The uses of language are numerous, but with respect to ethnicity and identity language is a powerful tool that is often manipulated by both dominant and non-dominant groups in society in a struggle over power and control. As a political tool, language is often used to homogenize or distinguish groups of individuals in ways that serve those in control of society. Bilingualism is often a concept fraught with political controversy in the United States with many politicians feeling that such a dualistic use of language undermines the values and power of the dominant cultural group in society while others view it as a just means of permitting ethnic diversity and cultural identity.
The use of language as a political tool are discussed in the works of Mike Davis (2001) in Magical Urbanism, Susan Oboler (1995) in Ethnic Labels/Latino Lives, and Juan Gonzales (2001) in Harvest of Empire. In Ethnic Labels/Latino Lives, Oboler (1995) maintains that the ôàemergence of the term æHispanicÆö as the homogenizing ôethnic designatorö or American citizens of Latin American heritage has been used politically to posit these minority groups into racial, ethnic and class segments (p. xiii). Since those that are in the most powerful and most dominant racial, ethnic, and class segments are responsible for allocating resources and making laws, efforts to promote bilingualism are often perceived as a threat to power and control.
In Harvest of Empire, Gonzales (2001) discusses the impact of language as a tool used by politicians to marginalize those of minority heritage in order to maintain a ôsuperiorityö that undermines the power and control of non-dominant groups. Gonzales (2001) refers to Latinos being sick of hearing their story told through the ôsafari approach,ö one that relegates them to the status of some primitive or native population in comparison and by contrast to the superior and more sophisticated