Reason Many Immigrant Families
The essay "Mother Tongue" written by Amy Tan in 1990 and published by The Threepenny Review, examines the impacts of coming from a bilingual home. As well as how the language she was taught at home complicated different areas of her life.Those of us who grew up with parents who spoke: "broken" English can relate on a profound level to Amy Tan's short essay "Mother Tongue" (564-568). In this short essay author, Amy Tan expresses how language shaped her, how others perceived her mother for speaking less than perfect English and how their perception of her mother's "fractured" English directly affected how she too perceived her mom.For me, this story serves as a reminder that while someone may not speak English fluently this does not make the person any less intellectual compared to someone who was born in this country and is fortunate enough to have English as their main language.
Growing up with parents who speak less than perfect English can be a struggle for children/adolescents alike. Like Tan's mother, my parents made valid efforts to express their thoughts and communicate with others in their "simple" English. Tan's mother was dismissed and made to feel as less important than other patients for her inability to clearly express her needs/thoughts to the hospital staff.This is a struggle that my parents like many other immigrants are faced with and whose main language isn't English. People do not seem to take them seriously. It was Mrs. Tan’s persistent behavior that finally got a doctor to contact her daughter Tan. Tan was able to advocate for her mother and perhaps in part to her perfect English, Tan got "assurance the CAT scan would be found, promises that conference call on Monday would be held, and apologies for any suffering my mother had gone through for a most regrettable mistake."(Tan, 1990) Situations such as these happen more often than not and this becomes part of the reason many immigrant families pull their children from school to do things like attend doctors' appointments, housing, or social service appointments and serve as their translators. Similar to what Tan did on various occasions for her mother. My perception of my parents was imperfect very much like that of those who tried to communicate with my parents in my absence. Tan notes "I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say. She expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect." (566)This sentiment is shared by many children whose parent's first language is not English. With time and age, we come to understand that it is not their English that is broken, it is the lack of empathy and encouragement from those they are trying to communicate with that shapes this view of them.
Language is an important factor of life.It nurtures our personality. It is how we communicate with one another by articulating our thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Similarly, we use language as a way of expressing culture. The ability to express ourselves clearly and concisely can often determine how we are treated in return. This was evident not only with Tan's mother's visit to the hospital but also with the stockbroker in New York.Those are just some examples of how differently people with "limited" English (566) are considered as less intelligent, less important, and incapable of standing up for their rights or beliefs. One's inability to express one's thoughts effectively in a second language should never be a reflection of someone's intellectual abilities. For instance, Mrs. Tan's "limited" English as described by others in this essay can be misleading. Mrs. Tan is described by Tan as an avid pleasure reader and someone who enjoys reading Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.She isn't as "simple" as the society may illustrate her out to be.
Tan also refers to the different English's she has learned over the years which those of us who are bilingual can appreciate and understand.At home much like Tan, I speak to my parents in "simple" English. By simple English I mean I cut out idiotism and at times speak at a rate which I know my parents could handle. Allowing them time to process the information and encouraging them to practice their English and pronunciation of it. A lot of times Immigrants are not giving this support and encouragement and it discourages them from using the English they do know. Being bilingual made it easy to relate to this story, I was born in Puerto Rico, and there were periods during my childhood where I attended school in Puerto Rico. And so, for us, English has always been a second language, one that I am fluent in now but wasn't always. My parents unlike my siblings and I are not fluent in English.The limited English they know is English they have heard my siblings and I use at home, that which they hear on television or around in everyday life (radio, conversations, grandchildren).For this reason, my siblings and I also learned two different "Englishes" (564), the one we use at home (relaxed, simple, informal) and the proficient formal English used in school and work.
Ultimately the message that this essay carries is a clear one, while others may have had difficulty understanding Mrs. Tan, Tan did not. She spoke her mother's language too.Even if growing up she too viewed her mother as having "broken" English as an adult she has come to appreciate all the wonderful things that growing up with two "Englishes" (564) presented her.Like a broader understanding of the world and provided her a better platform to express herself.