Juan Carrillo

Basic Interview Metadata

Interview Text and Audio


The interviewee, Juan Carrillo, is a professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was born to Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles, California. He grew up in Los Angeles, then moved to Phoenix, Arizona, then Austin, TX, and then finally to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He received a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. He studies the effect that American schools have on Mexican American students. The interview covers several different topics, from comparing Dual Language schools in the southwest to schools in Chapel Hill, to the history behind Dual Language schools, to the importance of maintaining one’s language and culture. Carrillo also discusses his life history and how it relates to Dual Language education.



Danielle Bruce: Alright, my name is Danielle Bruce. I am interviewing Juan Carrillo for an interview for Global 382, Latin American migrant perspectives. It is Monday, April 2, 2018 and I am in his office in Peabody Hall on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus. Today we are going to be talking about Dual Language programs in Chapel Hill. So my first question for you is a little bit about you –
Juan Carrillo: Mm
DB: —What in your life history led you to having an interest in Dual Language?
JC: Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed for this. What connections in my life history have gotten me interested in this…Well, couple of things, I would say. One is my personal background. Son of Mexican immigrants that were mainly Spanish speakers. Learning the Spanish language at home and then entering, I guess, public schools in Los Angeles, where the majority of the student population were bilingual students, but we didn’t have a robust bilingual program where I attended school, or a robust Dual Language program. Really what we had was kind of a more subtractive ESL type of program. Not all ESL programs are necessarily subtractive but the one I was part of was basically…I do remember that I was labelled in some way or another as being “gifted” because I was told that my mastery of the English language came quickly and I was told that I had no longer needed to speak Spanish in the public domain. In this specific case, in school. I was no longer going to get any kind of Spanish instruction very early on. I remember being celebrated for that.
DB: Mm
JC: Being told, wow, you’re so smart, you’re in the highest level English reading group and you get to go to that special class. Only until I got into, I guess, the research side of what happened did I realize what an unfortunate – in such a diverse city with such a rich, historical history around Mexican-Americans and Chicanos – what an unfortunate reality that I had gone through where I didn’t really get to center at an early age bilingualism as an asset. It was more of you got pulled into the dominant language within a narrative that the other side of you is no longer necessary beyond the conversations you have with your parents at home. That is where you need to keep it. It was kind of a violent thing. It was kind of a violent thing and it was kind of like a microcosm of all the things that happened later for me where my identity and all its complexity was often times – not all the time, but often times – not really centered or valued or promoted in any way. I had to do a lot of independent studies to really figure that out. The other end is when I ended up deciding to pursue my doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin, while my concentration was not language education at any level, I did take coursework in it. I was around many people who were doing work around language education. I took courses, I met people, I got involved in some projects and then, to this day I’m very aware of the tensions around language education. I guess the personal, the connections to research on Dual Language, the connections to the historical context of bilingual education for Mexican Americans, it’s something I’ve been linked to since I was in graduate school. It allowed me to have a window with Windex, I guess, to my original story. It allowed me to give a clear assessment of what happened to me and what happens to many other young people.
DB: So you specifically didn’t go to a Dual Language school?
JC: I didn’t get that chance.
DB: Were there schools in the area for –
JC: I think there were.
DB: Okay.
JC. Yeah, I think there were. I just attended the schools that were by my apartment complex.
DB: Okay
JC: My mother said wherever the rent is cheap you’re going to school. Down the block. None of the schools that I attended had any – I didn’t even know what bilingual, Dual Language education was.
DB: It is pretty new.
JC: I mean, yeah, I was a kid.
DB: Yeah.
JC. I was a kid and there was stuff near there but I was not given access to those spaces.
DB: Mm. You said you didn’t know much when you were a kid but what do you know now about Dual Language programs, both administrative and classroom levels and what do you think?
