Within Stereotypical Eyes

by multilingualmania on January 27, 2011

in Culture, Language in Society

Eye See You TwoMultilingualism as a way of life cultivated numerous unique advantages. It felt empowering to exist in more than one cultural background. Not being limited to one language enabled a person to communicate with an expanded population. Although alongside these benefits stood the suffocating shadows of constant stereotyping.

Being introduced to stereotypical beliefs at such an impressionable age quickly exposed a child to adult issues. Emotional sensitivities developed, and a stringent learning curve was followed in order to maintain peaceful relations. There were some things you just didn’t do in public, which was not an issue once you’ve reached the comforting embrace of your own home. An example was speaking English when in the public eye, and reserving your native language conversations for when you were alone with your multilingual family.

It was disconcerting at first to hear people mock my language and mistake us for Chinese, Japanese, or Koreans. We were told we all sounded the same, and looked identical because of our unacceptable slanted eyes. Given the quiet nature of most traditional Asians in general, more often than not, no insults were exchanged.

Sometimes an embarrassed outsider, who happened to be in earshot, did their best to console us as a group once the offender departed. We habitually nodded, smiled politely, and continued as if nothing occurred. Later, amongst only ourselves, within whispered conversations and hushed statements, we’d console our own kind.

It was the way things worked. Blank expressions in the face of adversity, and solemn nods of enduring tolerance behind closed doors.

I’ve heard all the comments and snide remarks which peppered my upbringing. In the interest of mature civility, I shall not mention them here. Being referred to as a primitive people, uneducated in the ways of life outside a jungle, rolled off my back like rain slicking off of a bird’s feathers. This indifference did not set instantaneously. I recall how my father ignored what people said, and vowed to do the same, considering how a military father (US Navy) was a firstborn son’s first hero in life.

I don’t recall Dad ever displaying the slightest hint of consternation following a public slight. To this day, I carry forth his examples, which have served me well throughout my interpersonal relationships with businesspeople, and random encounters with strangers.

What seemed a comfort was that most people kept their rudeness to themselves – so long as we kept our distance, and everyone minded their highest manners. I learned public interactions became much more bearable when I extended courtesies to each adult I encountered. When a monolingual adult heard me say, “Thank you,” they sometimes were taken aback I was cognizant of such social graces. Perhaps they assumed I was supposed to grunt like a primate being tossed a banana?

As outsiders created stereotypes forced to fit our mold, we did the same in subdued defiance. In those days, it was generally frowned upon to have friends who only spoke English. You were not permitted to bring home classmates unless they spoke dual languages. It mattered not which dual languages they uttered, only that multilingualism was present.

Stereotyping remained an aspect of life I had to tolerate and endure. Being multilingual accelerated tolerance levels because I saw through immoral assumptions. Living within intertwined cultures displayed truths beneath the public’s purview, and multilingualism bestowed foresight towards genuine humanisms, while casting aside blind ignorance.

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.

Related Reading:
Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts: Communicating Respectfully in a Diverse World

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