the need to explore further what it means to be “American” for immigrants in the U.S., particularly for gen1.5 adults, and the role of language in “American” identity.

Language and Identity

Language is a social practice through which ideas and beliefs are communicated (Crump, 2014b; Fairclough, 1989). As language is socially and locally constructed, analysis of language use can reveal connections to larger social, political, and historical practices and beliefs about language (Crump, 2014b). Language ideologies can unveil, among other things, how individuals are relegated to either positions of power or subordination within a society. Paul Kroskrity defined language ideologies as “beliefs, or feelings, about languages as used in their social worlds” (Kroskrity, 2004, p. 498). Language and language ideologies have been studied as a function of social and bilingual identity (Zentella, 1997; Song, 2010), the racialization of language (Leeman, 2004), and of power structures (Kroskrity, 2004). Woolard and Schieffelin (1994) asserted that studies in language ideology should demonstrate “a commitment to address the relevance of power relations to the nature of cultural forms and ask how essential meanings about language are socially produced as effective and powerful” (p. 58), and as such should adopt critical ideological analysis with a focus on the political use of language as an instrument of power maintenance. In the narratives analyzed here, power often stems from English as a commodity, tool and resource that grants access to particular services or spaces, or the nationalistic language ideologies that assign language a symbolic feature of self, community, and citizenship (Menard-Warwick, 2013). Therefore, to gain insight into the interaction between language and citizen identity, we must explore the beliefs and feelings that speakers have about language as they relate to their lived experiences around migration and deportation.


First introduced by Cen Williams in 1994, translanguaging is defined as “an act of bilingual performance, as well as a bilingual pedagogy of bilingual teaching and bilingual learning” (García & Leiva, 2014, p. 199). At its conception, it referred to a pedagogical approach by which students alternated languages in order to develop literacy and writing skills in more than one language. Now, the term has expanded to refer to more fluid language practices and linguistic resources used and acquired by bilingual speakers and writers. From a pedagogical perspective, translanguaging has been theorized and applied as a linguistic resource to foster bilingual students’ full linguistic repertoire, while resisting “the historical and cultural positionings of English monolingualism in the USA” (p. 199). From a social justice standpoint, translanguaging challenges monolingual ideologies for U.S. citizens, as well as a “‘Hispanophone’ ideology that blames U.S. Latinos for speaking ‘Spanglish’” (p. 200). Translanguaging practices of speakers offer insight into the identities associated with language, space, and belonging.

In the present study, translanguaging practices by authors of deportation narratives are analyzed to ascertain how gen1.5 adult forced-returnees perform citizen identity through language. To approach this analysis, I view translanguaging through a LangCrit framework, which recognizes translanguaging as “what languagers (people) are doing [with language]” and acknowledges that speakers negotiate language use in order to navigate the “socially constructed boundaries around languages” (Crump, 2014b, p. 210). The ways in which instances of translanguaging occur through digital narratives are different than in a live conversation between two or more people because the socially constructed boundaries around languages are different online than they are off-line. In digital narratives, translanguaging takes shape through the interaction between Spanish and English accompanied by images that convey meaning and experiences. Speakers negotiate language choice in all interactions with interlocutors. Similarly, through digital narrative, a speaker negotiates ways of belonging and citizen identity through language, revealing a facet of translanguaging and identity.

Discourse Analysis and Digital Stories

While research has analyzed YouTube and other digital platforms in relation to education and participatory culture, there is a serious dearth of related literature that has utilized YouTube in its analysis. Van Zoonen et al. (2010) analyzed YouTube reactions to Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam video Fitna. The aim of their study was to analyze if, and in what ways, the participatory culture of YouTube invited performances of citizenship. The study asked “what kind of selves people produce through uploading their videos” against or in support of Fitna(p. 253). According to the authors, citizenship is embedded in practices and routines and “by doing citizenship one becomes a citizen” (p. 252). A key feature of performing citizenship through a platform such as YouTube is the interaction between a video author and viewer or listener. For van Zoonon et al, the real or imagined audience informs how a speaker perceives their performance as meaningful.

