The ASHA LeaderLive Speech-Language Pathology March/April 2024

From My Perspective/Opinion: Not From Here, Not From There

During an uptick in hateful acts and sentiment, a bilingual SLP creates a new professional affinity group for support—the Jewish Caucus.

March 7, 2024
Michelle Posner

Most days I feel like a walking contradiction. My complexion is light; however, not once in my 43 years of life have I ever selected “White” as my ethnicity on a demographic form. When someone asks me where I’m from, it takes me at least three minutes to truly encapsulate my answer to that question.

It usually goes something like this: “I was born in Mexico City, moved to the U.S. when I was 9. I lived in Houston until I was 20, then I moved to Tampa, where I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I lived in Orlando for a few years before moving to Washington, D.C., in 2011.” (I technically live in Virginia now, but still say I live in D.C. because IYKYK).

For the last 16 years as an SLP, I’ve defined myself as part of the 6.4% of ASHA members who identify as Hispanic. This was my affinity group. While Spanish is my primary language, I usually speak English. Even so, I suffered tremendous bias from some of my professors in graduate school simply because English was not my first language (I was told I should quit and become an ESL teacher, among other things).

However, in the wake of recent global events, I stand at yet another intersection.

You see, part of my three-minute speech about “where I am from” leaves out that I’m Jewish—that my grandparents immigrated to Mexico in the 1940s to escape the Holocaust. I never knew that being a Mexican Jew was such an anomaly until I moved to the United States. I thought everyone ate their gefiltefish a la veracruzana (in a spicy tomato stew) and fried some matzo balls with onions like they were fajitas—but turns out that’s a Mexican thing.

Bilingual affinity

The ASHA demographic group that I most identified with—Hispanic—was due to my educational and career struggles: not having a bilingual graduate professor to mentor me; beginning my clinical fellowship as the sole bilingual SLP in a 30-mile radius without a bilingual CF supervisor; and needing to advocate for the purchase of bilingual assessments and materials. I had to become quicker at assessments, as I wasn’t given more time than my monolingual peers, even though I had almost double the number assigned to me. I translated my speech-language reports into Spanish, as I was told to do, without any extra pay for the skills I brought.

My experience as a working bilingual SLP propelled me to join ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity, and the Hispanic Caucus. I’ve spent most of my professional career networking, creating my own Spanish and bilingual resources, and looking to meet other bi/multilingual SLPs to learn from and lean on.

A new affinity group

But being a bilingual SLP does not define all of me. What about my Jewish identity? If being part of the 6.4% was a lonely place, imagine how lonely it is to be part of the 0%.

Why 0%? Because at this point, ASHA does not capture the percentage of members who identify as Jewish or any ethnicity other than Hispanic. (ASHA does, however, capture race, and members may also choose to respond to “In addition/in lieu of any of the above, I am ____.”)

At the 2023 ASHA Convention Leadership Q&A, when fellow Jews and I were sharing our concerns about heightened antisemitism, I was urged to consider forming a multicultural constituency group (MCG). MCGs are allied/related professional organizations focused on and addressing the perspectives of identified populations. So now there is a newly formed Jewish Caucus ([email protected]).

As with other multicultural constituency groups, it is designed as both a professional community and a safe space dedicated to amplifying constituent voices.

The Jewish Caucus honors Jewish values for students, professionals, collaborators, and the people we serve. We will work to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia, both of which are on the rise), and welcome people from all faiths and backgrounds.

Feeling heard, seen, and understood

In recent months, my social media has been flooded with posts using terms like “ethnic cleansing” and “colonizer” in a non-judicious manner. In a field where semantics matter, I use critical thinking and careful consideration of information to avoid the pitfalls of propaganda that seek to vilify Jewish people, Muslim people—or any group.

For me, being Jewish now means phone calls that go unanswered by your family living in Israel ... are they safe? It’s sending your child to school on a day announced as a “day of terror against Jews” … will she be safe? It’s gut-wrenching anxiety every time you go to your place of worship to attend services or to drop your child off at Sunday school … will my synagogue be targeted?

For me, being Jewish now is questioning if you should wear your Star of David necklace or put up Hannukah decorations. It’s not feeling safe to show support for Israel, a country you care deeply about and is home to family members. It’s “business as usual” and “get your work done” while people and organizations do not recognize or condemn the hostility and prejudice against your existence as a Jew, despite a 300% increase in antisemitism. It’s an inability to be on social media without being triggered.

Now there’s a professional affinity group—a place for ASHA members to discuss issues and to feel heard, seen, and understood.

This year, I’m changing my demographic information with ASHA and writing in “Jewish” as my ethnicity, because despite the color of my complexion or my country of nationality, it is clear—now more than ever—that this is what defines me. If you are part of the 0%, I encourage you to do the same, and consider joining the newly formed ASHA Jewish Caucus, so that together we can feel less alone. Join us.

Michelle Posner, MS, CCC-SLP, is the owner of Bilingual SLP, LLC, providing consultations, presentations, and bilingual therapy materials. [email protected]

Learn more about multicultural constituency groups online.

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