JC: What do I think? Well, the way I look at it now through my research lens and through my on the ground lens, my children attend Dual Language schools. I see it as a parent, I see it as an advocate/activist, I see the issues as a researcher. What I really look at when I think about Dual Language is one of the core issues around the neoliberal project to use Dual language education as a way to assert more privilege to the group that is already in power. In many spaces where Dual Language was rooted in the Civil Rights legacy, the issues of community gentrification and the gentrification of Dual Language programming has removed in some spaces Duals Language from its mission of not just being a language program but an identity program that develops pride, that develops a historical connection to the historical self and develops an ability to name the world and name in a critical way the role of Latinos and Chicanos in the Southwest. My experiences, because in the city of Austin for example, where I know a lot of people doing research and I’ve been connected to some projects. There is a lot of displacement of Latino communities into the periphery. While there are Dual Language programs, a lot of the voices that are heard the most tend to not be those families. They tend to be the people that are from dominant society. What happens oftentimes is that the programs take a direction that is not necessarily – not always, but oftentimes – not necessarily attuned to the ideas of the civil rights legacy of the communities that fought for it in the Southwest. It is that hope of what Dual Language can do that is exciting, not only academically but in terms of identity, that’s exciting. But there’s also a tension. I was recently in Arizona and Arizona does not allow kids, youth, to enter the Dual Language unless they pass an English assessment. A lot of the kids that are getting into these spaces are not the kids that Dual Language was kind of set up for.
DB: Right.
JC. I’ve heard, a couple of legislators are trying to pass a bill to change that, but just for what you know of Arizona, if you know anything…I’ve lived there. It has in its history, whether it’s recent or forever, has had all sorts of layers of settler colonialism where the natives are othered and policymaking has made sure that they’re othered and that they’re marginalized. Do I speak for all Arizonans? No. There’s a lot of wonderful people pushing back and doing the work of equity and justice and trying to make it “better” from this lens so this is what you believe. It’s heartbreaking, to see how that assessment exists but it’s also encouraging to see the pushback of all these people on the ground in that particular place. I’m very familiar more and more with the Arizona case, very familiar with the Austin case, the hip cool city where working class communities of black and brown people are no longer working class communities of black and brown people, yet there is a very progressive band so there is a Dual Language stuff going on, but yet who’s controlling it, who’s designing it? There’s all these interesting narratives at play in places like that. Mm.
DB: I’ve learned a lot about the Dual Language schools here in Chapel Hill recently doing these interviews with people.
JC: Mm.
DB: It’s not like you said it is in Arizona where they have to pass an English test first. Their parents just mark in the enrollment if they are a native English speaker or a native Spanish speaker and it’s a lottery program to get in. Why do you think that a place like Chapel Hill with a smaller Latino population is not as strict with what kids enter the Dual Language than in a place like Arizona?
JC: Well, there’s a lot of unfortunately unfortunate violent history on the border.
DB: Mm.
JC: There’s a lot of history of people being dispossessed of their belongings, when the Mexican American war happened, of their language, of their overall identity, of their power. It has a history of dispossession. It has a history of violence, it has a history of – not to be bleak, it’s not the only history – but there is the historical backdrop of how people happened to speak Spanish were not necessarily given access in an equitable way to what they felt was theirs. The story has continued up until this day of – in different ways – systemically and politically and policy wise. It’s not surprising to me. Here the population is newer.
DB: Yeah.
JC: Although I’ve seen somebody document Latino students in Carolina all the way to the early nineteen hundreds or late eighteen hundreds. Someone was just talking to me about that. There’s a project that’s about to be published on that. But overall, it’s not a traditional border context.
DB: Mm.
JC: The Mexican American war didn’t happen here.
DB: Right.
JC: Not to say that that’s the explanation for it or one of the only plausible possible explanations, but the history of space is very different for Carolina to that region of the country. Yeah.
DB: In comparison, you said you had an ESL program at your school, but comparing to ESL to Dual Language—
JC: Yeah.
DB: —research shows that Dual Language has been more successful and students have higher proficiency levels—
JC: Mm.
DB: —than going through an ESL program. Have you…I mean I know you don’t do research on it specifically but do you know anything about the comparison between ESL programs and Dual Language programs?
JC: Yeah. What I can speak to is, I know that one of the key components that has been argued for in some of the bilingual education research or Dual Language research is the role of a robust quality Dual Language program being able to have two things. One publication recently came out. One is addressing the cultural piece, like the cultural identity piece. The other one is addressing-this is I think super important- critical consciousness. When you have young people in an unequal society learning language within a context that is additive and affirmative, but not only just boutique multiculturalism type of an affirmative and additive, but also willing to talk about the uncomfortable and talk about the gray areas of what it means to be a Latino, for example, in US society and develop a critical consciousness for young people. I think those kind of elements can contribute to…it really connects well with the ethnic studies research, right?
DB: Mm.
