Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Spanish? I feel I’m Missing Something!

As an English major, I learned to hang on every word, every syllable, every letter that could hint at some (hopefully) wonderful insight the writer has put down in a very subtle manner, and it waits for me to grasp it. I am optimistic, so I believe that it is within my reach—the hope always helps thoughJ. So, when I opened this wonderful collection, I couldn’t wait to delve into all its great insights from this new writer who is from a new land. After rushing through the introductions (there’s always something so forbidden about introductions; their authors always give the good stuff away!), I was disappointed. Within seconds of glancing at the first page, I found to my horror that it contained words of a different language, one that I have made a point to ignore ever since middle school. This foreign piece, which I could assume is a poem, created a feeling of loss and confusion. Is Anzaldua saying something? Am I missing something?

Mere seconds later, I was wondering about the process of language. I am not going to get into a cognitive psychology lecture about human’s acquisition of language, but really, isn’t it amazing that we can know a language, a system of abstract ideas that are whimsically connected to groups of letters and both ideas and letters are subjected to another complex system of specific rules, and get the hang of this complicated structure as early as in our childhood?

My mind jumps again, and I realize for the first time that language can be a sort of a map; it orients (or disorients) the person in his or her environment. I saw this happening last summer when I was in Egypt (sorry, yet another Egypt story!). I speak Arabic fluently that it was very easy for me to talk to anybody about anything when I was down there. My younger siblings, on the other hand, don’t speak Arabic as well. My sister knows enough of the language to follow along a conversation, but that is often short-lived because she doesn’t know enough Arabic to formulate a response. My baby brother was worse; he only knew how to say hi! As a result, my siblings were always left out when the family came together to talk. Because they couldn’t be part of the conversation (and the group), they tended to form their own conversation (and group). This led to further complications: they became more and more like the foreigners or the outsiders constantly looking in, and in the process, they freaked out the Arabic-speakers who were convinced that my siblings were up to no good. All this because of language!

Although this language drama seemed pretty entertaining to somebody like me, who didn’t have any trouble understanding either map, it really dampened the trip for my siblings. I could sense their frustration when they heard a word that they didn’t understand being applied to them. Moreover, I think because they didn’t understand Arabic, they were missing on so many cultural references and allusions. It was as if the language was the key to the culture; it opened the door to understanding the culture because one could easily get first-hand accounts from the “natives” of that culture in their native language. If one doesn’t have that key, one is undoubtedly left out in the cold, so to speak, because one doesn’t enjoy that direct contact.
As I continue reading Borderlands, I wonder if I am going to face the same problem that my siblings faced. Am I going to continually miss the little things because I am not equipped with Spanish?

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