In this book of sweeping scale of time and space, Vélez-Ibáñez traces articulations of language, power, and identity in what he terms the Southwest North American Region (SWNAR). Through the concept of the SWNAR, he illustrates the porosity of the language and speech communities upon which the American-Mexican border is currently overlaid, without at the same time losing sight of the linked linguistic and political economic effects of the border.
The book's ambitious timescale is matched by the breadth of cross-disciplinary engagement and diversity of data through which the twin concepts of language hegemony and linguistic discontent are conceptualized and exemplified. Language hegemony captions a set of processes whereby one polity seeks to ‘end, bend, and twist a conquered population's means of communication’ (17). But, for Vélez-Ibáñez, hegemony is ‘fragile and incomplete and dialectical’, such that discontents surface not only in the talking-back tactics of the oppressed, but as cracks in hegemonic ‘megascripts’ themselves (17).
Moving from the ‘Spanish colonial period to the English-speaking present’ (13), each chapter illustrates different strategies of linguistic imposition and resistance. For instance, ch. 2 introduces service records from 1769 to 1816 kept by the Spanish colonial authorities of fortified settlements across most of the SWNAR. These records, which document presidial soldiers recruited from among ‘Indigenous’ and ‘Spanish/Mexican’ populations, show a racialized and linguistic hierarchy wherein whiteness and (Spanish) literacy are linked. Yet, having described the polyglot and multimodal communicative economy of the SWNAR, Vélez-Ibáñez shows that a Spaniard like Juan de Oñate y Salazar would have depended on Indigenous interpreters to translate the ‘Act of Possession’ in the Río Grande Valley in 1598 and how Indigenous populations like the Sonoran Pimas ‘negotiated their bilinguality [in Spanish and Pima] on call’, in the face of Jesuit missionization in the late eighteenth century (65). This attention to ‘invisible’ histories and to communicative skill beyond literacy continues in the next five chapters.
Chs. 3 to 5 trouble the dichotomy projected by border and the ongoing reification of linguistic and cultural units. Respectively, they trace transformations and continuities within a ritual process in Chihuahua and New Mexico; explicate modes of educational acculturation in different regions of the SWNAR; and contrast the eugenics-derived educational policies of the 1920s and 1930s in Arizona and New Mexico with contemporaneous print media oriented towards a vibrant Spanish-speaking transborder readership. The emphasis on persistent heterogeneity throws into relief the depths of ahistoricism in which the American ‘English-only’ movement is mired, making the critique in ch. 6 all the more trenchant.
The final chapter considers how bilingual education programs based on ‘funds of knowledge’ (skills and know-how not conventionally seen as academic) could be applied in the SWNAR. But, perhaps due to the existing literature on this subject, this is considered primarily through the lens of Spanish-English programs in Arizona, Texas, and California. Acknowledging the continued Indigenous presence in the SWNAR, this concept could profitably be brought into conversation with Indigenous language learning initiatives, too.