– Marilyn V Nagaraj
“I can imagine nothing more terrifying than an Eternity filled with men who were all the same. The only thing which has made life bearable…… has been the diversity of the creatures on the surface of the globe”- T. H. White
Hello, Hola, Kem Cho, Marhaba, Ni Hao, Ainu, Hej…
My earliest memories are of me being in primary and being bombarded with questions from my friends and other classmates as to why I happened to speak 2 languages at home while they happened to speak just one. I was too small to comprehend and understand as to why I spoke 2 languages??This made me feel so alienated from the others. I remember coming home from school and eagerly questioning my parents frequently as to what was so different about our family and those of my friends, and the reason for us to speak two languages. As a child my parents did try very hard to make me understand. But, I must admit that it took a while before I finally understood and accepted my cultural and linguistic identity. It was very difficult initially as my cousins felt my communication skills in Telugu was way too poor to keep up with theirs. And, hence whenever I did go out with them I was often the odd one out, kept out of their close-knit group because I was considered only Half-Telgite and not a complete one. However this has changed today and Oh Yes!!My Telugu has improved and has come a long way from what it was then.
Growing up as a child I often felt like straddling between two cultures and two languages, never completely one. Growing up was always about that constant push and pull between two cultures and languages. Here I was, trying to perfect my Telugu. Who knew there was something more?? As if, perfecting one language wasn’t enough, I was to learn yet another two languages-Kannada and Hindi, as I entered into the middle school.
In this era of globalization and liberalization, being identified as a bilingual and bicultural is no more a rare thing. It’s not something of the past but, something that is becoming all the more common with each passing day.
Coming from a family with a diverse background I can assure you that being bilingual and bicultural is nothing but fun! My Mom is an Anglo Indian and my Dad a Telgite. Imagine the clash of cultures at home. Imagine all the festivals I get to celebrate! and the amount of fun that I get to have.
There are a lot of differences between my maternal and paternal side. From the food they relish, to each other’s Religion, from the language they speak to the music they enjoy. My maternal side is more outspoken, outgoing and enjoy partying and socialising whereas my paternal side is more reserved and grounded. When it comes to Family functions dressing has always been a debatable topic for I have always been caught between choosing whether to go western and please my maternal side or toning down and going Indian to please my paternal. We are poles apart yet we are one.
I have at several times asked my parents how have been things getting along, adjusting and keeping up to the family’s expectations. My parents admitted that there were times when it got difficult and times when they’d have to put up with the balancing act. However they never let their marriage extinguish their cultural identity but have instead learnt to enjoy each other’s cultural practices and respect, adapt and accept each other’s culture and language. I think this is what has made my family special.
Mixed families present wonderful opportunities to bring together different cultures and also present opportunities to understand and appreciate different cultural heritages. At the same time they can also pose some unique challenges.
However, this has been quite easy for me as the underlying spirit of my family and my parents has always been to respect and celebrate each other’s differences.
However there can be times when the going gets tough, times when you don’t seem to fit into one category. And, then again there is the haunting question of identity. There have been times when I have ended up being so confused that I question myself and have often found asking myself “Where do I belong”? And the answer to that was given by my Mom “You’re not half anything. You’re a whole and a complete person” she said.
I don’t really consider being bilingual or bicultural as a challenge. I see it as a gift, a wonderful one at that.
Rather than seeing my upbringing as a clash between two cultures. I see it as the combination and coming together of two different cultures and languages, not each other vying to overtake the other, instead, both beautifully co-existing alongside each other. This has enabled me to have a rich cultural experience.