The authors conducted a content analysis of various styles of YouTube videos in response to Fitna to assess if and how video posters assert their performance of citizenship and which audiences they assume. The authors found a range of citizenship performances assumed by the video authors. For example, many videos made in response to Fitna were explicit apologies for Wilders’ video. Speakers in these response videos performed political selves positioning the video authors as citizens with a need to apologize in the name of the Dutch nation state, feeling the Fitna video reflected poorly on their citizenship and nationality. Another type of citizenship performance was analyzed in testimonial style videos, in which video authors make a case for themselves as being different from the Muslims portrayed in Fitna. Testimonial videos, according to the authors, are perfect examples of the performance of an inclusive self that aims to be accepted by an audience. This study demonstrates how digital culture platforms, (such as the Humanizando la Deportación project, discussed in the present study), can foster spaces for performed citizen identity as articulated and performed by the video authors. Furthermore, YouTube videos are described as ‘border-circumventing’ which makes it easier for speakers to participate in citizenship as a performance and practice. These findings indicate the value in exploring language use as citizen performance on social platforms such as YouTube.

Data Collection

Language used to describe immigration and immigrants in the U.S. has led to hostile portrayals of immigrants. Most recently, the current president of the U.S., Donald Trump, has described immigrants as follows:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. (Ye He Lee, 2015 citing Donald Trump, Presidential Announcement Speech, June 16, 2015)

Unfortunately, the example above is only one of many in which the president of the U.S. wrongfully makes a blanket statement that portrays immigrants as criminals. When asked about the comments he made on June 16th, Donald Trump said, “they are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” (July 6, 2015). In reality, the claims made by Donald Trump are not reflected empirically and instead perpetuate xenophobic perceptions of immigrants. In fact, first-generation immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans (Camarota & Vaughan, 2009; Ye Hee Lee, 2015), and despite the lack of evidence for hostile claims like those made by Donald Trump, such rhetoric has perpetuated a racist view of Mexican and Central American immigrants in the U.S., clouding the realities of immigration and deportation.

In the current sociopolitical climate of immigration, activists and research scholars have trended more toward collaboration to create transparent and inclusive conversations about the impacts of deportation. One such collaboration, Humanizando la Deportación, is an online archive of personal digital stories of deportation. Digital storytelling is a narrative genre that pairs recorded audio with visuals (e.g. still images, drawings, clippings, or segments of other video clips) to create a single video or segment of a video (Hull & Nelson, 2005; Lambert, 2013). Digital stories range in length but are generally much shorter than a movie and are often uploaded to social platforms online, such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or original website archives. This genre of narrative has enabled storytellers to share their voice with an audience of fellow internet users. In some instances, viewers and listeners can engage with the original storyteller through a social platform’s comment function, though this is not always the case.

For the present study, data is analyzed from five digital stories selected from the larger archive of the Humanizando la Deportación (HLD) project. I participated in this project as a field researcher and video production collaborator during the summer of 2017. The aim of the HLD project is to put a human face to the issue of deportation as experienced by individuals forcefully repatriated to Mexico from the U.S., and to challenge the perception of immigrants and migrants as ‘bad hombres,’ a narrative driven by the U.S. media and President Donald Trump. While deportation rates reached record highs under the Obama Administration (Nowrasteh, 2019), the policies and language used to describe immigrants under the Trump Administration have been uniquely divisive, discriminatory, and hostile. Furthermore, the Obama Administration started the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in an effort to create a path toward legal citizenship for gen1.5 individuals. The Trump Administration has proposed rescinding the DACA program and has put forth additional legislation to limit immigration into the U.S. The HLD project is a response to the social and political perceptions of immigrants and migration. Through this project, researchers collaborate with forced-returnees in various cities throughout Mexico to produce “cut-and-mix” digital testimonials (van Zoonen et al, 2010). Cut-and-mix videos are defined by van Zoonen et al. (2010, p. 254) as “Self produced video consisting of self made, or existing footage, pictures, images, words and sound, combined into a new ‘text’” (p. 254). A forced-returnee and one or more researchers collaborate to create these videos. The authors decide what images they want to be included in the video, such as family photos with or without identifying information or photos from image databases. The story told in each video is unique to the video author and elicited through open conversation with the researcher(s). My role, as one of the project researchers, was to collaborate with other researchers and the video author. I joined in an open conversation about the author’s experience with deportation and assisted in all aspects of the video production process4.

