Identity and Language Use in Adolescent Latina/o Literature

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Virginia Tech


This thesis examines how characters in adolescent Latina/o literature use and reflect on both English and Spanish languages, bilingualism and how language use informs a character’s identity. In this thesis a particular emphasis is placed on code switching as a literary device in adolescent Latina/o literature. Investigations on code switching point to this, that many authors use code switching as a way for authors and characters to show the difficulties of living between two cultures. I examined the works of three accomplished authors of Latina/o adolescent in this investigation: Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012), Julia Álvarez’s Before We Were Free (2002) and the Tía Lola Series (2009), and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising (2004) and Echo (2015). The struggle to find one’s identity as an immigrant in the United States can emotionally compare to the struggle of an adolescent trying to balance their struggles of identity and this similarity of identity definition can be seen in all of these works. I argue that these authors use code switching and discussions on bilingualism as a device that helps articulate the exploration of the protagonist's search for identity into adulthood. Code switching and bilingualism are used to juxtapose the childhood and adult stages of the characters. These serve as ruptural elements that defy the generation of the parents and the cultural expectations. Code switching further serves as a mechanism through which protagonists reject and accept aspects of their identity development, from homosexuality to economic status. In a parallel way, I explore the importance of adolescent Latina/o literature as a referential axis for Latina/o youth in their process of development. This genre plays a role in development by showing strong, non-stereotypical characters who can help shape Latina/o identity for the next generation in the United States. Because adolescence is the stage in life where the individual goes through a time of questioning identity and development, this thesis shows that adolescent Latina/o literature may be best suited to show the process of growing up as compared to mainstream adolescent literature and gives a concrete metaphor for the challenges that many adolescents face.



Code Switching, Muñoz-Ryan, Sáenz,, Álvarez, Adolescent, Latina/o Literature, Identity formation, Language in Identity formation