Realizations of Culture Week

by multilingualmania on March 29, 2011

in Culture

Children of Manila

Culture Week permitted the opportunity for non-multilingual youths to peek into the lives of multilingual classmates. The proverbial veils parted to expose life’s inner workings for a “foreign” family. Although the extra attention garnered during those days fostered jubilant feelings, or thoughts of feigning illnesses, depending on one’s personal disposition at the time.

During those formative years, kids usually stuck with their own kind. At the mere mention of Culture Week, my fellow Asian classmates and I would look over at each other, exchange knowing glances, and inwardly shake our heads, while outwardly smiling politely towards the other students.

We graciously complied with the school’s requests to participate. The extra attention was appreciated, which included a helping of nervous anticipation. It gave us a platform to showcase our respective homelands. We had a chance to display facets of our upbringing typically hidden from public view. Mannerisms discreetly cordoned off in order to conform to cultural norms were given the chance to temporarily shed their reigns.

Amidst snatched moments between classes, we quietly discussed what we’d do, or more importantly, what taboos we’d steer clear of in order to protect the delicate sensibilities of our eager attendees. We snickered at the macabre thought of showing pictures graphically depicting how we slaughtered farm animals as a weekend family activity. Instead, we opted for the more tame and politically correct act of wearing barongs, which were native shirts made of plant fibers, worn by males to add an air of formality to solemn occasions and celebratory festivities.

There was the food of course, often mountains of spring rolls, a crowd favorite, brought in by our mothers. These were always excitedly gobbled up before we’d had a chance to explain the ingredients in our native tongues. All attempts to inculcate the audience with international trivia failed, as indicated by a room full of noisy crunchy chewing. Not to be bothered, ravenous classmates were too busy sopping up sweet and sour sauce – and looking for more.

After everyone realized no refills remained, there’d be a cassette tape played so a national anthem could be heard in its original language. English translations would be spoken afterwards, followed by recordings of indigenous songs, and dance music played with traditional instruments.

We continued to presentations involving pictures of relatives remaining in the homeland. The slightly decayed photos helped add to the historical and cultural flavor. There’d be family stories shared, sprinkled with tidbits, like a grandfather who caught fish with freshly made bamboo fishing poles (they flexed easier when a fish was hooked), and religious grandmothers who prayed with rudimentary, handmade rosaries.

The audience, enthralled at the “primitive nature” of our non-English cultures, sat wide-eyed while listening how it was considered polite to touch an elder’s hand to our foreheads as a sign of respect. This would be followed by everyone amusingly practicing said mannerism in order to experience foreign beliefs. They asked us how to say everyday expressions, and we’d run the gauntlet of daily vocabulary, interspersed with picture pointing to reinforce words from remote shores.

What trepidations we nurtured at the onset of Culture Week subsided with its progression. As multilingual students born in a new land, we were brought closer together, galvanized by our similar upbringings. It felt good to share with the American majority, letting them know the disparity in cultures was not an obstacle for us. Exposing our seemingly alien life experiences fostered a courage born from telling the truth. We showed who we were, and became liberated by it.

About the Author: Vincent Dersanga endures the reality of composing sentences which require him to be linguistically vigilant. It is his hope there exists the slightest semblance of mercy to grant his writings a sliver of reading time and alms of thoughtful intent.

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