The videos examined here were published between 2017 and 2018 and were chosen for their focus on individuals that could be described as generation 1.5. I chose to focus on gen1.5 individuals because, sometimes, they are unaware that they do not have legal citizen status in the U.S. despite feeling like they belong after spending much, if not most of their lives in the U.S. My initial feelings about the importance of this project arose when I read reports of individuals being repatriated to Mexico who don’t speak Spanish, which highlights a linguistic component of migration and deportation. While my focus is on the relationship between language and citizen identity, I did not choose digital stories based on the language of the author. The videos include audio in Spanish, English, or a mixture of the two. I transcribed the videos at the most basic level and relied on ordinary punctuation. I did not transcribe prosody, body language, or false starts because physical features were often not included (see APPENDIX I for transcription conventions). Additionally, I did not feel that prosody would be a critical component of my analysis since I am mainly concerned with what is said, and not how it is said.

Data Analysis

In addressing the research questions, I coded for instances in which speakers talked about language and tagged topics associated with each mention. I also coded for instances in which speakers talked about ‘citizenship’, which I identified as instances in which the narrator talks about things related to ‘legal’ citizenship, such as documentation, being detained, and the deportation process. To understand the more subjective features of ‘citizen’ and the process of deportation I coded for ‘belonging’, instances in which speakers talk about being in affiliation with certain people, spaces or locations. This, I felt, was an intuitive category to include since forced-returnees experience physical relocation. All analyses are based on the original transcription, not the translation.

For the present analysis, I focus on one of the main themes that emerged from my initial coding: Language and belonging. I analyze the identity descriptors related to citizen identity and belonging, the use of English and Spanish, as well as instances of translanguaging. The analysis that follows highlights how authors of digital deportation narratives signal ideological positions around language and what it means to be a ‘citizen’. I then offer a separate section to discuss the use of translanguaging as a performative tool to convey belonging.

Language and Belonging

One way that gen1.5 forced-returnees convey ideas around what it means to be a citizen is through talking about language in relation to experiences with deportation. In the excerpts below, it becomes evident that the experience of deportation challenges individuals’ notions of their own citizen identity. For Danny, Jorge, and Alex, language figures squarely into feelings and thoughts about belonging. These speakers share the ways that language informs or qualifies what it means to be a citizen in the context of the U.S. and Mexico border.

Danny Juaregui Mariz

First they Americanize you and then they throw you out / Primero te Americanizan y luego te expulsan

Humanizando la Deportación (2017)

Danny Juaregui Mariz arrived in the U.S. at the age of 3 and was repatriated over 40 years later. Danny’s entire narrative is in English, and although he would sometimes speak in Spanish during our collaboration meetings, he preferred to speak in English. Danny built his life in the U.S. and believes that certain abilities and knowledge, like speaking English and knowing about American history, contribute to his sense of belonging in the U.S. As the title of his video states, Danny felt that he was made to be “Americanized” by the U.S. before being forced to repatriate to Mexico. In the first few sentences of his story, Danny says “I’ve been trying to survive over here by just trying to be an honest citizen same as I was over there” (lines 1-3), in which he refers to himself as one who was not only a citizen but an “honest citizen” in the U.S., which he calls “over there.”

1 First they Americanize you and then they throw you out. I got deported two and a half

2 years ago and I’ve been trying to survive over here by just trying to be an honest citizen

3 same as I was over there on the other side. And I’ve been surviving over here ever since

4 with the economy 60 dollars a week, just trying to make a living over here while I try to

5 make my way back. I was born in Guadalajara and at 2 years my father and my mother

6 came for me and they brought me to Tijuana and we crossed to the United States with

7 the visa. I was 3 years old when I crossed over. In east LA I grew up. Went to

8 elementary. My first language was English. It is English. I learned how to be an

9 American, American history, everything that has to do with America. I was there all my

10 life. I did a few mistakes hanging out with the wrong crowd all the time but I was never a

11 criminal. I never shot nobody. I never robbed nobody.