JC: It really connects well with the idea that identity and agency are inseparable, right. If you promote positive self-concept, if you develop a young person’s historical self, if you “wake people up” into understanding the material realities of everyday life conditions for marginalized communities, all that can create a sense of empowerment possibly and can create also strategies for negotiating with the soul wounds that they’re going to experience by being who they are. Those elements, when incorporated into some Dual Language programs, I think are huge. Not to say that all Dual Language…some ESL programs, some ESL spaces may serve their role, too. I think that’s one key piece that I’ve seen that has helped people in Dual Language programs.
DB: So, what would you say is the difference between ESL and Dual Language?
JC: I don’t think, well, to me ESL-and I can’t speak in generalities- because they’re all different, space to space, school to school, classroom to classroom, teacher to teacher. It’s really hard to generalize –
DB: Mm.
JC: because I’ve seen ESL teachers in Durham who are amazing and who are able to created spaces for cultural affirmation and understanding the historical self, understanding how to critically engage content. I’ve seen Dual Language educators not do that. And vice versa. It’s really hard for me to cookie cutter wise—
DB: Right.
JC: —make a comparative assessment in that way. But I do know that a quality, robust Dual Language education program in a school that has good community input from parents who centers not only the language but the role of the culture and the identity, possibly critical consciousness…I think that that has a stronger weight in some ways. In my opinion. Which is something I didn’t get, right?
DB: Right.
JC: I just got a really cookie cutter ESL idea. And it’s kind of a deficit model, right. Often times, it’s not complex in its understanding of a community sometimes. Yeah.
DB: Cool. [long pause] Right. Students that English is not their first language, whether they’re native Spanish speakers, native Chinese speakers, whatever you have in the community, research and literature shows that Dual Language, the Dual Language program is better at helping them learn English than a traditional ESL program.
JC: Mm.
DB: Do you know much about how a Dual Language program would help students learn English more than a traditional ESL program would?
JC: What I do know is that those measurements, they don’t happen right away. It takes times. It takes time to actually reach that level of effectiveness for Dual Lanugage schools. I do know too that, from terms of the research I do, I think I just said it, that one of the reasons that’s possibly the case is because academic achievement and identity in so many ways are linked. If you have a good strong Dual Language program in El Paso, Texas or Austin, Texas or in Raleigh, North Carolina – wherever there’s a strong one, the intersections of identity and academic achievement. There’s a possible connection there. There’s some research to back that up, right. That’s kind of the lens I see it through.
DB: Do you think that a Dual Language program taught here should be taught differently than in Texas or Arizona or something depending on the community that the school is in?
JC: I think that’s there’s things you can learn from all spaces. Especially from people or spaces that have a long history of effective Dual Language programs. But I think you should always sin any kind of pedagogical reality, make it context specific too. Because whether it’s at the level of social class, migration, race, gender, whatever the intersectionality elements are, and whatever the population is in terms of your teaching force, there’s’ all these nuances of the space that I think require you to monitor and adjust to that as well. But there are also some basic core tenants that I’m sure folk here can learn
DB: Mm
JC: from other spaces. Yeah.
DB: Have you seen any research anywhere about…so students in an elementary level Dual Language school have higher proficiency levels than students in traditional monolingual schools but have you seen anything about their proficiency rising and climbing in middle school and high school? Do they still do better than the monolingual kids?
JC: Yeah. I’ve seen, I think I just saw a Stanford study. I could be wrong but I think I just saw a Stanford study that showed that by middle school you see the growth on the Dual Language side.
DB: Right
JC: Yeah, yeah. There’s some work out there but I think the one I recently saw was Stanford discussing that exact reality.
DB: Yeah.
JC: I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.
DB: Yeah, Dual Language is like, so new that…I was talking to a principal here and she said there’s just no resources available for Dual Langauge yet because it’s just not a program that’s really anywhere –
JC: Well it’s new here.
DB: It’s new here.
JC: It’s not new in other spaces.
DB: Okay, so where has it been around for a while?
JC: DC, Miami, Texas…California has been in and out based on issues it’s had with English only movements and policy. There’s been this – I would not agree with that. There’s been other spaces where there’s a legacy of advocacy because in the Southwest so much of it comes from the Chicano movement.
DB: Right.
JC: They had bilingual education in Crystal City in the 60s or 70s or whatever. So that’s not five hundred years before Christ but it’s a good run. It’s a good run. There are spaces that have been doing this for a while and I think North Carolina’s just an interesting place because a lot of the research and scholarship and ideas that come from places that have done the ground work sometimes comes this way and sometimes it’s not necessarily tapped into. It just depends on who’s doing the program design. There is a rich history in other spaces.
