Discourse communities have a very significant influence on how people establish their identities in society. Language is a very important tool for communication that also conveys information on identity. Discourse communities tend to be formed according to people's social class. For instance, people of a working class like establishing their identities in a manner that is different from those of middle class or the ruling class.
According to Rodriguez, racial antagonism tends to be exacerbated by, among other things, the electronic media and popular culture (274). In recent years, multicultural literature within the field of racial antagonism on the basis of language and identity has continued to draw attention to the way in which minorities are represented in cultural and educational forms. Such writings have always concentrated on textbooks alone, giving little or not attention to popular culture as expressed in the electronic media. This is the main reason why educational and sociology theorists are yet to explore the subject in great detail.
It appears as if discourse communities have been defined on a theoretical perspective, something that has even made the whole topic to be perceived on didactic terms rather than pragmatic ones. It is through popular culture that racial identities are expressed by all discourse communities. Their interests are best catered for in a type of media that seems to have few constraints in terms of modalities of communication. When members of all discourse communities are given an equal chance of expressing their views, various identities are seen to converge in a socially cohesive manner.
Many discourse communities can easily be distinguished along various themes, including crime, sexuality, security, lost dreams and the daily hassles of people from different backgrounds, social classes and cultural settings. For people of the urban working class, the existing discourse communities are definitive of racial meanings, populism and realism that define what it means to go through a life of difficulties without any prospects of a bright future in the end.
Ethnographic studies show that in a city like Los Angeles, Latino and Blacks have formed a discourse community that law enforcement agencies tend to associate with kidnappings, violence, drug trafficking, and prison breaks. Most of the members of this community are unemployed youths who show signs of resentment in life.
Anzaldua talks in great length about Mestizo in an attempt to explain various aspects of discourse communities from a sociological, cultural and psychological point of view (23). A Mestizo is a person of mixed race. Such people are particularly found in Central, South America and Mexico. Such people are of a mixed discent; they share the cultural elements of both indigenous and European origin. In Latin American countries, the Mestizo constitute a very large part of the population where they are referred to by different names depending on the countries whey they are found. In Guatemala, they are known as Ladinos while in Brazil, they are called Caboclos. These words are primarily applied to people with a mixture of racial strains although today, it has continued to acquire social and cultural connotations. Sometimes, it is even applied to pure-blooded people of indigenous origin who choose to behave, wear and, generally, live like Europeans. In Phillipines, the term Mestizos is applied to all persons of mixed race.
Anzadua says that for La Mestiza, there are very many psychological possibilities whenever one wants to express his views in a social setting. One is forced to search within all his psychological borders in order to choose and bring out the best linguistic repertoire that fits the prevailing communicative context. It is possible to hold one's concepts and ideas within very rigid boundaries. Therefore, Mestizos find it very difficult to succeed in concealing the identities that they don't want to reveal in a certain setting.
For Mestizos, everyday communication needs to be closely monitored psychologically so that unwanted identities do not cross the borders and walls into the wrong "mental" regions. In this way, the mixture of identities acts like an enemy that an individual has to keep fighting from within all the time.
The discourse community of a La Mestiza is characterized by versatility in choice of words, constant shift of habitual formations, analytical reasoning, divergent thinking and movement from all preset goals and patterns, towards a holistic perspective, one that is more inclusive than exclusive. In case the speaker makes an error in communication, the error can never be linked to a certain language identity; rather it has to be identified with a whole range of discourse communities. This is always the intention of any La Mestiza who wants to be good communicators under the prevailing circumstances into which they have been plunged.
In Theme for English B, Hughes talks about a twenty-two year-old student and the prejudices he goes through as the only colored student in his class(1). He talks about the negative way in which his instructor and fellow students treat him for being colored. His teacher is white. His classmates are also white. When he is given an assignment, he wonders whether the contents of the assignment will bring about his identity of being colored. He believes that this is unavoidable. He notes that the instructor has become a part of him and therefore, some aspects of the 'whiteness' in the teacher will reveal itself in the paper. Nevertheless, he wonders what will happen since the teacher does want to associate with colored people.
All in all, the student in Hughes' poem believes that he can write the assignment in a manner that makes it appear American as opposed to colored or white. This situation is very similar to that of the La Mestizos, whereby people of mixed backgrounds are forced to switch between different discourses in order to fit in different communities in different times. They do this when need arises. It is as it this is a survival tactic.
Hughes notes that the student who lives in Harlem and who breathes the Harlem air finds it difficult to shed off this sense of homegrown identity upon reaching school. The school setting demands that one switches into a new language identity, completely different from the one that is acceptable at home. This is a difficult thing to do. No wonder the student finds it difficult to determine which linguistic identity should reveal itself in his work.
For some students in America, a journey from home to school means a switch from one discourse community to another. The transition requires psychological consciousness of the language elements that need to be shelved and the ones that need to be adopted. It is disturbing that in situations whereby certain races are perceived to be inferior, people feel inferior whenever they switch between language identities in order to fit in a certain discourse community.
Anzaldua notes that people who belong to different discourse communities go through painful, emotional events in order to either solve or invert the ambivalence of having to switch between various discourses all the time (24). As time goes by, these people get used to doing the right thing at the right place as well as saying what is required of them in different circumstance. Sometimes, more emphasis is put on assertion of identities than expression of ideas.
Furthermore, whereas Mestizos seem to be switching between identities flawlessly, this is what takes place on the surface. In the inner depths of their minds, other subconscious processes take place, whereby sometimes, one reaches a juncture of convergence among many identities. When this happens, the best thing for the bilingual speakers to do is to conceal all the identities and to adopt a neutral tone. However, some people may prefer to give one language identity preference over all the other identities. The identity that is chosen is often one that is most beneficial in terms of economic privileges and psychological satisfaction.
Surprisingly, Anzaldua thinks that the future belongs to the Mestiza; the future whereby paradigms are easily broken down in order for speakers to be able to interact with ease across different cultures (272). In the modern era of globalization, such sentiments ring true. People succeed in life through their ability to transcend existing cultural boundaries, and where possible, to create new mythos.
On a personal note, the best manifestation of language identities that I have encountered in the past takes the form of filmic realism that was being depicted by Latino and black directors. They people were colluding with mainstream cinema and television evening news people in order to make productions that depicted the inner city as a harbinger of lost dreams and perpetual violence.
In conclusion, I think that it is possible to do away with prejudices in a manner that is acceptable through changing perceptions. Today, people are being forced by the forces of globalization to travel into new worlds and to experience new cultures. In such circumstances, multiple discourse communities are formed. In order for people in these communities to co-exist and to utilize the available economic opportunities equitably, the existing mythos needs to be redefined. People need to change their behaviors the way Mestizos do, thus creating a new social consciousness.