Danny identifies English as his first and dominant language, linking his citizen identity to his language use and knowledge of “how to be an American” (line 12). That Danny felt like a citizen because of his educational and linguistic experiences and was not a criminal challenges the rhetoric tossed around in U.S. media (such as the June 16th, 2015 speech by Donald Trump referenced above) that undocumented individuals are law-breaking, non-English speaking, dangerous, uneducated people. So, while Danny does identify being an American with being a valid and deserving citizen, his ideas about why he is American are reflective of larger societal ideas about what it means to be a U.S. citizen: English speaking, non-criminal, contributing member of society. These learned features of citizen identity are not simply things Danny knows to be true, but they are part of his way of doing citizenship through language and knowledge of being. From a LangCrit perspective, Danny’s experience echoes the notion that “the ideology of language as an entity is tightly intertwined with the doing of language” (Crump, 2014b, p. 210). The idea of language as an “entity” refers to the essentialized ideas of language as something a speaker has and that is linked to national identity.

In the lines below, Danny talks about belonging in the U.S. because his “family’s over there” (line 31) and emphasizes his feelings of belonging in the U.S. by countering with his feelings about not belonging in Tijuana (referred to by English speaking locals as TJ). He is asking the audience to hear his experience and see him as a citizen, as he qualifies his eligibility. He misses his family and feels out of place, forced to live in a different country and city, where many don’t manage to find “a way of life” (line 34).

30 I got thrown out because of the Bill Clinton law and the reason why I came back is

31 my family’s over there, my kids are over there. Because

32 I have no business over here in TJ, I have no business in Mexico.

33 All my friends that got deported, most of them have died or committed suicide because

34 they just can’t find a way of life over here.

35 Me, I’ve just been strong and I’ve been going forward.

To “have no business” implies a situation in which a person does not belong: in a place, doing or saying something. However, having no business does not mean the same thing as having no legal right. When Danny says he has “no business over here in TJ,” he isn’t talking about the legal documentation that he lacks. On the contrary, he does have legal status in Mexico, but he has no business being there, meaning no connection, no reason, and no sense of belonging. Danny speaks to the feeling of belonging as a citizen because of the forty-plus years of his life he had spent in the U.S. and his sense of being “Americanized.”


Made a Criminal in America / Hecho un criminal en América

Humanizando la Deportación (2017)

In the following excerpt, we hear Jorge talk about feeling and believing that, in the absence of proficient Spanish, he must live in the U.S. where English dominates and offers a sense of belonging and familiarity. Jorge was 8 months old when he was brought to the U.S. and was repatriated to Mexico at the age of 23. Like many undocumented individuals in the U.S., Jorge was unaware of his documentation status before he turned 19 when he was deported for the first time. In the excerpt below, Jorge shares about his first experience arriving as a forced-returnee in Mexico and the linguistic circumstances that brought him to return to the U.S. despite his undocumented status. Jorge’s entire narrative is in English.

48 I actually tried to enroll in the military but I wasn’t able to because I was deported right

49 before my last meeting or my last appointment with the recruitment officer.

50 I was deported at age 19. I was sent to Mexico. I did not know where I was, what I was

51 doing. I did not really speak Spanish. I spoke really really terrible Spanish and it was

52 mainly slang words that I had picked up in California. So I had no choice but to return

53 back to the United States. I returned five days later.

Jorge felt that because his Spanish was “really really terrible” he could not remain in Mexico. Not knowing the language well prevented him from knowing where he was and what he was doing. He felt lost, in Spanish. So, for Jorge, a sense of belonging is linked to language ability. Belonging also signals a sense of citizenship, because without the ability to speak the local language, Jorge did not feel that he could fully participate in daily life and community. Upon his re-entry into the U.S. Jorge returned to Alabama where he had previously lived, the place he considered home.

Alex Murillo

American Soldiers in Exile / Soldados Americanos en Exilio

Humanizando la Deportación (2017)

Alex, a U.S. Navy veteran, was deported after spending nearly all of his life in the U.S., the country he, like Jorge, identifies as home. Alex identifies as being American in multiple ways, as evidenced by the way he talks about himself and his experiences. In the excerpt below Alex introduces himself as American and talks about feeling exiled from his home.