DB: Could you talk about that history a little bit? How the Dual Language program got started, maybe through the Chicano Movement?
JC: Yeah, in Crystal City, Gutierrez I believe was his last name, you know they were frustrated in south Texas because a lot of the Mexican American Chicanos out there, they were living in really kind of like colonial conditions where you would have majority Mexican community members and the power structure was not representative of them. That was frustrating. Secondly, there was no political power for the community that was the majority in a lot of these Mexican towns in South Texas. Secondly, kids were getting beat up for speaking the Spanish language. They still are being told in many places, you know go back to your country, Spanish is the language of the home don’t speak it in the school.
Back then, kids were getting hit or beat up for speaking the language and they had no political representation and their history and their culture, both their indigenous roots and this idea of not having to assimilate to a dominant notion of what it means to be an American was also at play and this idea of paternalism, this constant narrative around helping the poor savage other and having them become the dominant group and not having an actual negotiation. People began to tap into the folklore and the history and the culture and the precious knowledge of the community and their historical legacy and people, young people, older people started uniting and creating political parties like La Raza Unida Part and starting campaigns in the local communities where people decided to implement, in the case, what’s his name, Gutierrez, where he, he was part of a power structure that put in some bilingual education in those communities and I think that fervor and that desire to tap into the community knowledge and the community memory and the beautiful, what we call conocimientos, of our grandpas and our grandpas and that beautiful oral tradition that we have that isn’t valued sometimes in public schools. It was like an assertiveness around bringing it to the center and making it part of a conversation with very- not contradictory- but with very mixed results. It’s like with any struggle of a community that historically is marginalized one way or another, it’s an ongoing effort that there’s just nothing cul de sac about it, you never get to the cul de sac. It’s like the idea of the battle in motion for perpetuity. Those people, some of them are still alive, they started something, they started an energy. They started a commitment, they started an articulation of a political project about the beauty of what we are. That’s why I just got back from Mexico City and it just when I was there looking at pyramids as romantic as it may sound, or esoteric, it just reminded the Chicano Movement. We wanted to know why our teachers weren’t telling us nothing about this. We wanted to know how we could write our own ( ). That’s why I write. It’s not just because I want to get tenure but because I want to tell it through my lens.
DB: Right.
JC: I grew up going to school being told someone else’s story for the most part and there was, as good as it was incomplete. I was like you know what I’m going to take up that project and maybe it won’t have much of an impact but I’ll do what I can. I think that, when I think of language and Dual Language, I think it’s because it exists in the “real world” and it’s all the real world, there’s always going to be competing interests.
DB: Mm.
JC: about what Dual Language can be and what it should be. There’s always competing measures about what is effective and wants not effective. Personally, I think that the metrics around standardized testing to decide whether or not it’s effective, even that can be problematic.
DB: Yeah.
JC: We could reorganize the question and really begin to consider how do we redefine success for young people learning multiple languages within the context of their everyday realities. How do we make things, humanize thing enough, create a humanizing pedagogy around DL that is critical, that is community-centric, and that has multiple entry and exit points for young people to excel within the confines of both their everyday things that are beautiful but are also within the confines of the everyday things that are hurtful or hard or having to work til five in the morning or whatever. I think even the questions that we ask I think that’s part of the Chicano legacy .Even the questions we ask should be bounded within the idea that there often coming from a particular narrative that favors the particular community. Not until we decide to debunk those things or re-conceptualize or reimagine, then not until we do that do we really get an understanding of Dual Language, in this case, since that’s the topic. Dual Language or language education is really truly being not just about achievement because of a standardized test score but being emancipatory and being something that helps people not only get good careers or get into Carolina but to have such a strong strong sense of who they are, why they’re here, and what their mission is in life beyond being part of a program that gets them to excel in two languages. Right?
DB: Right.
JC: There’s so much literature and scholarship that’s coming out that’s debunking the idea of two languages—
DB: Really?
JC: —and translanguaging and the hybridity of language and you’re born and then you’re a child and you’re playing with different languages at an early age, are you really an English Language Learner or are you already bilingual or multilingual. You might be all sorts of –lingual from a very early age.
DB: Right.
