Bridging the Immigration Culture Gap with Language

 

Market

Image Credit: WikiCommons

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.

Navajoa

Image Credit: WikiCommons

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.

Anzaldua

Image Credit: K. Kendall Flickr

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

 

It’s Here! Silk Road: Voices on Asia

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We here at Silk Road are so excited to announce that out newest issue Silk Road:Voices on Asia has been released! Filled with beautiful poetry and gripping prose, it is sure to make a fantastic read for you or a fantastic gift for someone special. Equal parts experience and imagination, the pieces in this book fully embody the minds and hearts of the people of Asia. We don’t want to ruin it for you, but we promise you won’t be disappointed. Order your copy today!

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Anthony Doerr and Artistic Failure

Image Credit: Portland Literary Arts. Anthony Doerr gives his presentation to a group of Portland middle school students.

Image Credit: Portland Literary Arts. Anthony Doerr gives his presentation to a group of Portland middle school students.

The Portland-based nonprofit Literary Arts invited  author Anthony Doerr  to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on November 19th. Pacific University’s MFA in Writing and Silk Road Review had the lucky privilege of supporting this event, and showcasing our magazine in the lobby.

Doerr, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, fully understands that during the writing process, failure is every bit as important as success. His hour-long presentation included several examples of his personal experiences with failure—experiences that ranged from childhood Halloween costume mishaps to entire deletion and rewriting of formerly treasured passages. His message was simple, yet elegant: failure—as long as it is purposeful in its nature—is just as formative, rewarding, and essential as accomplishment; it is crucial in facilitating progress, much as a torn muscle fiber is instrumental in creating a stronger bond.

2015 PA&L_Proctor and Doerr

Image Credit: Literary Arts. A moment during Doerr’s talk.

If Anthony Doerr taught us anything that years of writing through frustration and desperation hasn’t, it was that the best way to find success is to throw oneself after it, no matter the risk of embarrassment. It was that dedication to the concept of completion, that perseverance in the face of the knowledge that—try as we might—we will never be finished writing, and that’s what makes it so great. Revision is an ongoing process, with an indefinite number of stages and no end in sight. Write, develop, revise, develop some more, revise some more, and repeat as necessary—this is the cycle with which most writers are heavily experienced, and we are no exception. We cannot thank Anthony Doerr enough for reaffirming that this process, futile as it may appear, is completely normal and ultimately productive.

2015 PA&L_Quinton and Doerr

Image Credit: Literary Arts

We would also like to thank Anthony Doerr for his riveting, insightful, and—most of all—humorous testament to the struggle all writers face on a daily basis. Components such as accuracy down to the tiniest details—was it raining on November 23rd, 1946, and department stores have fire alarms yet?—transference of our innermost thoughts to the page, and ultimate satisfaction are all aspects of writing that we have grown to abhor every bit as much as we love. Doerr made a point to mention that he, a critically-acclaimed writer, still finds himself dissatisfied with his end product, simply because it can’t be as perfect on the page as it is in his head. Language is a beautiful thing, but it has its restrictions; by this logic, the potential for perfection is out of the equation, and the pressure of writing is subsequently diminished.

It’s always a relief when someone comes along to validate and assuage our deep-seated insecurities. In addition to delivering an incredible presentation in which he portrayed himself as down-to-earth, experienced, and accessible, Doerr created a connection with every writer in the sold-out concert hall by addressing these common problems with writing. To hear him struggling with the same things that plague us as undergrad students was perhaps the most inspirational message of the evening, and it couldn’t have come at a better point in time.