1 My name is Alex Murillo. I’m a U.S. Navy veteran. I’m from Phoenix, Arizona.

2 I’ve been deported now almost 5 years. I work with Unified U.S. Veterans.

3 We are trying to get back home. I have all my family, my kids – everybody’s in the U.S.

4 I’ve been in the U.S. my whole life.

5 I was taken to the U.S. maybe when I was 1 year old. Started my whole life there.

6 All of my thoughts and memories are that of an American kid.

7 I identify with being an American.

8 It’s not something you can take away from me just by deporting me.

Alex’s video begins with a picture of him in his Navy attire. The image scrolls out and down to give the audience a full view of Alex in his uniform. The next image depicts Alex with fellow veterans before switching to a picture of Alex with his family. These images invite the viewer to first see Alex as a U.S. veteran, which offers a particularly American imagery. In lines 5-8 Alex explicitly says that his “memories are that of an American kid” and feels that “being an American it’s not something you can take away” (line 8). Alex was raised in Phoenix, Arizona and spent his entire life in the U.S., where he attended school before joining the U.S. Navy. For Alex, being a citizen comes with thoughts, memories, and experiences of the world. Alex’s narrative is exclusively in English, a language choice that reflects his citizen identity. Choosing to say, in English, that he identifies as a member of an English dominant speaking country serves to legitimize his citizen identity and his view that language, a medium for thoughts, informs what it means to be a U.S. citizen. Regardless of the physical relocation forced upon him, Alex’s identification as American remains.


Video authors Zaret and Jesús translanguage throughout their narrative. Using both Spanish and English, paired with visual cues intentionally timed to accompany particular excerpts of their narratives, translanguaging conveys meaning and experiences to the audience. For both Zaret and Jesús language has played key roles in their citizen identity in the U.S. and Mexico, and they address the weight of their linguistic choices.


Ni de aquí ni de allá / Not from here, nor from there

Humanizando la Deportación (2018)

Throughout her narrative Zaret switches between Spanish and English, spending a total of 3 minutes speaking in Spanish and about 2 minutes speaking in English. Zaret was not actually deported, though she was forced to repatriate to Mexico when her parents decided to return due to their increased experience with violence against Chicana/o and Latina/o individuals in the U.S. Zaret has much to say about the role of language in her experiences with migration. Zaret’s video opens with a picture of herself as a young girl holding up a stuffed animal, flanked on either side by family members. The excerpt below begins at minute 1:47 and is accompanied by an image depicting the U.S. and Mexico flags blending together (line 21) before transitioning to separate stock images or signs that say “Aqui se habla Español”, immediately followed by a sign in all red letters that reads “English spoken here” (lines 22-23). The image that follows (lines 23-24) depicts a red colored ‘Uncle Sam’ pointing to the viewer with words that read “I want you to speak English” in blue and red letters. All three signs are written exclusively in capital letters, perhaps emphasizing their purpose as warning signs or demands. In this excerpt, Zaret speaks candidly about her experiences transitioning between life in Mexico and the U.S. as a young immigrant. For Zaret, learning English while living in the U.S. was necessary not to be looked at as “weird” (line 23), as an outsider. Around the age of seven, Zaret was removed from school in Mexico and migrated to the U.S. with her parents. As the title of her narrative suggests, Zaret’s experience with migration and deportation made her feel as though she was “ni de aquí ni de allá” (Not from here, nor from there – see APPENDIX II for translation of Zaret’s narrative excerpts).

21 Y siento que lo más fuerte de la transition from Mexico to the states was the language.

22 You walk in Mexico and you speak English, they look at you weird. If you walk in the

23 States and you speak Spanish they look at you weird. So I had to learn English. One way

24 or the other I had to learn so I could communicate in school, outside, friends. If I needed

25 to buy something, if I needed to use the bathroom, if I needed just whatever, I needed to

26 have English, mainly. Spanish was my first language so I did have that one, but obviously

27 when I went to school I was not learning Spanish anymore. So my Spanish start fucking

28 up. It was bad, there were some words that I forgot how to pronounce. I didn’t know how

29 to read well in Spanish. And I think my mom was really smart when she said, “en la casa

30 no hablen en inglés. En la casa yo quiero que sigan hablando en español porque si en

31 dado caso que llegamos a ir a México ustedes tienen que tener el español.”

