Language


When I was a small child growing up in the midwest I would go to the grocery store with my immigrant parents, who would speak with me in their native language. This was how I learned to speak the language fluently. There were times where other people would stare at us when we did this. There were times that I remember that complete strangers would march up to us, interrupt us in our conversation and say in a loud voice, “Just speak English!” and “Go back to your country!” at that time, as I was small, I remember having the thought “we have to do what they say or they will hurt us, or ostracize us, or even kill us” and “we are not welcome here” and that made me feel anxious and fearful, with the action becoming that I didn’t want to speak in my parents native language, and the result being that I didn’t become as strong in the language as I could have, and I suppressed my pride in our family and our family’s bilingualism.

Fast forward to my children being born- they are biracial and were in an immersion preschool for my parents native language and attend classes three times a week at their elementary school, but on a trip this winter it became evident that they were not as strong in the language as they could be. When they were small I spoke with them more in that language. My husband pushed me to, even though it was harder for me to do so, because all of the data (and intuitively my own experience) shows that this is the best way for them to become bilingual. I kept it up as best as I could, but somewhere in there I found out that my husband’s parents felt that I was being rude when I spoke to my children in a different language that they couldn’t understand. I was looking for reasons that I didn’t belong and reasons that I had to change myself in order to change other people’s thoughts. On reflection, two years later, I decided I didn’t like my reasons for not speaking to my children in another language, so I told them yesterday that I would be only speaking with them at home in this language, and if they needed something from me they would have to ask in this language, and if they needed something from their dad they could ask him in English.

My children, ages 8 and 9, were slightly taken aback by this new condition and are adjusting to it. Yesterday afternoon and this morning, however, my 8 year old, in frustration at not being understood and at not understanding, started yelling at me “Just speak English!!” and all of my previous experiences as a child flooded my consciousness and just took over- all of those thoughts of shame at not belonging, of not being worthy of acceptance, of fear, just came back. I hadn’t even been aware of them until then. I’m still struggling with what to do with each of these thoughts and the emotions that they bring. Is it normal to be doing okay and then all of a sudden be not okay? Is it reasonable to just address each of these thoughts stepwise and change them one at a time?

UM:
C: People in the grocery store yelled “Just speak English”
T: I need to conform or I will be ostracized, shamed, hurt, and otherwise cast out of society or killed. My parents can’t protect me or themselves from this.
F: anxious
A: hide, conform, become perfect, don’t be different
R: I conform, but at the cost of understanding what constitutes my own worth. I don’t speak my language as well as I can and I don’t have as much pride in my culture.
IM
C: people in the grocery store yelled “Just Speak English!”
T: They are having thoughts that only exist in them. Whether or not I speak English has no bearing on their thoughts. It only removes the circumstance for them. They will not think I am any more worthy of love and belonging if I change my behavior, and I will only have rewarded their aggressive behavior by changing their circumstance. I can’t make them change but I can put my own boundary on it.
F: Resolved, confident
A: Be myself, act in integrity, set and maintain boundaries
R: I show up in this world as authentic, I learn more of my language and teach my children the language of their culture.
I love myself, every aspect of myself and of my family. I am proud.

Any insights? It is supposed to be this hard?