Calling Essay In Mother Teaching Tongue

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It was empowering for me to hear the unapologetic use of my mother tongue at the Oscars -- not only from Luna but also from Javier Bardem and Alfonso Cuarón -- and it made me think about my childhood, when instead of pride, I was made to feel shame, when instead of a door being opened, an invisible wall was erected, when instead of being celebrated, my mother tongue was degraded.

As I sat in that corner day after day, invisible, the trauma of realizing that I spoke the "wrong" language weighed on me and my head swam with debilitating thoughts: Halfway through the year, my school held a writing competition requiring all the students to write a story. When my teacher collected the stories to choose the best ones for the competition, she tossed mine -- and those of the other non-English speakers -- into the reject pile.

I have written best-selling books, essays, articles, op-eds, all in English.

Our society has, in some ways, made great progress in how it approaches the education of children like I was, but we still have a long ways to go in eradicating our distrust and disdain for other languages.

What I learned from that early experience was: If I write in Spanish, I will be rejected.

If I write in English, I will be celebrated and win prizes."El inglés no se me pega." English doesn't stick to me, she'd say.As my siblings and I became English-proficient and finally, English-dominant, we began to reject our mother and everything she represented.By then, my siblings and I had bought into the belief that to succeed in this country you had forfeit your cultural identity, so we would constantly encourage our mother to go to adult school and learn English.She would shake her head, dismayed by our suggestion.Or the situation at Duke University last month, when one of its medical school professors was asked to step down after she sent a warning to students to speak English only, or risk the "unintended consequences when you choose to speak Chinese in the building." What are the unintended consequences of being shamed or threatened into speaking English?When our relationship to our mother tongue is compromised, so, too, is our self-image and our most natural way of interacting with the world.English, I concluded, was the only path to success in this country.The result is that for the past 30 years, whenever I have put pen to paper, the words that come out are in English, with only a sprinkling of Spanish for flavor."The vagueness of this term has led some researchers to claim..different connotative meanings of the term 'mother tongue' vary according to the intended usage of the word and that differences in understanding the term can have far-reaching and often political consequences." "It is the language community of the mother tongue, the language spoken in a region, which enables the process of enculturation, the growing of an individual into a particular system of linguistic perception of the world and participation in the centuries-old history of linguistic production." "Cultural power can...backfire when the choices of those who embrace Americanness in language, accent, dress, or choice of entertainment stir resentment in those who do not.Every time an Indian adopts an American accent and curbs his 'mother tongue influence,' as the call centers label it, hoping to land a job, it seems more deviant, and frustrating, to have only an Indian accent." "The notion of 'mother tongue' is thus a mixture of myth and ideology.


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