36 But you can’t be safe. You don’t feel safe. You don’t feel comfortable being in a place

37 where any day you could be arrested and sent to the country where you’re from. So even

38 though my parents had bought a car and we were good in money, there was a lot of

39 inseguridad in the house. Creo que muchos de lo que hemos pasado por situaciones así lo

40 podemos compartir y es algo muy desagradable. El hecho de que tengamos esa

41 inseguridad de ese miedo de que algo va a pasar, y no algo bueno. Si no algo – algo que

42 puede destruir tu familia. Y el hecho de que obviamente también hay bullying en la

43 escuela de que “mira no habla inglés, mira su inglés como es” # muchas cosas que

44 te pueden afectar, no tan solo a los niños si no cualquier persona.

For Zaret, acquiring and using Spanish and English are linked to a desire to avoid being looked at as “weird.” Zaret’s narrative addresses a range of experiences around language that relate to meeting basic needs in the U.S., for example when she says, “If I needed to buy something, if I needed to use the bathroom, if I needed just whatever, I needed to have English, mainly” (lines 24-25). Zaret also talks about the way she has been treated by others in both the U.S. and Mexico in response to her language choices, reflecting that “You walk in Mexico and you speak English, they look at you weird. If you walk in the States and you speak Spanish they look at you weird. So I had to learn English” (lines 22-23). These experiences coalesce to inform particular language ideologies rooted in lived realities: the ‘right’ sound is required to access basic needs and acceptance from local speakers. The power in language, specifically in speaking the ‘right’ language for acceptance, and decent human treatment, is demonstrative as well in Zaret’s reflection on the bullying she experienced as a result of her language. Despite her efforts to be accepted in the U.S. through her use of English, the monolingual ideology present in the majority of U.S. schools compromised her feelings of belonging as well as her sense of safety. While a student in U.S. schools she experienced linguistic discrimination, which Zaret refers to as bullying (lines 42-44) and was forced to prioritize English (lines 26-28). Meanwhile, her mother emphasized the importance of maintaining Spanish in case they ever needed to return to Mexico, where Spanish is the dominant language and is held up by similar monolingual ideologies that index English speakers as “weird” and U.S.-learned Spanish as incorrect or undesirable. For Zaret, the linguistic experiences she describes contribute to her personal ideologies about who she can or should be and where she is permitted to belong as a result of her language use. Her experiences echo the implications of language boundaries, discussed by Crump (2014b), which dictate how speakers such as Zaret are permitted to do language. Zaret, like many immigrants in the U.S., tried to belong in the U.S. and avoid being looked at as “weird” through her use of English. The connection between language, identity, and belonging followed Zaret across the border once repatriated to Mexico.


Mi sueño no termina ahí / My dream doesn’t end there

Humanizando la Deportación (2017)

In the following narrative, Jesús addresses issues of citizen identity and paid taxes. I worked with Jesús in the production of his video. The majority of Jesús’s narrative is in Spanish, though he does code-switch in a few instances. In our meetings, we mostly spoke in English, though much time was spent translanguaging between English and Spanish when discussing his narrative and video production. Jesús explicitly requested not to be identified in his narrative, so his face is never shown and he does not provide his last name. He made this decision to protect his family that remains in the U.S. and to practice agency in starting his new life in Tijuana. As a bilingual forced-returnee, Jesús found work in a restaurant in a touristy neighborhood in Tijuana, where he often uses his English skills. After living as a legal resident in the U.S. for most of his life, Jesús shares his concerns about the fate of his paid taxes. He explains the removal of certain civic rights as a demonstration of revoked citizen identity.

43 And another thing I was wondering about, what’s gonna happen with my taxes?

44 I know they’re not for me, so they say, but it doesn’t matter because I don’t want them

45 for me. My kids are American citizens. They’re gonna need the help now that they’re

46 going to start going to college, universities. Where does that money go? Who keeps it?

