Why I Love My Mother Tongue—And Why Other Immigrants Should Too
Rita Mae Brown once said, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”
Having been fortunate enough to have learned three languages at a young age, I viewed language as an essential part of one’s personality and nature. Personally, I spoke in my mother tongue of Korean because it brought me solace. However, I recently noticed that my Asian-American peers hide behind the English language in front of our American friends for reasons I initially could not understand. And with the recent videos showcasing hostility towards non-English speakers, I felt pressured to hide behind our nation’s common lingua franca, but is that truly the right way to address the issue?
Viewing these videos made me question the possible reasons why immigrants feel burdened to quickly learn English and assimilate in American culture. Teens are especially affected by popular media and the need to feel “normal” instead of out of place.
Just the other day, I could clearly hear my friend’s mother speaking in Korean through my friend’s phone; however, my friend refused to reply in Korean and instead, responded to her mother in short English phrases. It was not a matter of my friend being unable to speak the language but rather a need to not “stick out” in front of our non-Asian friends. I have always believed that having the ability to speak a foreign language shows a person’s diversity and cultural awareness.
With English being my second language, I was able to experience compassion and true empathy towards immigrants around the world. While many immigrants may wish to quickly leave behind their cultural roots to start fresh in the United States, I have found that many of my peers are extremely interested in learning different languages and even feel envious of those who are multilingual.
With our media only reporting on the unpleasant reactions towards non-English speakers, my peers and I were under the impression that speaking another language may cause hateful responses. However, when I embraced my mother tongue, I was pleasantly surprised by the interest exhibited by my companions.
In a world where globalization is rapidly spreading and more nations are becoming more accepting of other nationalities, I smile when I pass a fellow Asian-American on the street or in a restaurant and I am able to hear snippets of their foreign conversations. I feel as if I am the only one able to understand their intimate conversations and I do not feel left out. Instead of turning to frustration due to the inability to interpret foreign languages, we need to take initiative and join the conversation through respect and a genuine curiosity to learn of different mother tongues and cultures.