Nilvio Alexander Punguil Bravo

Credentials: Languages: Spanish, English; a bit of French and Quechua

Position title: Graduate student, Department of Civil Society and Community Research; School of Human Ecology

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at UW-Madison? How does language intersect with your work or your studies?

I am originally from Ecuador and have lived in the United States for 22 years. On my arrival, I was not able to speak a word of the English language. It took me several years to learn the language and be able to communicate with English speakers. Once I learned the language by interacting with people in recreational places, I could take my first classes at a community college, Madison College, obtaining a degree in Graphic Design. Later, I decided to pursue my bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation Psychology and a master’s degree in Social Work, focusing on mental health. My education has all been at the University of Wisconsin. At this present, I am a second-year Ph.D. student in Civil Society Community Research at the School of Human Ecology.

Language intersects with everything I have done thus far since I came to this country. I worked as a Spanish TA for almost three years in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I volunteered in English as Second Language (ESL) courses for newcomers at Madison College. In my free time, I provide Spanish conversations with friends and people interested in learning Spanish. I am currently working on my research focusing on language diversity and justice.

How do you feel your languages contribute to your personal or professional identities?

Language is an essential key to communication. Language is part of who I am, professionally and personally. I speak Spanish with my family and friends from Latin countries and other places that are not America (the continent). When I have families visiting me in Madison, being able to translate their needs to monolingual friends is a feeling of joy and community. When students ask me to get coffee to practice their Spanish, it feels like creating community outside the classrooms –a place to bond and grow. In my visits to indigenous communities in Ecuador, trying to speak Quechua was essential to define where my roots come from. Language contributes in many ways to seeing the world from different lenses.

How do you feel your languages contributes or add value to your work or studies?

Language has added value to my work by learning to communicate with others in their native languages and learning from the theoretical framework’s lens that the field offers. With that, my studies have become personal by appreciating and understanding diverse familial backgrounds. Most importantly, it has given me the privilege to connect with diverse communities of cultures inside and outside the USA. Being multilingual has opened many doors allowing me to support newcomers to learn English, teach first and second-level Spanish to students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, work on some art design, communicate with indigenous communities in Ecuador, and do translation and transcription research projects.

To what extent do you feel others on campus value your languages in the context of your work/studies at the University?

Thus far, I have been surrounded by people doing work regarding language, identity, social justice, and more, inspiring me to believe in change. I feel valued inside and outside of the university because of the languages I speak. Occasionally, I get to experience people who need help understanding the critical value that language can bring to individuals.

Have you experienced/observed linguistic prejudice or discrimination? If so, could you describe what happened?

Of course, I have experienced and observed linguistic discrimination many times and in many forms. One experience I had was working as a bartender in a local bar in Madison. After I told a client the bar was closed, he pretended he could not understand anything I told him. He yelled at me, saying, “I don’t understand anything you said. You live in America and so speak English. I don’t know what you are doing here serving people when you cannot even speak clearly.” I was about to cry and did not know how to respond to his outrage, as I was learning how to use my rights –that is a different story…  Fortunately, my supervisor came rapidly and protected me from the verbal aggression of this individual, saying, “We are closed, so please leave. Also, Alex speaks clear English; you’re ignorant,” I believe, I cried. One because of the insults I got from this guy, two because of the generosity of my supervisor to stand up for me, and three because I could not protect myself from the aggression.

How does linguistic diversity add to the richness of the various communities you navigate?

Multilingualism generally adds an essential key to individuals and their communities in many forms. Understanding people’s language is an instrument to connect broken bridges. Speaking more than one language helps navigate spaces and places where monolinguals perhaps cannot. Linguistic diversity helps to help others.

In what ways do you believe the campus community can better recognize the value that linguistic diversity brings to the community?

The recognition of the value that language diversity can bring to this institution is through advocacy from every angle. We have an extraordinary group of bright students, researchers, faculties, and staff members that can come together and converse about possible alternatives that can create changes not only on campus but in communities outside the university. To create multilingual spaces for everyone, it is essential to bring in the experts – the people in our communities. Using a transformative approach, where the community members are the experts on their needs, we as a team must work together to develop possible changes and acknowledge the importance of linguistic diversity.

Is there anything else you would like to add or questions you have?

Language in any form is part of who we are: language is attractive and powerful! It needs to be expressed! Like beautiful hills that desire to be seen!