JC: But the current metrics, they’re bounded by bureaucracies and by certain norms and standards that fulfill a particular idea about language mastery and not only language mastery but also what counts as a quality program. So I think it’s kind of messy. I think it’s kind of messy but I support it, but I support it. I support the journey to create effective Dual Language programs and I support the idea being involved in them and trying to make them better in communities. My children attend them, I didn’t have a chance to attend them. I’m a big advocate of them and it’s always…it’s always something that’s near me because of family, because of personal, my own individual journey and connection, and because a lot of the people that I work with, that’s the area that they do research on. I’m actually writing an article about some of this that we’re talking about and what I’m trying to coin is what it means to be an English Language Learner that…what it means to design a Dual Language program where we provide opportunities for the just “learner” to understand how he or she is being framed and to understand how to resist possibilities of deficit narratives within their experience, like how you do that. How do you design a curriculum that does that or how do you conceptually encourage that kind of identity at a young age for a young person that is going to start the project of being called an ELL because it can have devastating consequences. I think my sister was in an ESL program in the back back back back back back back building for years and she hated it. She said it was very ineffective and not very additive for her. So yeah.
DB: Okay. I’ll ask one final question. In a perfect world, Dual Language would be about maintaining culture for native Spanish speakers it would be about maintaining your language and through your language your culture. So could you just speak a little bit…your perspective on the importance of maintaining your language and your culture in America?
JC: Yeah, well for me personally, that’s a great question, [long pause] I think I mentioned in our class that not until I got into my – well, there were cases earlier but I would say for the most part - not until I went to a student union at Arizona State University and decided to not graduate on time because I didn’t know anything about myself. I stopped my graduation clock and I was really frustrated and that’s why I transferred to like eight universities. Some of them were considered top five and I thought they were weak universities and I kept telling myself why do they come across to me as weak? It’s probably my fault, not getting into the right program, but maybe not. I thought, well the problem I’m having with these universities is that I don’t know anything about myself. So here I am at Arizona State, and I thought I’m not going graduate with a degree without knowing who I am. As the story unfolds, I found a class about the history of Chicanos or something and I took it. In that class, it just changed…it’s almost like the thoughts I had in the back of my mind were finally legitimized. There was a bunch of people that I’ve never met who believed the things that I believed in, who said things that I had thought about but no one had ever brought them up in a very public, formal way. I thought, wow, so I was not crazy. These things that I had in the back of my mind were real and there’s a group of people that agree with this and they’re writing about it and they exist in the world.
When I found that scholarship and that literature and that music and the theories and that community, my massive thirst for knowledge got accelerated [made an upward motion with his hand and a noise imitating ascension]. Reading twenty books every three days, it was like [same noise, repeated three times], it was exaggerated because I realized that so much of my life was about – based on educators that I had – not all was about escaping away from myself to become like them. Here was a whole world that was saying you don’t need to escape yourself, you are great, you are beautiful, you are knowledgeable, your community matters, and all this. I think that beauty and I think that link that I had to seeing the mirror of what my history tells me was game-changing and it was heartbreaking at first because it took so darn long. I was like, wow, why’d it take so long. At the same time I think it was something that I shared when I became a high school teacher. I made sure that, I tried to use that approach of encouraging not just that content mastery but encouraging that positive identity construction in equity or in academic instruction so that those two worlds would merge in a way that was not shallow and was not hollow because the pain of the winner can be just as bad as the pain of the one that doesn’t have success.
That’s something that I write about, the pain of the winner, but the scholarship or research that I do because sometimes you’re acknowledging the hollowness and the process and you’re trying to find ways to get your intent, let’s reconnect to the past, because you realize that it had things that you maybe could have just stayed with and didn’t’ have to necessarily take on the journey you took on. Or if you did take the journey and there’s beautiful things about it you want to find out ways that you can stay connected to whatever that was. You feel like a sense of exile constantly or a sense of trespassing or a sense of refugee status, you’re kind of playing with those thoughts and those emotions. But I think they’re good emotions because it creates a process of humility and a process of reflexivity and vulnerability. It allows, I think, for people to understand, how to not become [long pause] adapters to the cog in the overall wheel in ways that perpetuate inequalities. Remembering helps dismember the present constantly. Remembering, dismembering, remembering, dismembering. Yeah, so, I don’t know, for me it’s always been about that and I’m always around my community whether it’s at the work level or at the where I decide to live level or whether it’s visiting Mexico constantly. I’m always immersed because I’m not running away. I’m running in as much as possible. It keeps me grounded and it keeps me hopeful and it keeps me nuanced about what I think I can do to contribute. It keeps giving me info. Yeah. I use it all the time. Makes me feel whole.
DB: Awesome. Well, thank you, thank you so much for doing this interview for me.
JC: Yeah. You’re welcome. No, this was awesome.