22 July 2010

the things handed down

I was having a talk with a coworker the other day. This person emigrated from India and was speaking to me about how he felt challenged raising a young child here in the States, and how he was having a difficult time trying to pass down his language and culture.

As we talked I couldn't help but think, "this must have been what my parents were thinking as I was growing up."
I try to teach him my language, but when he goes to school he comes home and he only wants to speak English.

No matter what language we speak to him in, he always wants to reply back in English.

I don't know how I'm going to teach him about our culture while we're here, but there's no one else to show him. Sometimes I just give up.
Fil Ams born and raised in the US come in many different forms and define ourselves by our heritage in different levels. Some of us, if you picked us up and dropped us off in the middle of Manila would mix in rather well. We'd walk, talk and interact as if we had grown up there. Others might speak the language (with or without an 'American' accent), know the various towns our family came from, and have probably visited them once, twice, or a few times. Many are Filipino in a minimalist sense, unable to speak even the most basic of Tagalog (don't even think about the regional dialects), know how to bless, poke fun of our elders' accents and know what to do when when they 'tssst' in public.

And so while talking with my coworker I'm realizing that our parents (and grandparents if they were here) had to have gone through similar conflicts when they landed here as well. Their reactions to that helped determine what they passed along to us.

How much of that was based on if they thought they'd ever 'go back home'? Being an immigrant family in Uptown Chicago in the 70s was not an easy task. It was enough to to just fit in, not make waves and certainly not cause any trouble. If you didn't think moving back to the Philippines was in the cards, then maybe they chose not to fight that culture battle with the kids.

For the ones who moved to the US as young children, you brought all that with you. You spoke the language and you knew the customs, and it most likely stayed with you as you grew up here, so your parents probably didn't have to consciously fill in those gaps.

So what happens now to our children? The ones two generations removed from the homeland of their ancestors? How do we fill in that part of our own identity while trying to cultivate theirs? What if they don't see what the big deal is (kinda like how we were)?

I don't have the answers, and possibly never will. As with most things I typically end up with more questions than answers. But I hope having that insight to how my perspective changed as I gained in years will help me along the way with what I hand down the ones after me.


1 comment:

Lydia said...

I know that the generations before us experienced very difficult challenges that definitely influenced what they chose to pass down and what they didn't. There's also a current phenomenon regarding things that *don't* get handed down like language and culture.

I believe the cultural disconnection that happens from parents who immigrate to their children, particularly with language is very intentional. I would even argue that the decision is made before immigrating to the U.S.

In college I received a partial fellowship to study Pilipino language at a university summer language intensive. I excitedly told my mom who responded, "Why don't you learn something that will help you?" As if my language and identity would be of no use to me. Key message: Filipino language and culture is of no value once in the U.S.

My cousins immigrated to the U.S. when they were 6, 7, and 9. Their parents stopped speaking to them in Tagalog after they arrived. They are all in their 30s now and can understand Tagalog, but can't speak it anymore, so the language didn't stay with them and the gaps were intentionally left unfilled.

Many Filipinos don't think their language is of any value to their children, sadly. And when growing up in an all white school and neighborhood, you need to have your identity nurtured, not denied from your parents. It’s important for a young person’s self-esteem when experiencing racism.

Many Pilipinos in the Philippines think that Fil-Ams are pretty clueless about their culture. Even if we don't speak the language, we aren't clueless. When I lived in the Philippines for 6 months, the common question from relatives was why come back? Why the desire to learn the language? So you see, the disconnects are already there in the Philippines when they think of the U.S. My relatives had never been to the U.S., they don't have to face the hardships previous generations did that influence what aspects of culture are passed down and what are not. The disconnect is there, the mentality to already dissociate from culture within people who haven't even been to the U.S. is already there. That's why I argue that the decision is made before immigrating.

I admire your Indian co-worker who wants to pass on his language and culture to his child. With Filipinos, my experience is that is the exception, not the rule. Of course there are the Filipino kids who don’t want to learn, when their parents try to teach them, and that’s why it is critical for parents to continue positively nurturing their identity and to build and enlist community around it. Kids need to understand the value of their language. Sadly, many first generation Filipinos who speak the language and don’t pass it on don’t.

I wonder if your co-worker’s child is the only Indian kid, the only person of color, or one of few kids of color in his school. That may be why he only responds in English. A lot of immigrant parents don't know about the racism that their kids face in school. I hope your co-worker keeps up with his efforts. What he is doing is critical for his child and incredibly important.

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