Monday, February 8, 2010

Language, Culture and Feminism

I think that I am having an identity crisis. Or something of the sort. Whatever it is, it is inspired by twitter, the blogosphere and other internet meeting places. Or maybe today it is inspired by PMS. Who the hell knows??

My identity crisis has to do with language, ethnicity and feminism.

As a child I grew up in a neighborhood mixed with immigrants and native born Latina/os. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in at everyone. I was raised by a single mother and everyone else mainly had a father around, at least when we were younger. I think that was the first time that I started noticing that I was different than the other families, and that they treated our family differently.

As a child I never really fit into the groups of kids who hung out with one another. I never really fit into the group with the first generation immigrant kids who mainly spoke Spanish, and I didn't fit into the group of native born kids who didn't speak Spanish either.

Growing up I always got too many mixed messages from my family and the community. "Maintain your Spanish and culture" would be the message one day and "English is more important" would be the message the next day. "Wow, you have an accent when you speak English" was often pointed out to me by English speakers, and "Wow, you have an accent in Spanish and butcher the language" was told to me by native Spanish speaking recent immigrants.

I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I didn't fit in with the white kids, I didn't fit in with the second and third generation latinos, and I didn't fit in with the recent immigrants. I have never fit in with many other Latinas, because in my experience far too many of them have been oppressed by the Catholic church or their families. The handful of latina feminists that I have come to know well over the years is a very small group, and they are mainly English speaking second and third generation latinas.

Over the past couple of months, I have been chatting on twitter with my buddy Marga Britto who writes a blog called Madres Insumisas. She is bilingual and through my interactions with her I am beginning to realize that I have lost a lot of my Spanish. I can obviously communicate in Spanish, but I have a laziness that exists in many bilingual communities, where we can just revert back to English when the going gets tough.

From following Marga, I am starting to also follow many other latina feminists in Mexico who tweet and write primarily in Spanish. One part of me feels such a relief to see Mexican feminists. It's like I have been looking for them all of my life and I have found them. It fills a void that I have walked around feeling all of my life. But then comes the language issue, and the frustration that I can't communicate to the same extent in Spanish as I do in English.

And there's always that nagging sense of the conflict that sometimes exists between native born Mexicans and those of us who were born in the United States. You know, that conflict of not fully understanding one another's life experiences, languages, and cultural practices.

Language is an interesting thing, tied intricately to our identity and ability to have intimacy with other people. I just hope that I can move past this temporary issue with strengthening my Spanish that I have begun to lose over the years. The realization that I have lost my Spanish to the extent that it makes me feel as if I can't communicate as effectively with people who I have been waiting for all my life to appear...well, that makes me very sad, indeed.


RayGarton said...

I can understand why you feel frustrated. I have no doubt that your frustration will be temporary. It sounds like you've encountered these women fairly recently and you'll have to adjust. I'm sure you'll find a way to make that adjustment and appreciate what they bring to your life. But try to keep in mind that you are bringing something special to their lives, too.

I've never fit in, either. Ever. I won't bore you with the details, but this has been the source of an enormous amount of pain and frustration in my life since childhood. It's only been in recent years that I've come to see things a little differently. The things that have caused me so much pain have also made me the person I am today. There are still days when I wish I WEREN'T that person -- a person who doesn't quite fit anywhere -- and were, instead, a LOT more like everyone else around me. But more often than not lately, I've come to see that because I don't quite fit anywhere, I bring some unique and valuable things to the table in almost any situation.

If you blended in with one or another of the groups you described here, you would not be the person you are. BECAUSE you're the person you are, you contribute far more than you know to this new group you've discovered. I understand the frustration of not fitting in, believe me. But sometimes it's much easier to deal with when you try to appreciate all the wonderful and unique things that not fitting in has developed in you and how those things enrich the lives of others.

R. Fouda said...

Well... I think i might know what u're talking about, coz i speak english(Mostly) except for I was born and bred in Egypt, I certainly know arabic and Egyptian slang really well, but in terms of Speaking my mind, watching tv, reading books, internet communication, translation (sometimes)& School studying alllll that come/came in English, I love Arabic, not out of Patriotism as much as it's out of posession of such a beautiful language.
When i entered college it was a bless for me, coz even though my theoretical subjects were in arabic, I met friends who travelled alot, and as English for me French was for them, so there was this Discovery of our country; and Admiration of Young Egyptians to their country, not as ppl who were born in it, but as a fresh new baby knowing his mother. It was and is a good thing, We discussed our POVs with others, we are trying to communicate with ppl of our age to know stuff about our country from ppl who communicated in Egypt more than we did.

To cut things short for you, I want you to see the Half full, May be it's a chance for you to know more Spanish! When people around you feel that you want to know more about ur mother language, u won't imagine the amount of support they will give you, and the amount of joy you'll gain out of experiencing new sides of You!:) So Take it easy, Out of my own experience, Bilingual is probably the KOOOOOLEST one cud ever be!!;) Like Natural born Cool!

I have to say i'm happy i spoke about this, Coz sum times i feel this alienation, but i get over it, Thanks& I hope i was a help, Keep it up!

Wicked Bitch, Latina Fatale said...

Thanks to both of you for leaving comments and sharing your experiences! It's good to know that many other people have similar stories to tell! xoxo

Marga Britto said...

This is a very beautiful Post. Thanks for the mention. When i was little I use to hate my cousin's guts, because they will always speak english to us: the mexican cousins that live in: !Mexico (are you kidding me!)! hehehe But then I realize that even though I felt a complete misfit in relation to them they seeded within me the need to learn more (languages) so i can understand what they were saying. I can tell you that I still don't understand many cultural nuances, but now I know that there are stronger connections within people, that not even a language barrier can stop from happening.

The Absence of Alternatives said...

Thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts and for bringing up such an important topic in this country. This post is thought-provoking and touched something deeply in my heart.