Yo corazon Ethan Lopez

You can probably imagine my glee when my sister-in-law told me that she and my brother were considering placing my nephew, Jalen, in the Puente de Hozho Bilingual Magnet School of Flagstaff, which has one "track" for Spanish/English and another for English/Navajo. Nothing could be more exciting knowing that Jalen would have the benefit of growing up bilingual, something that I could only dream of and still do... in retrospect.

When me and my bro were little we had a number of nanny's and babysitters that I can remember, April being a particular favorite. Mrs. Huff though was the only one, from what I recall, who spoke Spanish and had a particularly strong accent in English. However, she never spoke the language with me and my brother, or at least enough for us to have acquired it. It brings a lágrima to my ojo.

Another missed-out opportunity concerns Creole Portuguese, which you may know is the language of Cabo Verde, and usually spoken by the older generations on my mom's side of the family.

Never heard Creole Portuguese before? Here's a taste provided by world-famous Cape Verdean artist Cesaria Evora:

The youngans you see have mostly missed out on this beautiful language. And ultimately its because people find a need to, or are forced to, accept the idea that U.S. culture is monolingual when it's really not and never has been. Oh well, at least I am able to do some guesswork from my knowledge of Brazilian portuguese to try and communicate with my mom and Auntie Laura. Ago, N podi fra un poku di kel kuz, hence the title of this blog: Marikan di Kor (American of color), which so neatly expresses my dual identity as black, or person of color, and Cape Verdean, as its written in Creole.

Nothing to do now except set a goal of taking every opportunity to speak Spanish and, in the future, become conversationally fluent in Creole Portuguese. The ones who do always have a second-chance so to speak are the newest generations. During a town-hall meeting Obama attended, introduced by the governator himself, a little boy was given the chance to ask Mr. President the final question. If you watch the video (about 1:20 in), as the little boy says his first name, "Ethan," he says it in standard English as you would expect.

But his last name comes out "Lopez," undeniably in Spanish. I was watching it the other day and it hit me like a ton of bricks...in a good way, and here's why: in all my years of watching media in the United States, mainstream media, far too little do we get to hear the code-switching that so many Americans utilize to communicate to one another. Does Dorah the Explorer count? Yep, and my nephew highly enjoys her and her brother Diego as evidenced by his backpack, scooter, thermos, etc. But I don't want just random words here and there. I want full-out in your face evidence of bilingualism, that I feel is such an important part of this country and its history.

I say put a character on a sitcom or a drama who occasionally speaks in Spanish to his friends or others... and without subtitles. The message isn't so much that you understand what they're saying but that millions of people daily are switching in and out between inglés y español. I certainly would not claim code-switching abilities, but know many who do and it just absolutely amazes me. My mom ups her Creole output especially when visiting her relatives outside of Boston, along with the East Coast R droppage, in part to express that part of her identity. Why can't we catch a glimpse of similar language shifts in movies or advertising?

Word on the street (digo, Wikipedia Boulevard) is that President Obama himself speaks Indonesian, although we do not know to what degree. Why isn't this covered in the news as something amazing, awesome, worthy of celebration? How many other presidents spoke a different tongue, fluently? Imagine the message that it would send if he suddenly switched into Indonesian during a press conference (of course later translating what he had said).

I don't know if my nephew will end up attending that school, but when he grows up, I hope that overall attitudes have changed and being bilingual will be something more publicly visible and valued in the United States.

No comments: