06 June 2011

not just my parents’ language anymore

Came a cross an article today about Fil Ams who are trying to keep their native tongues alive here in the US.  I was caught by the answers it gave to it’s opening line, which simply asked “Would you like to learn Filipino?”

“Ask a very young Filipino-American, and you will most likely draw a blank. It’s okay. He can’t decide for himself yet.

When puberty hits, that’s when it hits them. They can’t communicate with their parents or relatives as much as they want to. Speaking only in English, they feel isolated in family gatherings or Filipino parties.”

Wondering about the longer term effects of keeping our parents’ languages isn’t new to me. To be honest, I didn’t hang out with may other Filipinos my age growing up, and the ones I did interact with (even family) didn’t seem to be all that interested in speaking Tagalog or whatever additional dialects their folks spoke at home.  In fact there were times we openly mocked it, calling each other a disgrace while mimicking the thicker versions of our elders’ accents.  When we got that discouraged “Oh, you don’t speak?” comment from one of our parents’ friends, we just blew it off – when would we ever really need to use it? You all speak English anyway.

Anyone who did speak Tagalog well either came with it when they landed on US soil, or were the rare example of what we were not.  Or were from California where dude, they teach that in school over there!

Of course, even among the varied cultures in our own neighborhood we were the anomaly.  If I had bet you to find one Spanish kid in my neighborhood who didn’t speak Spanish I’d probably have lost. 

I knew my parents tried – as I’m sure all the other parents of my unilingual counterparts.  “I gave up” they’d dismiss when asked, enabling themselves and us to talk about different topics.  Over time I came to think that they probably agreed with us.  When would we need to know the language?  For various reasons (I assume mostly financial) none of us were going back home any time soon – if ever.  This was definitely different than some other families that headed back to the Philippines yearly or more.  Those kids had to know.  “Harder to kidnap” we’d always joke. 

Over time I’d meet up with people from other backgrounds and occasionally I’d find a similar scenario.  Kid doesn’t know their parents’ language and doesn’t think it’s a big deal.  Parent wishes it wasn’t the case, but doesn’t put up much of a fight anymore because the times when they’d need to use it would be few and far between.

Now with my own young children, I’m hoping to correct that.  It’s not important when or how often the language will be needed. It’s a connection to a culture and family whose separation is more than just distance, and it’s one that might disappear if I don’t solidify that now.

[Inquirer.net: Is it okay to lose your language? Not for these Fil-Ams]

No comments:

Post a Comment