Politics, Language, and Cultural Identity: DetroitRicans and Puertoricanness in Detroit

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language and identity attitudes, linguistic racism, politicization of languages, Puerto Ricans of Detroit, Spanish in the United States


Due to a surge in racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that intensified during Trump’s campaign and presidency, some Americans have reacted to people speaking Spanish in public with hostility as well as verbal and even physical aggression over the last few years in the United States. A particular group of victims of language and identity discrimination has been Puerto Ricans, who are, ironically, American citizens. Drawing on historical perspectives, language and identity attitudes, the politicization of language, and linguistic racism approaches, the present study administered a language and identity questionnaire to 103 Puerto Ricans in Detroit, Michigan (DetroitRicans). Despite the rise of linguistic racism in the United States, 90.3% of respondents said that being able to speak Spanish was necessary to validate their Puertoricanness. In addition, 89% of this study’s participants agreed that not teaching Spanish to children was denying them their Puerto Rican culture and identity. DetroitRicans also identified Spanish as their mother tongue, their roots, and their homeland, whereas they identified English as the language of work, school, and economic advancement. The findings agree with the language and identity perceptions of Puerto Ricans living on the Island and in Central Florida; they diverge from the traditional perspectives of Boricuas in New York, North Philadelphia, and Chicago, who do not generally consider Spanish a vital part of their Puerto Rican identity. 


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Author Biography

Francia Martinez, University of Michigan Dearborn

Francia Martínez is a native of Cali, Colombia. She is an associate professor of Spanish, Hispanic Linguistics, and Foreign Language Teaching Methodology in the Department of Language, Culture, and Communication at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in Michigan. Her areas of research and interest are physical and virtual linguistic landscapes, and Spanish and Hispanics in Michigan in the United States.

Some of her publications include the following: “Una lectura lingüística, visual y cultural del paisaje de ocho ciudades de Colombia” (2021) in Hispanic Research Journal; “English in advertising in Colombia” (2015) in World Englishes; “A sociolinguistic study of a Hispanic colony in Detroit, Michigan” (2014) in the Southern Journal of Linguistics, 38, 83–122; and “Recursos lingüísticos empleados en la prensa popular colombiana” (2012) in Estudios Lingüística de la Universidad de Alicante: Revista de Lengua Española y Lingüística General: ELUA.


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How to Cite

Martinez, F. (2022). Politics, Language, and Cultural Identity: DetroitRicans and Puertoricanness in Detroit. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 9(4), 1–41. https://doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/1260



Original Manuscript
Received 2022-06-15
Accepted 2022-09-24
Published 2022-09-28