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Language & Identidad | Language Intersection Insights with José Medina

JNCL-NCLIS Highlights: Language at the Intersection

About the Episode:

JNCL-NCLIS is proud to introduce the sixth episode of our Language at the Intersection Highlights series. In this episode, we are joined by Dr. José Medina, the chief educational advocate at Dr. José Medina Educational Solutions, who will help us explore the intersection of language and identidad, and how multilingualism moves his world.

The transcript for the episode can be found below.



Amanda Seewald (00:09):

Hello, and welcome to the "JNCL-NCLIS Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series, where we talk with professionals from many fields to hear their perspectives on how multilingualism moves our world. The Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies proudly presents this series with generous sponsorship support from Vista Higher Learning.

I'm Amanda Seewald, current president of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Language and International Studies, JNCL-NCLIS. And today I am joined by our president-elect Linda Egnatz to introduce you to Dr. José Medina, the chief educational advocate at Dr. José Medina Educational Solutions, who will help us explore the intersection of language and identidad, and how multilingualism moves his world.

José Medina (01:08):

My name is Dr. José Luis Medina Hernández Franco López Junior Díaz Cruz. I know that that's a very long name, but I've taken ownership of it because it was stolen from me, as I entered the schooling system here in the United States. I am presently the Chief Educational Advocate at Dr. José Medina Educational Solutions, and our team provides support to schools and districts throughout the United States, as well as abroad, with a specific focus on serving the needs of Black, Indigenous, students of color, and emergent bilingual, multilingual students as well.

Linda Egnatz (01:44):

And your language intersection is...

José Medina (01:47):

Absolutely my language intersection is language and identidad, and one of the things that I'm gonna be doing is I'm gonna be speaking in English, pero le voy a dar también algunas palabras en español, because one of the things that is still an obstacle to overcome is to value all that students bring in terms of their linguistic repertoire. Así es que les voy a hablar en inglés, pero también de vez en cuando, I'm gonna go ahead and use my español because my full linguistic repertoire is fabulosity embodied.

Linda Egnatz (02:16):

Great, I think that's a fun word, fabulosity! So the first question that we have is how do you use multiple, and you've just given us an example of that, multiple languages in your life?

José Medina (02:29):

Absolutely. So I use multiple languages every single day. I am a language researcher, as I mentioned, and I serve all over the United States and abroad, in really creating an atmosphere in schooling systems where all that a student brings in terms of language and culture is valued. From the moment that I personally went into school in El Paso Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, where I'm from, I knew that whatever I was, which was a language learning child, and the language that I spoke, which was Spanish, wasn't what was wanted, or what was needed in US schooling systems. I had a very traumatic entry into the schooling system because I was a very nervous child because of that language obstacle. And so I actually was physically tied to a gurney as a first grader and rolled into my first grade classroom where my first grade teacher introduced me to the class as Joe.

She did so because she wanted me to more quickly become Americanized. And so not only was I rolled into my first grade classroom and tied to that gurney, but my name was changed to Joe and for the rest of my educational career, I was Joe at school, and Junior at home, because I'm a junior. And it wasn't until in my twenties that I actually started taking ownership of who I was and I remembered my full name, José Luis Medina Hernández Franco López Junior. I added "Díaz Cruz" because I've been married to my husband, Antonio Díaz Cruz de Puerto Rico de San Juan, Puerto Rico, for 18 years. But as I serve, that's one of the things that I always do, I share my testimonio because, even today in 2021, going into 2022, we are still tying students to gurneys. There are no longer physical gurneys, but we have to admit that in every schooling system, we still are aligned with culturally and linguistically destructive ideologies.

And so, eso es una de las cosas que quiero recordar en este video, that we still have so much more work to do porque todavía estamos oprimiendo a los estudiantes bilingües y multilingües emergentes that we are charged to serve. And so to me, using all of that linguistic repertoire that is accessible to students es sumamente importante because there's still so many educators out there often without realizing it that "we promote multilingualism only if it aligns with our linguistically destructive ideologies." And it's not that we want to hurt students, pero a veces es lo que nos inculcaron en nuestros estudios en universitarios, verdad? It was often what we were taught to do. And so I think that really understanding that idea and leveraging the full linguistic repertoire is something that is one of those obstacles that we still have to overcome in US schools.

Linda Egnatz (05:15):

Great! So thinking about that in terms of impact, what parts of your life are enhanced by multilingualism?

