Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Speak Native?

Growing up I never gave much thought, if any, to what nationality my friend’s last names were linked. In fact, I can’t recall when it dawned on me that last names indicated a connection to a world beyond my 30-mile radius of comprehension. Looking back, I was rubbing shoulders with the Germans, Polish, Irish, Italians, English. A virtual vegetable soup of names and countries if you will, with a definite Euro tilt.

No Spanish. No Black. What’s up with that…?

What I do remember is not one of my friends speaking anything but English.

I knew Wilfred spoke a bit of German but I marked that down to his mother speaking a bit of English and I was pretty sure my friend John knew some Italian because his dad was named Enzo and had this neat cadence to the way he spoke.

It was years before I knew the Irish had a language of their own. I mean seriously, when was the last time you heard Gaelic and no, listening to Rick Steves travel adventures on PBS does not count. I don’t think my Grandma Murphy spoke Gaelic and no, her speaking in tongues at church didn’t count either.

We led a sheltered life. These things happen…

So why is it that my friends did not speak the native tongue of their family heritage? So many reasons come to mind. Way more.

We all looked alike and none of us were born in the “motherland”, making it far easier and decidedly more desirable for our parents to have us blend in and conform to one another. There was not, as best I could tell, any perceived need or consuming desire to connect us kids to anything cultural other than American. Again, it’s not like the bunch of us just got off the boat. My great, great, great, etc, etc….Grandfather Theophilus swam ashore in North Carolina sometime in the 1700’s. He most likely spoke English. My guess is that's all he spoke.

Today it is not just considered fashionable to speak a second language but advantageous. If anything, parents crave the potential rewards that come with their children able to speak a second or third language. Can you think of any future benefits derived from having an English-speaking child of today being able to speak Spanish or Chinese? Now flashback to the 50’s, how many parents enrolled their kids to learn Russian? There was considerable concern about all of us speaking Russian; just not by choice. Ah, memories of backyard fallout shelters, hiding under school desks.

Sort of gives you a different take on the whole Ward Cleaver thing...

So AA has joined the American melting pot. While the melting pot is still largely viewed as a mostly European stock recipe, a lot of new “seasonings” continue to be added. The reason Alyzabeth draws stares is not only because mom and dad look different than the kid or because she is so incredibly cute but also because she is still a novelty in many parts of the country. AA doesn’t fit the norm. She doesn’t have the Euro or African-American look. She’s seasoning to a melting pot that in truth has always existed if not always accepted, not always acknowledged.

Ahhh, ye old family recipe, we just keep adding a smidgen of this and a pinch of that. Welsh, Irish, English, Native American, Chinese, etc, etc...

Seasoning, the paint brush in a master chef's hand... Bon Appetite!




T n' W said...

Love that post! And how true it is. Just finished the "Bertie County Heritage Book" , published in 81'. The "second language" if you will, that we were concerned with in the 60's.....Russian! And now seems to be Spanish. But I will go on record saying, I do believe Mandrin will be the next "second langauage". Just look at how much of our debt is now owned by China....gosh now I've started rambling....GREAT POST!!:)

Melissa said...

Very eloquent, Ford. Lots to think about. Always appreciate your view. Sorry the kids missed AA!! Looking forward to getting them all together soon!


Don and Be said...

Leave it to a good cook to come up with that analogy. Great post, Ford! Incidentally, I grew up in a veritable smorgasboard of nationalities and races at the North End of Elizabeth, NJ, a tough neighborhood which I survived when I came to FL to school. I remember neighborhood dinners, a mix of gastronomic offerings that would take your taste buds on a world tour, bypassing Asia. You're right about the Asian presence being relatively new to many folks. BTW - the Polish won hands down for the food.

Rammi said...

As a Thai girl, I've always found it was the opposite. It was always considered advantegeous to learn to speak English. All Asian countries desire great proficiency in the language. In the classroom, I've heard, they try to master 3 languages: Thai, Mandarin Chinese and English.