There’s nothing interesting about this story.
I am here to write about what it has meant to speak English 24/7, and the torture of a monolingual environment. Of course, I am to blame as well.
I grew up in a city where there were as many palm trees as there were people. We coexisted. Every dish from rice to stew had that familiar fresh coco taste. First on the list of things I miss: coconuts. But I mean real coconuts, fresh, brown and unopened. Ones that if you jiggle, you’ll hear the dull swish of coconut water, you’ll start to salivate in anticipation. (Take note that many of the you’s here really refer to me).
My mother grew up in the same city of coconuts, and my father in a different coco-city about 400 km north, both were born before my Mozambique of independence and one of national pride as fictional as American equality. Seems that every nation needs a lullaby. Portuguese settled in my mind first, turning clouds of thoughts into concrete lines and edges. Jumping from the mouths of aunts, cousins, uncles and strangers were words adorned with cedillas and accents, mingling with words not confined by a national identity nor built by it. The first 3 years began with this quasi-monolingual lens to give colour and dimension to the world, then English slipped in on a ship of my older sister’s pre-school.
I remember spelling e-l-e-p-h-a-n-t and teaching someone else the English alphabet. I remember learning to be comfortable with the lingual split that was taking over my life. English at school and with my sister, and Portuguese with everyone and everything else. I was taking in two different records of history, memories of culture and ways to see the world. Sometimes, I was learning to be 2 different versions of myself--like a pdf vs a word doc. There were no subtitles, I didn’t need them, I lived this split bilingual life. I mean there’s a lot more nuance than I am letting on.
We were all rebels at school. They wanted us to speak English all the time, but we only spoke it in front of them, behind their backs it was all passa-la a bola and nós não jogamos com matrecos. We could always have secrets out in the open. For context, all of my teachers in primary school were Filipino (except for the PE coach and, of course, the Portuguese teacher). Of course, they had their secrets too. When we were unruly they’d just whip out some Tagalog, throw some chalk, and we’d all be quiet waiting for our chance to keep them in the lingual dark.
Why do I say this story? Over the 2018 winter break, I spent long nights thinking about internship applications while watching YouTube videos of people raising their children, and it was nostalgic. I, however, had a hard time going back in time, because I could only remember the English stuff, the Portuguese memories seemed to be silent, hiding, reluctant. It broke (it is breaking) my heart.
For more context: I moved to Kenya in 2013, I moved to South Africa in 2015, I moved to Claremont in 2017. I don’t talk all that much to my extended family. Also, I am one of those college kids who calls their parents once a week month, or some irregular frequency (I do feel bad).
The point is, I don’t speak Portuguese that often anymore. I don’t speak that Portuguese laced with changana and a heritage that I have not yet fully inherited. I don’t speak to the people who share the memories with me. It’s like I’m letting a succulent die. It feels like memories are fading away, a part of me is ceasing to exist, like deracination, like I begin existing in 2013. Of course, there’s so much more that needs to be explored here, but it’s 2 am and it’s the time to be dramatic and follow every string of thought even if it means losing the plot of this confused piece.
I write this in English, there’s no Mozambican that I am acquainted with within 50 miles. I feel culturally alone. It’s the price, I guess, of getting the ‘best liberal arts education’.
-Fred Rainer Pom '21
Being raised half German and half Japanese and having lived in Germany and Japan for 9 years each, I have come to realize that coming to Pomona, and distancing myself from my home countries forced me to critically think about my identity as a binational individual. I was never in a situation, until now, where my opinion about my home countries was not heavily influenced by those that are around me. Even when learning German or Japanese history, I was being taught by teachers who used textbooks that presented the stereotypical stance of that country and significantly identified with the respective country. I am not claiming that my teachers were irrational or were glorifying the countries, but it became evident that what I was learning was a reflection of the environment in which I was learning. That particular environment was filled with homogenous ideas and perspectives, which in turn lead me to a distinct interpretation of my country’s position in the world.
Coming to America, I never thought that I would learn as much as I did about the countries that I grew up in and strongly associated myself with. I mean at the end of the day, people study abroad at certain countries to learn more about the country that they are going to.
While there are obviously some biases that are accentuated by the media and popular belief, I constantly find myself in situations where I am forced to view a scenario from an outside perspective that I was never previously exposed to, there are a lot of moments where I feel more aware of my nationality. On top of this, it wasn’t until I completely removed myself from Germany and Japan, that I truly was able to appreciate and learn to critically analyze their systems. That’s not to say that I never liked either country but it wasn’t until I came to America that I truly developed a strong identity being shaped through my love for my nationalities.
-Tami Sacre Pom '21
ISMP community members will be posting blogs and other media regularly!