Discourse Communities with Sidebars

An early reader and fan, I have never written an essay specifically for Medium. I have, however, responded (sometimes at length) to another’s photo essay, article, or story. Today I think I will post what I wrote to my Spring 2018 online First Year Composition 7-week class (which was also copied to my sometimes updated blog). It’s been newly edited — the first trepidatious step into Medium writing. I think I liked adding the hyperlinks most to expand the essay, and includes an appreciation of Roy Wood, Jr., which also figures into my scaffolding essay. Motivation came by way of overused phrases like “fish or cut bait,” “run with the big dogs,” or “Just Do It™.” Apologies to Nike.

As a total introvert and nerd, someone who always will remain a nontraditional student (dodgy link), it takes a while for me to share what I’ve written. Not so much on my blog because it’s small and quiet; however, I believe it is different here due to it being a known space of unknown potential readers; a place where I’ve followed others and responded to member’s writings. Why is it more difficult for me to write something than to comment is anyone’s guess. Although, as a rhetoric and writing PhD candidate (aka ABD) I know there must be researchers out there pondering that very question as you read. Perhaps it is the theory of the Internet veil where we all wish to be Paul Steiner’s dog. Although the recent outcome of scrapping personal data from social media posts and intrusive methods messing with our elections has given a chance to pause (not paws) about their internet use.

One Moleskine 5"x3" drawing with mirror image flipped vertically. (Design Spectracolor colored pencils and Micron pen)

For a long time, my sharing original thoughts and outcomes stopped short, as in Fear of Hitting “Publish.” This is odd because I have no problem sharing my drawings and photographs. It could be because I was once shamed before a grade school English class for my original and well researched report on dogs. I don’t know. However, no one has ever questioned the originality of my dog or bird drawings, although they do tend to single out that I have cats. Why is that? I love animals of all sorts (sans water bugs and wasps.)

Publishing a completed essay and article are, however, something else. I have a blog — it even has its own domain. Not updated with any regularity, but it does contain essays and images that help situate the topic. Perhaps it is my knowing that my grammar is imperfect, or that my penchant for overlooking surface errors is abundantly clear. In any case, apologies in advance for typos, et al. They will eventually be found and harshly dealt. Still, at this point I’m still no closer to my essay. But that starts now.

The following was written for an online short-term course that provides information about discourse communities and how they form and how you become a member.

Discourse Communities: Types and What They Share

Usually, activities are set up to discuss the discourse communities (DCs) in which we are members. Students realize that they overlap one another, or that they are members of similar kinds of collectives. Students map these encompassing and shared communities they reside within and without their residence, and may include, but not limited to:

  • families, extended or nuclear;
  • communal situations with many roommates, such as a college co-op;
  • military service members — enlisted or officers;
  • churches, temples, mosques, sitting group members;
  • gym and yoga practictioners;
  • classmates, past and present;
  • athletic team or band members; and,
  • clubs; professional, Panhellenic, special interest groups
  • online social media apps, which include texting, video captures, and images with captions that receive feedback via posts “walled garden” groups like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, and others.

We converse and share information differently within and without our diverse discourse community collections. And, when communicating, we put on different attitudes or “masks,” depending to whom we speak or write/text/twitter/share information with those, at any given time or place.

DCs and naming conventions

We laugh with our families and may hail each other by nicknames the family has bestowed upon us. My González Smeltertown nickname was Carolina la Gallina (Carolina the chicken, and rightly so). My Jackson cousins, aunt, uncle, and grandparents hailed me by the more southern Carolyn Rhea (pronounced Ray) by running my first and middle names together. One González cousin was nicknamed Pelon (which means bald, and meant to be ironic because he was born with a full head of hair,) another was nicknamed Gūero because he had green eyes in our sea of brown as boot irises. Yet, over time, Pelon came to fit his name because he lost most of his hair, and Gūero remains green eyed.

DC gatekeeping

We focus and become serious when speaking to authority figures, etc. We share stories within special groups and learn to trust or not to trust outsiders. Here, in this Daily Show with Trevor Noah segment with Roy Wood, Jr., he defines and frames what Black Twitter means as a digital DC. Wood, Jr. also shames interlopers and complicates the idea of group membership — why others cannot simply opt in or self-enroll as a member of Black Twitter:


We allow membership based solely on where we are born, in which family, by the color of our skin, and by the language(s) we learn to communication with others in the DC.

DC lore — food as repository

Discourse community members share information, tell inside jokes, and use language and words differently. We warp language into special terms. We share lore or family stories in the form of oral histories, shared memories, traditional practices, and other things such as making and special recipes for holidays.

Achive.org screen capture of our quest to capture my mother-in-law’s recipe for her holiday dinner rolls. She made them for all her extended family special dinners.

Over time, the meanings of such things like special foods and recipes fade as older group members die, unless a champion for those things emerges, like the YouTube channel “Pasta Grannies.” If stories, photos, recipes aren’t shared, they will disappear with the last dying member. But we can later recall their meanings if we discover diaries, photographs, letters, and other textual, visual, or recorded evidence. Even a person’s type of handwriting can identify their education level and where and when they learned how to write, such as with the Palmer Method.

DC lore and its fragility

Much family history was lost on the maternal side of my family due to immigration and simply not communicating directly with our elders, or that it just wasn’t cool to ask about our great- greats. Jackson family information was lost too, but due to the Civil War. It has only been recently that both sides of the family have recovered some of our lost stories. In some ways, I chalk it up to online data searches and more written (digital) and face-to-face communication and sharing. Scanners help too because we are sharing documents and pictures, too.

My mother’s family lived in Smeltertown, the politically erased and physically destroyed Mexican American community once located across Paisano from the now razed ASARCO plant. Many of my early memories revolve around this special and dwindling discourse community, even if I couldn’t speak Spanish. I spent much time there with my González extended family as I did with my Jackson relations. And because of a switch for a few years in my father’s employment, I had access to the ASARCO plant at least once. When I was about 9 or 10 years old I was able to walk through the grounds and investigate the smokestack under construction at the time. Didn’t even wear a hard hat.

Marciano González and Julia Macias González

Memories go back to around the time I was 4 years old. I remember the special foods my abuela and tia would prepare for what would have been Good Friday meals. In hindsight, the sparse luncheon meal (served before noon) mimicked a Passover Seder. This memory of such weird food combinations later prompted my older cousins and I to wonder about their significance beyond a strange interpretation of Good Friday Catholic fast. It has enticed me to wonder if perhaps abuela’s family (Macias, and of Mexican and Belgian descent,) and who immigrated separately from my abuelo from Aguascalientes, Mexico, were “hidden Jews.”

Several years ago, the El Paso Times interviewed and discussed families here along the border who discovered their older Jewish heritage and faith. And because we didn’t ask the pertinent questions when our aunts, uncles, and abuel@s were alive, it will take further delving and prodding of those remaining to obtain more glimpses of that special discourse community, that is rapidly fading into the desert sands where the community once stood.

Why DCs are important

The main point of all this is to introduce the concept and to help explain that discourse communities share of specific information that others do not have. Members are privy to this information that others cannot know or obtain unless invited to learn. And it is by noticing these special hallmarks, subtly interviewing our families, coworkers, classmates, and friends that we can understand more about ourselves and how we communicate and share with those around us.

What comes next

I hope to begin sharing stories previously published for classes and blog posts. Thanks for reading.