José Medina (05:27):

Every single part is enhanced through language. Primeramente mi mamá y mi papá, mi amá y mi apá, they only language in Spanish. They've been in this country for over 50 years and they are fabulous and they are so patriotic, but they happen to language solely in English. And right now, some people might be wondering, "why haven't they languaged in English? Why haven't they learned to add English to their linguistic repertoire?" And, first of all, que les importa, que metiches, verdad? Que nosy! But second of all, because they were working multiple jobs to really create an opportunity for their three children, myself, my brother, Gilberto, and my sister, Vanessa. For me, my life without multilingualism is no life at all.

Porque hablo inglés, hablo español, hablo spanglish, and all of those pieces, as I serve schools, and districts, and teachers, and administrators that are creating these inclusive spaces in terms of language, is extremely important. There are still many folks in the world of education that see multilingualism as an asset for those students that come from privilege. Somehow, if it is a child with racial privilege, socioeconomic privilege, and they're languaging in Spanish, for example, we "Ooh" and we "Ahh", "oh my goodness, that's amazing! That's fantastic!" But if it's a Black, Indigenous student of color, if that child doesn't come with that privilege, then somehow we identify them as being students at risk. And so why is it that we see students of color who language and languages other than English, as being deficient, but yet we see multilingualism as an asset for those students that come to the classroom with privilege. And so all of these pieces really play a role in how multilingualism impacts my every day as I serve others to create that positive change.

Linda Egnatz (07:26):

So how would you share like a message that would support those students of color, who may not feel that their language is an asset? How do we expand that message to talk to sort of share and empower, you know, their stories?

José Medina (07:46):

Absolutely. So dual language education is one of the ways that we can actually create change in terms of being culturally and linguistically inclusive. I know that that's not possible in every setting, but it's one of the reasons why I love dual language education, because not only are we focusing on bilingualism and biliteracy, grade level, academic achievement, and two program languages, but I think that equally important is that third goal of dual language, which is sociocultural competence and critical consciousness. For too long, we have continued to allow students to be embarrassed about the languages that they language and that they mobilize at home. And so I think that dual language education, being a culturally and linguistically sustaining program model, is really one of those things that's a game changer in terms of serving culturally and linguistically diverse student communities. I don't know if you have seen me on social media as well, but I think that one of the ways that I am personally trying to reach out to folks out there is, usando las plataformas este sociales, verdad?

When the pandemic began, started Tik-Toking. Y la gente se me quedaba viendo como que estaba loco, verdad? One person that's a colleague of mine actually reached out and texted and said, "José, you're a leading language researcher. Why are you engaging in Tik Tok?" And I thought everyone knew, you know, that I am a really good dancer. And so I can dance on TikTok and share research so that folks can actually understand how language is added para su repertorio lingüístico. Just yesterday, I actually received a message en las redes sociales with a family reaching out and saying, "Dr. Medina, gracias. Gracias por dejarnos saber que cuando manejamos los idiomas al mismo tiempo no es algo negativo." Just understanding that language in English or we language in Spanish or we language in German, that's great and phenomenal and important. But when we bring the languages together, when we hablamos in Spanglish or hablamos in Chinglish, all of those things are also equally important. Y es una de las cosas que todavía tenemos que manejar. So going out there and using social media has been a blessing for me porque he podido alcanzar a familias que tal vez, never had opportunities to receive that information otherwise.

Linda Egnatz (10:06):

Thank you! Kind of thinking about this next question, which was sort of in those questions that sort of preset we sent. And I wanna shift it a little bit, because you've really shared well, how multilingualism is shaping you, not only in your personal role, but also as an educator and in professional leader in our field, but can you twist and speak to more specifically to the multicultural piece? How has multiculturalism shaped you as an educator or, you know, professional leader in our community?

José Medina (10:38):

Absolutely. So one of the activities that often I share in professional learning with leaders and teachers is I ask, "what are three things that really are at the crux of every decision that you make? Cuáles son esas partes de tu identidad que de veras se enfocan y mueven cualquier decisión que vas a tomar?" And for me, that experience, being a language learning student, with immigrant parents coming to this country, being tied on that gurney, I will always be an English learner and I actually have taken that back because that is one of those intersections that you were talking about earlier that is super important. I'm also openly queer. As an openly queer educational leader, that has been at the forefront of everything that I do because being queer in the world of education, especially in the world of language education, isn't always received well. And so that too is something that is a part of everything that I do. And then finally I'm Mexican American, soy chicano, pocho orgulloso. I was born in El Paso, but I grew up en El Paso en Ciudad Juárez. And so I think that that piece is really, really important in the work that I do because if you like my research, si les gustan los Tik Toks, if you like the information that I share, then what people need to understand is that you're getting the queer, you're getting the Mexican American, chicano pocho Spanglish, and you're also getting the language learning because we don't get to compartmentalize each other and we don't get to compartmentalize los estudiantes que estamos tratando de apoyar.

