In 8th grade, my junior high school held a writing competition similar to the one at my elementary school.
I wrote a story in English this time and entered the competition, eager to be judged on the same terms as everyone else. Although winning that competition would help me gain confidence in my writing skills, which later led to a career as a professional writer, it destroyed my relationship with Spanish.
Take for example the woman in West Virginia who last week verbally assaulted a manager at a Mexican restaurant for speaking Spanish and screamed, "When you are in America you need to speak English!
" Or the Border Patrol agent in Montana who questioned two US born Latinas and asked for their IDs simply because he overheard them speaking Spanish.
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. 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.For example, if a language school advertises that all its teachers are native speakers of English, we would most likely complain if we later learned that although the teachers do have some vague childhood memories of the time when they talked to their mothers in English, they, however, grew up in some non-English-speaking country and are fluent in a second language only.Similarly, in translation theory, the claim that one should translate only into one's mother tongue is in fact a claim that one should only translate into one's first and dominant language."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."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.Later, she quit that job and became a vendor at the local swap meets selling Avon products and cheap plastic sandals.She supplemented her income by picking cans and bottles out of the trash and taking them to the recycling center.