Saturday, December 16, 2006

What is Wrong with Hispanic Studies in the USA?

As a former professor, I find it interesting to once again be a student at a university. I now get to see things from the other side of the lecturer’s podium, to see academic life from the student’s point of view.

As a student working toward a second degree, I am required to take many courses outside my main field of study (the French language) to broaden my mind, an idea that I generally approve of. Some of the courses that I have taken fill a cultural diversity requirement by exposing me to minority (non-European) cultures in the USA. In theory, I find that to also be an excellent idea. However, because I speak Spanish and many of my friends are from Latin America, it seemed natural for me to take courses in a field that may loosely be described as Hispanic studies. One was a linguistics course entitled Spanish in the Southwest. In this course, we looked at the way Spanish is spoken in the Southwestern United States: in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The second was a cultural geography course that was principally concerned with the appearance of majority Hispanic neighborhoods in U.S. cities. The linguistics class was taught in Spanish; the geography class in English.

I learned something in both courses—quite a bit in the linguistics course, rather less in the cultural geography course. In both courses, the other students and I read essays written by academics. In the linguistics class, we also had the opportunity to analyze, interpret and discuss the articles, some of which were well reasoned and insightful, although negative opinions about the articles were not always well received. We also wrote several essays in the linguistics class, in Spanish, in which we were encouraged to apply what we had learned. In the cultural geography class, we were expected to learn material by rote and repeat it back on multiple-choice examinations. We did write one essay in which we were expected to condense a poorly written book and summarize its contents. I was graded down on this essay, because I analyzed the book and pointed out its short comings instead of merely condensing it. The professor’s words were: “Remember, this is a 300 level [junior-level] class, not a graduate seminar.” I hasten to add that there was a creative aspect to this course. The class was divided into groups, and each group was assigned to observe the characteristics of houses in a Hispanic neighborhood and report its findings to the class.

However, my purpose in writing this blog entry is not to compare the two courses but to point out two weaknesses that they had in common, and which I believe are weakness of the field of Hispanic studies in general. Those weaknesses are: 1) low academic standards and 2) a pronounced tendency to stereotype non-Hispanics. The first accusation is more difficult to substantiate without writing an entry so long that it would seriously try the reader’s patience, although the implication that I wrote my essay at too high a level may hint at the problem. Therefore I will limit this blog entry to the second accusation: Academics who study the Hispanic population of the USA, although they justifiably describe the rich diversity of the culture of Latin American immigrants and their descendants in the USA, almost universally stereotype non-Hispanics as people with a uniform and bland culture that contrasts sharply with the varied and colorful Hispanic cultures.

This stereotyping is made easier by the way in which non-Hispanics are identified in almost all publications authored by academics in the field of Hispanic studies. The accepted term among them for non-Hispanics is Anglo in English or anglosajón in Spanish: an identification that is almost nonexistent in the English-speaking population of this country. The related term WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon protestant) is normally used pejoratively to imply that the person so designated is a member of a colorless elite, and Anglo used by itself seems to carry the same implication.

It is not uncommon to find sentences in writings about Hispanic culture that picture Hispanic culture as succeeding “despite strong Anglo opposition.” Such a statement implies that all of these nasty Anglos are united in their (probably racist) desire to oppress Hispanics. The term Anglo implies a uniformity of purpose and common sense of identification among non-Hispanics that does not exist. It makes it easier to stereotype non-Hispanics and it ignores the fact that the non-Hispanic population of the U.S. includes people who came from (or whose ancestors came from) Africa, Asia, and such non-Anglo European countries as Poland, Italy, Ireland, Russia, and France, who have different views of the world, and who have varying opinions about Hispanics. The first step in eliminating this negative stereotyping would be to recognize that the A-word is inaccurate and that to some groups, it can be almost as insulting as the N-word is to black Americans.

The professor asked the cultural-geography class how many students identified themselves as Anglos. No a single person raised a hand. Why not? I believe that most English-speaking people in the U.S. identify the term Anglo with England as evidenced by the hyphenated adjective Anglo-American, which could be used to describe, for example, a company with both English and U.S. owners. The Anglo portion of the hyphenated adjective clearly means British. However, many more Americans are of German or Irish descent than English. Even people of English ancestry left that country to come to the USA, and if they ever had an Anglo identity, they left it behind in the old country.

