Museums as a site for racialization and heritage language maintenance

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Racialization is a process by which a group of people comes to be associated with and defined by certain essentialized characteristics. Racialization assumes unindividuated populations, and qualities such as intelligence, industriousness, and educational attainment can attach to an entire ethnic group. I argue that some practices in American museums may unintentionally contribute to the racialization of Spanish and Spanish speakers in the United States. This happens, first, by virtue of what printed language appears in Spanish and what does not, and second, by the particular features of the written Spanish that does appear. In reference to linguistic landscapes and language maintenance, Landry and Bourhis (1997) underline the benefit a language’s ingroup users may obtain from its prevalence in a given area; other researchers point out ways in which written language on signage can help second language learners. Heritage language learners lack ample exposure to written forms of their language, and museums— as custodians of knowledge and high culture—could provide one more venue and also offer access to symbolic capital. This paper invites reflection on questions such as whether or not some Spanish in a museum is better than none, and if the features of the Spanish that appears there matter.