Language Barriers

This video brought me to tears in a public place because their remorse as Asian Americans is something I have seen affect many of my peers throughout my life. I have been surrounded by first generation-ers and second generation Asian Ams and to be quite frank, there is a significant difference in personality.

I whole-heartedly believe that this can be traced to how significant the household has pressed assimilation on their child. I think first generation children are expected to adopt American cultural customs more so than second generation because their parents have brought them here, sacrificed to make it this far, and want to acclimate to United States society to succeed faster.

Whereas you have the second generation children whose parents were already speaking English when they were growing up because they were born here in the states. A compromise never really spoken about in terms of rising socioeconomic ranks is how little minorities there are when you “move up in the world” so to speak. This creates an almost stronger inclination for parents to really stress the significance of language.

While this video reduced me to blurred vision, I wish I had that kind of cultural influence on my life. As a fourth generation Japanese Mexican American, I definitely blame American society for a lack of language oriented focus in my life. I’m not bitter, but I do definitely feel left out considering I look a certain way and can only speak English. Not to mention the almost prejudice I receive from people because I look Japanese and yet not know a lick.

Don’t even get me started on the whole “You say you’re Mexican, but can you speak Spanish” argument, which I have read via social media sites that it is far more prevalent than my personal experience of just a hapa trying to fit in.

Is it asinine to attribute my lack of language on history? That if my grandparents weren’t put into Internment Camps because they were Japanese, we MIGHT have SOME semblance of language? That my family would’ve pushed Spanish on us a LOT harder had society not looked so down on the language as a language of day laborers and hired help? Was it intergenerational trauma and fear that has led me to live an English-only language minus the required Foreign Language you have to take in order to graduate High School?

Regardless, my Dad did let us know growing up that an interest in cultural practices does phase in and out as generations pass. I mean this in a Nisseis (2nd generation Japanese Americans) took far more interest in preserving their culture compared to Sanseis and underwent a resurgence of interest in my generation, Yonseis. With that said, I don’t know if I really feel so inclined to learn Japanese as much as I do Spanish. That teetering thought is more brought on by pragmatism about foreign languages here in the United States.

Chinese and Spanish are the largest growing immigrant populations in the United States with Filipinos following shortly after making Tagalog the third most popular foreign language in the state of California. My significant other is of Chinese descent and he has even asked me if I would be willing to learn it if we were to get married. I agreed because 1) I love him so its kind of a no brainer, but also 2) because I want my kids to hold onto something that maybe us as Asian Americans cannot provide culturally due to our upbringing here. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t want my kids to learn Spanish because how cute would it be to have little Asian babies fluent in Spanish?! But I digress.

Ultimately, language is so important. The erasure of indigenous languages by colonization and imperialism is a travesty and its almost as if when moving to the United States you’re expected to be English dominant or be prepared to face lots of racial discrimination.

So while I cannot relate to the plight of my fellow yellow brothers and sisters in this video, I do empathize with the feelings associated with failing your family because it seems the least you could’ve done was try. But it’s not our faults and it is definitely something that could always be changed or learned. And who knows, one’s lack of native language could inspire their children to take it up because of that distance.