We Are Here: Stories from Multilingual Speakers in North Central Florida
Immigrants have the right to speak their languages in North Central Florida. We Are Here is project that aims to raise awareness about the language diversity and the need for language justice in North Central Florida.
North Central Florida is not usually perceived to be as linguistically diverse as other parts of the state such as Miami or Orlando. However, there is a significant population of migrants who speak languages other than English. In contexts of global migration, language barriers can increase when language diversity is not properly recognized, making it difficult for those not speaking the predominant language of a place to actively participate and feel included in their communities.
Using collages in different formats (a website, postcards, and a museum exhibit) to share multilingual stories, we intend to raise awareness of the linguistic diversity in North Central Florida. In the collages, we visualize the meanings people assign to their languages and the obstacles caused by language barriers. The collages were designed based on interviews with multilingual community members, and include languages such as Haitian Creole, Arabic, Hindi, Odia, Punjabi, Kazakh, Vietnamese, Chinese, Akuapem Twi, Bengali, as well as Indigenous languages such as Q'anjobal and Aymara. Exploring and negotiating the images and their meanings with participants brought to light how other aspects of their identities such as race and religion are connected to language.
We Are Here: Stories from Multilingual Speakers in North Central Florida, the exhibit, will open on May 10th, 2023 at the Matheson History Museum in Gainesville, Florida. The exhibit will be available throughout the year.
Sep. 2021 - Present
The exhibit will also include a timeline of the history of languages spoken in North Central Florida where we explore the connections between language and colonizations; information about language access laws, and the relationship between language access and racial justice.
Immigrant populations are increasing in North Central Florida (GINI, 2022), and with them, language diversity. However, documentation measures, such as the U.S. Census, do not fully register the number of languages present in this region (Gonzales et at., 2021). The misrepresentation of language diversity increases language barriers for immigrant populations, including obstacles to access to relevant information and the possibility to participate in their communities. Making language diversity visible is an initial critical step to ensuring language justice, defined as individuals and communities’ fundamental rights “to language, culture, self-expression, and equal participation”(CCHE, 2020).
Throughout the project, it has been critical to make explicit that collages have an ambiguous nature where different interpretations can co-exist and are worth exploring. Across all collages, the main images are birds as a metaphor for migration. Having conversations with participants about the images in the collages creates a meaning-making process where diverse interpretations emerge depending on people’s cultures and experiences. This facilitates inclusive conversations to explore, for example, what visual elements are important to signal the Haitian identity of a woman that appears in the Haitian Creole collage, where the accompanying written text addresses the relationship between racism and lack of language justice.
We have shared the collages and stories in different public events with the goal of reaching organizations that provide services for migrants. We also use these events to collect more verbal and written stories of community members about their experiences with language access.
Museum Night at The Harn Museum of Art
Immigrant day, Downtown Gainesville, Florida
Launch of the Blueprint for Immigrant Inclusion, Matheson History Museum
Research & Collages
Based on more than 40 interviews with immigrants in North Central Florida, we identified stories of injustices caused by language barriers and stories of joy participants associated to their native languages. Participants were also asked about birds, plants and landmarks that reminded them of their home countries. Images of these elements were later used to create collages to visualize participants’ stories.
The collages were subsequently shared with participants to explore their interpretations, gather feedback, and iterate on the visuals. The Rural Women's Health Project, a local non-profit that has an extensive trajectory working with immigrants, put us in contact with participants.
We initially designed the collages and the multilingual stories in the form of postcards. However, for an upcoming exhibit at the Matheson Museum, we are exploring larger and more interactive formats of displaying the stories. The exhibit will also include audio and visual pieces to provide context about language access in North Central Florida, create awareness about the experiences that multilingual community members face, and collect more of their stories.
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