47 That’s a big question. Personally, I think I lost my rights or I lost all my benefits.

48 But, what about my kids? They’re still U.S. citizens, they deserve that, they deserve

49 to get that money to help them get to college and university.

While the loss of tax benefits creates financial burdens for an individual or family, the symbolism behind the action is disruptive as well because it sends the message that Jesús is no longer welcome to fully participate in society and that his contributions will not benefit his family. In positioning himself in comparison to his children, who are “still U.S. citizens” and “they deserve that, they deserve to get that money to help them get to college and university” (lines 48-49), Jesús suggests that he no longer identifies as a citizen because he was stripped of his benefits. Through this excerpt, we learn much about Jesús’s ideas of what it means to be a citizen. For him, it means not losing civic rights, such as full participation in, and contribution to, the economy. Being a citizen also means speaking English and sounding like an American. To gain legitimacy from viewers and listeners Jesús decided to break from Spanish for this portion of the video in order to be understood fully by his English-speaking audience, who he talked about being American viewers and individuals such as himself, who had identified as American and participated as such. By posing questions in English about his paid taxes in the U.S. Jesús indexes his identity as an English-speaking, tax-paying American citizen, who has been stripped of his rights.


The narratives analyzed in the present study reveal particular facets of what it means to be a citizen for gen1.5 forced-returnees. The authors of the digital stories discussed in the previous pages talked about language as a quality that labels one as belonging in a place. For some, English is viewed as a requisite of American identity. Spanish is talked about as a skill that some gen1.5 individuals lack, a deficiency that prevents one from acclimating or belonging in Mexico, as a survival tool in the event of repatriation to Mexico, or as a link to heritage and family. Many gen1.5 adults who have repatriated to Mexico view themselves as Americans. This reality impacts their integration into Mexico, their employment and social life, as well as acclimating to Spanish use. If we listen to the stories shared by Danny, Jésus, Zaret, Jorge, and Alex through the lens of LangCrit, we hear the ideology of languages as “fixed entities” associated with citizen identity (Crump, 2014b, p. 209). From a LangCrit perspective, we step back to acknowledge the role of power structures and social norms (e.g., Donald Trump’s description of immigrants, K-12 English only language policies) on expressions of identity and language ideologies. The videos produced and archived in the HLD project are also uploaded to the project’s YouTube page. Within YouTube, there are power dynamics at work that involve language. The social practice of language informs the interactive component of performing citizenship, resulting in the categorization of who is and is not a citizen. As video collaborators and uploaders of the HLD series, we were aware of the possibility that other YouTube users could, if given the outlet, leave hostile comments and undermine the narrative author’s sense of belonging and citizenship. For this reason, the HLD research team decided to deactivate the comment feature on YouTube.

There are additional limitations to the present study due to the nature of digital data collection. Research that aims to examine digital narratives must come to terms with limitations, such as not knowing the full context of the narrative itself. Additionally, the production process can influence the content of a narrative (Riessman, 2003) and such information is not available to the analyst. The “behind the scenes” language use between the video author and collaborators is not available, we only see a part of the complex role that language plays in the experience and performance of citizen identity. Additionally, the languages used by a collaborator may influence the language use of the narrator. Finally, we can only speculate as to the intended audience that the narrator had in mind when they shared their deportation narrative.

Digital narratives foster a platform through which individuals can express citizen identity through the author-audience interaction. Given that the narratives in the present corpus are archived on YouTube, there is arguably a presumed understanding of the global status of the audience. For van Zoonen et al. (2010) the notion of citizenship can be thought of as connectivity because citizenship as a performance requires interaction between the individual performing citizenship and a viewer or listener that validates the performance. Accordingly, “Their videos thus perform a kind of citizenship, an outreach to strangers as it were, that is based on the desire to present a true picture of oneself to others, and to solve misunderstandings” (van Zoonen et al., 2010, p. 259). The digital narratives of deportation discussed and analyzed in the present study can be described as van Zoonen et al. (2010) would propose above, as a sort of ‘outreach to strangers’, a gesture of testimony that asks the listeners and viewers to understand their story, and to view citizenship through the same lens. Furthermore, citizenship is embedded in the performance itself: “by doing citizenship one becomes a citizen” (p. 252). While the content of the digital narratives discussed here covers a range of themes, what the videos have in common is an assumption about the audience: there is an audience that chooses to hear the speaker’s story. Further analysis of the audience’s role in the language use of deportation narratives needs to be explored.