Like it doesn't work that way. And so I feel like that's an important message that really has resonated with the folks that I have been able to interact with, porque si no puedo ser dueño de mí mismo, entonces no puedo abogar para las personas que estoy tratando de apoyar. I'd like to add something too, I don't know if you've heard this quotation from Gloria Anzaldúa, but she says, "So if you really wanna hurt me, talk badly about my language. I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself." And, estas palabras fueron fuertes para mí, and really have been impactful, because it took me a lifetime to begin to love myself, to begin to love the English learner, to begin to love the gay man, to begin to love the Mexican American, because it just hasn't been a safe space in US schools to bring all of those pieces in, even today as a leading language researcher.

Linda Egnatz (13:09):

Wow. That quote is, is truly powerful. How could you sum up the importance of multilingualism and that your language intersection of identidad? So if we think about that piece of it, in really simple layman's terms, how could we share the importance of how multilingualism and identidad are so well connected?

José Medina (13:33):

Sure. So I love the word desmadre, and I know that sometimes that's used in a colloquial fashion and has a different meaning. For me, desmadre means "disruption in a positive way". It means making sure that the status quo continues to change, shift, in order to be more inclusive. And so in terms of mí identidad, I know that my job as a queer, Mexican-American, English learning, language researcher es causar desmadre, good trouble. En el nombre de equidad and social justice. And so I would say to all of you out there that have the power to make decisions that will impact the students and families that we serve, that your job also is to cause desmadre, good trouble, in the name of equidad and social justice, because if that's not what's driving our conversations around language, we are in fact, forcing students to lose important parts of their identidad.

Linda Egnatz (14:36):

That's really, that's a great way to do that because it is difficult sometimes to sort of sum it up in, you know, the elevator speech that sometimes that's the only time we have in front of those decision makers. So that message is really helpful I think, for our delegates. Is there anything else that you'd like to share about your language story or about your language intersection?

José Medina (15:01):

I think the only other thing that I'd like to add is I would plead with anyone viewing this video to take a look at translanguaging research, because translanguaging research is really changing the way in which we serve students. And there's still so much misinformation and misunderstanding around that research that I feel like it's one of the things that's holding us back. Tenemos que recordar que yo puedo hablar y movilizar mi repertorio lingüístico completamente en español. That's important. We want our students to be able to language in Spanish as I just did. At this moment, I'm languaging in English, and so it's important that our students be able to do that as well. But it is also equally important and a part of my identidad, the students' identidades, that we also equally value the language of the home and the community. And so if at this moment I'm speaking to English, y puedo cambiar rápidamente al español because that's the way my mente funciona and you don't like it este no es mi problema because that is the natural state of la gente bilingüe. And I think that that piece is what we still have a lot of work to do on, because we can language in one language, we can language in the other, but we can also language in both simultaneously. And it doesn't mean that our kids don't know, it means that they know so much because they are literally negotiating between two nation languages. And until we see that gift, then we will continue to align our instruction and our decision making with culturally and linguistically destructive ideologies.

Linda Egnatz (16:36):

That's a really, really thought provoking. And I wonder as just sort of an add on to what you've just shared, is how do you see the role of the dual language immersion programs as supporting that recognition of multiple identities?

José Medina (16:54):

Yeah, I mean, I think that's the reason why I've chosen to make dual language biliteracy, bilingualism, equity, social justice, anti-bias, anti-racism, my life's work because dual language, when done well, actually has the power to allow students not only to add languages to their linguistic repertoire for those students that bring additional languages into the space to maintain those languages, but it allows the students to value who they are to work on their identidad pero también sumamente importante, also equally important to understand that our job as individuals is to leverage whatever privilege we carry, and use that to create access to that privilege for others. Porque a fin de cuentas, what good is it if our kids are bilingual and biliterate, if they don't actually leverage the privilege they carry in service of others? Who cares? Who cares if they're bilingual and biliterate, if at the end of the day, we are not helping our students to actually be in service of others?

Linda Egnatz (18:01):

I think that that truly is the heart of what we are all trying to do at JNCL as we advocate for not just language or languages, but certainly individual identities.

Amanda Seewald (18:24):

That concludes today's featured story from our "Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series. For more information about the advocacy work of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies, please visit To learn more about this interview series, hear stories from other professionals, and explore how language moves our world, visit Thank you to our interviewees for sharing their stories, thank you to our series sponsors Vista Higher Learning, and thank you all for listening.

This series is made possible by a generous sponsorship from Vista Higher Learning. To learn more, please visit

_____________________________ About JNCL-NCLIS: Established in 1972, the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) unites a national network of leading organizations and businesses comprised of over 300,000 language professionals to advocate for equitable language learning opportunities. Our mission is to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language. Contact:

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