I Just Don’t Understand!

Growing up isolated from one’s ethnic language.

When developing one’s identity within a family dynamic, communication can be the basis of connection. Not being able to speak the language of the culture one’s family belongs to can consequently detach one from something they feel to be central to their being.
Often times, second and third generation individuals are isolated from those who do speak their cultural language, and can lead to judgement within one’s own community.
When many families arrived to America being bilingual was not supported. Sophomore Elisabeth Case, who is Austrian and Cherokee, states that her grandmother was actually told not to speak German with her daughter.
“My mom only speaks a little bit [of German] because while she’s fluent, it’s not one of her original languages. The doctor told my grandmother that she shouldn’t continue speaking in German to my mother because that can disrupt her education and progress,” said Case.
Given America’s history with non-white Americans and immigrants, many first generation families chose not to teach their ethnic language as a way to force their children to fully be “American.” Japanese-African American Tamao George Yasutake, Garfield Teen Life Center staff member, mentions that his grandparents, who were in japanese internment camps, chose to avoid teaching their children to be Japanese as a form of protection.
“My grandparents were locked up during World War Two in prison camps, so my parents and my generation were taught to assimilate [with American culture], don’t be Japanese, be more American. I feel all immigrant families face that,” said Yasutake.
The lack of cultural upbringing by first generation parents has caused many second and third generation children to fully immerse themselves in American melting pot culture, in which there is cultural blending and focus less on their ethnic culture. Garfield freshman Angelina Torres mentions that she’s okay with not practicing all of her Mexican traditions and that it’s been that way her whole life.
“I’m used to not celebrating Mexican holidays because I’ve grown up that way. I think I’m pretty fine not celebrating my Quinceañera and I don’t really think my dad’s side of the family really even celebrates that,” said Torres.
However, when surrounded by family who do speak the cultural language, people sometimes feel out of place because they can’t participate in discussion or activities unless English is spoken.
“There’s a significant amount of my family that I can’t talk to because of times when we get together for family gatherings there are a lot of people who are speaking Spanish, and I can’t really be included in those conversations,” said Torres.
Some  parents that haven’t taught their children the native language experience backlash for depriving the second and third generations of their culture.
“I know a lot of my relatives weren’t happy with my mom for not making sure that my sister and I knew how to speak German,” said Case.
Second and third generation families aren’t letting the backlash or their language barriers stop them from wanting to connect with their culture, if anything it’s actually fueling the urge.
“I still identify as Austrian, I wanna take German in college so that I can connect more. I would love to move to Austria for a year to be able to really connect to my Austrian culture,” said Case.
Language doesn’t make anyone less con