A gen1.5 narrator’s choice to speak in English throughout their story of deportation emphasizes their status as someone who knows the dominant language of the U.S., as well as knowledge of American culture, including English as the language most associated with school and education in the U.S. The majority of states in the U.S. only offer monolingual English education, a fact that should not be forgotten when considering why children are ‘raised’ speaking English over other languages in the U.S., and likely fosters and reinforces ideologies that place English as a trait that makes one a citizen, as addressed in Zaret’s narrative. Citizen identity as indexed by language could be thought of as a tag that marks a particular social identity (Ochs, 1996). Speakers are actively constructing themselves through language as members in particular social, political, and geographical spaces. Such a tag could be language choice, such as speaking in English, Spanish, or code-switching. How speakers identify themselves matters when structures such as educational institutions and government agencies exist to inform and perpetuate such tags. For many gen1.5 adults like Danny, the experience of citizen identity acquired in the U.S. results in feeling that “first they Americanize you and then they throw you out” (2017). For many gen1.5 adults, doing citizen identity through language is learned and expected in the U.S., and follows them to the other side of the border. The stories discussed in the present study reveal that both language ideologies and practices interact with the mere possibilities of citizen identity formation and maintenance.


The present study offers an initial analysis of the role of language in what it means to be a citizen for generation 1.5 adults forced to repatriate to Mexico by the United States. In order to more thoroughly approach the topics discussed here, future studies should offer macro-level critical discourse analysis, such as content analysis of discourses produced in American and Mexican media, to examine the features of language ideologies that inform understandings of the role of language in citizen identity. The study urges social scientists and activists to be attentive to the ways that language contributes to what it means to belong in certain contexts and spaces, particularly for generation 1.5 adults. Such understanding is necessary to best support the social and linguistic identities, as well as the linguistic needs of generation 1.5 adults after deportation.

Due to the realities experienced by forced-returnees that make physical access to interviews and other methods of data collection difficult, in addition to the social justice movement currently thriving on the web, researchers and social activists should continue to explore language use in digital narratives. Identity, belonging, and language interact with experiences of migration and repatriation for generation 1.5 individuals in unique ways. What can linguists do to disrupt the hostile language ideologies that result in bullying or housing fraud, such as Zaret experienced? The impact of deportation crosses generations, languages, and man-made borders. There are voices to be heard.


In addition to Professor Robert Irwin, I would like to thank my fellow researchers and members of the Humanizando la Deportación research team that I worked with in the video collaborations mentioned: Guillermo Alonso Meneses, Danae Valenzuela, Sarah Hart, Lizbeth de la Cruz Santana, Ana Luisa Calvillo, John Guzman, Yesika Ordaz, Yaira Maren, Marlene Mercado, José Israel Ibarra, and Dörte Krebsbach.


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APPENDIX I: Transcription conventions

[…] indicates omitted excerpt or utterance

# incomprehensible utterance

italics denotes a translation

APPENDIX II: Translation of Zaret’s excerpt

21 And I feel like the hardest transition from Mexico to the states was the language

29 And I think my mom was really smart when she said, “at home

30 don’t speak English. At home I want you to continue to speak Spanish because if for

31 some reason we go back to Mexico you need to have Spanish”

39 insecurity in the house. I believe a lot of what we experienced and what

40 we can share is something really unpleasant. The fact that we have that

41 insecurity and that fear that something is going to happen, and not something good. If

42 anything something – something that can destroy your family. The fact that obviously

43 there’s also bullying in school like “look she can’t speak English, listen to her English”

a lot of things that

44 can affect you, and not just kids but any person.

[i] These statistics, while reported by the MPI, use calculations from Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), “Encuesta sobre migración en la frontera norte de México (EMIF Norte)” accessed by MPI September 2, 2016 www.colef.mx/emif/eng/bases.php; SEGOB “Boletines Estadísticos”, 2005, 2010, and 2015.

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