Top page (tracing paper) with quote from How to Tame a Wild Tongue

In How to Tame a Wild Tongue, Gloria Anzaldua reflects on her experiences as a Chicana woman in the United States. According to Anzaldua, there has been a movement of sorts during the 1980’s that has resulted in new terms like “Chicana” and “Mestiza” to describe Mexican-American women. While this work also focuses on the “dual identity” aspect of her experiences, I chose to focus on her assessment of language and linguistic acceptance for my creative adaptation.

In the adaptation, I show a top page with the quote, “Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out.” This quote from the text is accompanied by the word “callate” written over the woman’s mouth. This is meant to symbolize the attempt of others, whoever those others may be, to silence the woman’s mother tongue or expression of her chosen language(s). I chose tracing paper as the top medium because while you can see the woman, the details are harder to see and she is much less vibrant than the big red lettering of “callate.” This represents the idea that by silencing the woman, you are also taking away part of everything that she is: her identity, personality, and overall self. This also allows a transitional moment in the art piece wherein the top page can be folded backward to reveal the rest of the drawing which will be further discussed in a moment.

In the text, Anzaldua recites memories of growing up and being told, “If you want to be American, speak American.” Even her own mother encouraged her to speak English and to do so without an accent. She was punished for using her native language and was made to take additional classes in college in order to eliminate her accent. Being Chicana, or Mexican-American, had given her an “internalized belief that [she] speaks poor Spanish.” She says that instead of being an illegitimate, bastard language, Chicano Spanish “is a living language” that is still growing and adapting, as are all languages. She explores the idea in which “ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity.” This means that an attack on the language she chooses to use, is an attack on her entirety. Saying her language is illegitimate or unworthy is the same as saying she herself is illegitimate or unworthy.

In a 1999 journal article titled “Language Choice in U.S. Latina First Person Narrative: The Effects of Language Standardization and Subordination” Holly R. Cashman examines the “social evaluation of language”. This refers to the tendency of people, especially white colonizers, to judge a person based on an inability to, or choice not to, conform to traditional English language norms. She summarizes that Anzaldua is unique in that she accepts her language proficiency as it is and instead challenges readers to work to understand her writing. She forces readers to meet her halfway by not including English translations in parts of her work. Cashman comments on the ever evolving study of language, saying:

…previously considered a kind of deviant linguistic behavior which indicated a speaker’s inability to separate the two languages at her or his disposal, linguists now recognize code-switching as a functional behavior which demonstrates the speaker’s ability to manipulate the grammar and lexicon of two languages at the same time…

Cashman, 1999

This is significant to the work because it demonstrates a shift in the social perception of bilingualism that Anzaldua herself has been striving towards. Code-switching, or the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation, has long been looked down upon as a deficiency of language rather than a proficiency. Anzaldua wrote, in How to Tame a Wild Tongue, a powerful and moving ultimatum:

Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate.

Gloria Anzaldua, 1987

As previously stated, in my adaptation, the top page represents the attempt to silence certain languages and the stigma surrounding free linguistic expression. Using tracing paper allows a transition to the main portion of the drawing in which a woman’s face is presented on a floral background that is meant to be reminiscent of traditional Mexican art, beading, or embroidery. The woman’s face is split down the middle between a young Chicana woman gazing proudly out of the page and an older woman who seems to be smirking because of a triumphantly lived life. The women represent Chicana identity and embody the pride that Chicanas should have in their heritage and culture. Anzaldua writes, “Stubborn, persevering, impenetrable as stone, yet possessing a malleability that renders us unbreakable, we [the Chicanas and mestizas] will remain.” The bottom page in my creative adaptation represents that enduring quality of these women against the stereotypes, racism, discrimination, or stigma that they may face.

Works Cited

Cashman, Holly R. “Language Choice in U.S. Latina First Person Narrative: The Effects of Language Standardization and Subordination.” Discourse, vol. 21, no. 3, 1999, pp. 132–150. JSTOR,

The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.