Monday, 21 June 2010

If you lose your language

do you lose your identity?
It was World Refugee Day yesterday. Ms-Whirlwind-around-the-corner had a school project about refugees. I took her to meet one on Saturday.
In teacher training college I was taught by a refugee. He claimed to have fled Albania with his Bible and a gold cigarette case. There were some doubts about the story. He did not go to church and the cigarette case was not gold. His English was good but heavily accented. He claimed to be forgetting his mother tongue.
Unlike the many post-war 'migrants' from Europe he did not seem to be interested in trying to retain his cultural identity in any way.
The refugee we went to see on Saturday is a different story. He is Chilean. There is no doubt about his story. It is well documented. There are others, particularly the medical staff who saved his life, who saw the evidence at first hand. His mother tongue is Spanish. He writes poetry in Spanish, love poems for his Australian wife, sad poems about his past, hopeful poems about the future. His speech is heavily compromised by his injuries but his English is excellent.
Ms Whirlwind came away delighted that he had translated a simple poem and then given it to her. She had been pleased that she had, by listening carefully, been able to understand his speech.
"Why doesn't he just write the poems in English?" she asked as we rode back.
"Perhaps because he really is Spanish inside," I suggested.
She thought about that for a bit and then said,
"Maybe. It matters doesn't it. The bit about your language. It sort of makes you who you are."


T. Anne said...

I agree with your friend the intrinsic part of you, the part you are most familiar with makes you who you are.

catdownunder said...

Hello, nice to 'meet' you. Yes, it is a concept she is still struggling with.