Bridging the Immigration Culture Gap with Language
My sophomore year of high school I traveled to Mexico for a fifteen day trip. I had one year of Spanish under my belt, and on the way I felt like I could already speak the language.
“Hola ¿Cómo se llama?” said a stranger with a friendly smile and an outreached hand. And then, with a still friendly, but slightly impatient look: “¿Cuál es su nombre?”
I could only stare blankly. Hombre? Was that man or hungry? No…wait, that’s hambre.
With a more impatient expression this time, he asked, “Hi, what is your name?”
I was flooded with relief at the sound of English. For the rest of the trip I couldn’t even bring myself to try to speak in Spanish to anyone. Surrounded by Spanish posted in street advertisements, scrawled across the sides of buildings, and thrown between the shops of the open air market, I couldn’t escape my insecurity in the language.
Putting aside the comforts of familiarity and home, I had wanted to understand the people of the small unfamiliar Mexican village we stayed at.
This feeling however, of being the stranger, unable to speak in the way I wanted to, was a better insight into the lives of hispanic immigrants and their children in the United States. In the social systems of the United States, speaking English, especially with the general American english accent, is considered a privilege.
This fall, after four more years of Spanish studies, I listened to hispanic staff at Pacific University as they went about their days. These friends and coworkers, speaking to each other in Spanish, conversing and sharing stories, I realized I wanted to be a person that meets people in their culture, their perspective, and with their language–if possible– to hear the stories that make them who they are.
Gloria Anzaldúa, one of the foremost scholars on feminism and chicana culture, discusses the process of her language being taken away from her in her writing, “Cómo domar una lengua salvaje.” In U.S. schools she was punished for speaking Spanish or put down for speaking English like a Mexican. For many chicana people, Spanish may not even be a relief or safe haven.
A few weeks ago I finally challenged myself to speak Spanish out of my comfort zone. All I needed was a simple, “I’m doing well, thank you. Y, ¿Cómo está usted?” in response to a greeting to find out more about the people living around me as they are. I recognized the feeling of excitement and relief of hearing one’s fluent language on the faces of the people before me. A few words opened an important door.
For me, Silk Road is a place where we meet to share our stories and learn about international perspectives. When the fall 2015 staff first met, we read over the Asia issue, describing what we liked about the entries. Those pieces exemplified Silk Road: relevant, interesting, diverse, well-crafted, a new perspective, cultural. The most effective submissions, and published pieces, are those that share a new story, bring a new and rich setting to the forefront, and come from the heart of a culture. Silk Road is the opportunity to give voice to the displaced and hear about the lives that make up an international culture.
By: Karissa Mathae