There is a rule among people of good manners that one does not call a group of people by a name that members of that group would not use to describe themselves. Thus educated people, including academics, use correct nomenclature such as Mexican, Polish, Italian, and Afro-American to describe ethnic groups and avoid the alternative names that are associated with negative stereotypes. Yet, many of those same academics will abandon political correctness and use the term Anglo to refer to non-Hispanics. Some people, such as many of the Irish who suffered so greatly under British rule, object to being mistaken for English and therefore find the term Anglo insulting. Even if no one objected to the word Anglo, its use to refer to all non-Hispanics, or even to non-Hispanics of European descent, would still encourage stereotyping. It implies that people whose ancestors came from many different cultures and who often still show the signs of a diverse heritage can be grouped together under a single identity with uniform characteristics and a uniformity of purpose, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim—whether white, black or brown, whether of Asian, African or Southern European heritage. I suggest that professors who study Hispanic culture in the U.S. immediately abandon the A-word and replace it with the more-accurate term “non-Hispanic.” The later acknowledges that people may come from different cultures and may have different values.

I left hanging the accusation that the field of Hispanic studies tolerates low academic standards. That may be the subject of a future blog entry.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Acer Tech Support Goes From Bad to Horrible

As difficult as it is to believe, the problems with Acer have gotten worse (see Tech Support Blues). When my Acer 8200 notebook computer came back from the repair depot with loose wires hanging from the motherboard stuck in the fan, I called tech support and was promised that this time my computer would receive expedited service and that the service manager would personally make sure the computer was working properly before it was shipped back. I shipped it off again (*sigh*), and a week later I had not heard a thing. I called tech support again and was told the computer would be fixed when in normal order; there was no record of expedited service. After considerable arguing, I finally convinced the telephone representative to contact the repair depot. He put me on hold, and when he came back, he was much friendlier. He said the computer was now to be given priority and that Acer would ship it back overnight. This time, Acer was as good as its word….. However

The computer arrived this morning as promised. I no sooner unpacked it than I noticed that the switch that turns the WiFi on and off was jammed hard right. It could not be budged, and WiFi was shut off. I checked the Bluetooth feature, and it did not work either. Both had worked fine when I first sent the computer in for repair.

I immediately got back on the telephone with tech support and asked if the repair depot checks the computers it fixes to make sure they work before they are shipped back to the customer. He told me that they do not; that’s the customer’s responsibility. The technician fixes the reported trouble (apparently without making sure that the problem is really fixed, and the computer is shipped back to the customer.

I asked if there was no ombudsman I could appeal to, and I was told there is not. I was not permitted to talk to anyone in charge. We made arrangements to ship the computer back once again. As soon as I got off the phone, I called Acer North American headquarters, and I discovered that there is indeed an ombudsman. I detailed my complaints about Acer technical service to a secretary, who promised that someone in authority would call me back within 24 hours. We’ll see what happens.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Acer Tech-Service Blues

Complaints about poor service abound these days. I remember years ago when I had a problem with my Dell notebook computer, Dell had it picked up, shipped overnight to Austin, repaired it, and shipped it overnight back to me. I was without my computer for less than two days. Dells service has gone downhill since then, and woe be the unfortunate Dell owner whose computer needs service today.

I purchased an Acer 8200 notebook computer over a month ago, a top-of-the-line machine, and I still have not been able to us it. Two days after if arrived, before I had all of my software installed, it stopped accepting the BIOS password on boot. I hadn’t forgotten the password; somehow the BIOS had gotten garbaged, and the computer could not be turned on.

Because the dealer that sold me the computer has a restocking charge for returns, I sent it to Acer for repair. The computer sat in the Acer repair depot for three weeks, supposedly waiting for parts. With shipping, the computer was gone a month. It was returned with a note that Acer had replaced a defective motherboard.

When I turned the computer on, it made a horrible noise, and I discovered that loose wires were stuck in the fan, wires that the technician had failed to reattach after reassembling the computer. Had the technician bothered to turn the computer on after reassembly, it would have been obvious that something was wrong.

I called Acer again, and they promised to fix it on an expedited basis, but they only paid for two-day shipping. That means with roundtrip shipping, the computer will be gone at least another week. One-week service is considered expedited these days.

All of the reviews say that the Acer 8200 is a good notebook computer, but I am unable to verify that. I have owned mine for almost two months, and I still have not had the chance to use it. If Acer had tried to make amends for the shabby way it has treated me, I wouldn’t be writing this. However, I have to admit that Acer is no worse than many of its competitors. However, if you shell out $2500 to $3000 for one of these machines and it stops working, just throw it away. The hassle of getting Acer to perform a warranty repair are not worth it.