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Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’

I read an article recently about Pat Conroy, one of my favorite depressed Southern authors.  I jotted down this quote he gave about growing up as a child in a military household: “We spent our entire childhoods in the service of our country, and no one even knew we were there.”

My father was a Marine, so I moved a lot as a child.  I was perpetually the “new kid” so I had to learn to land on my feet again and again and again.  I mastered how to quickly assess the dynamics in a room – who has power?  Who is a pariah?  Who should be avoided and who needs to be befriended?  I became good at making friends, although not very adept at staying in touch with them for the long haul.  There was a rhythm to our lives that involved moving in May and starting a new school in September.  Except when we had to move and start a new school in October or April during the middle of a school year.

I don’t like it when people ask me where I’m from.  I’m not from anywhere.  I don’t like it when people say it must have been “such a great experience” to see so much of the world as a child and I must be so “outgoing.”  That’s like saying that being poor must have really taught you to be resourceful about finding enough to eat – what a blessing!

The Marine Corps was the source of a lot of tension in my family, and my nomadic childhood was just collateral damage.  My parents made choices for me that I would not have made for myself.  They volunteered me to make sacrifices that I would not require of my own  children.  For instance, I would not ask my children to attend 6 different schools in 4 years in a row during middle school, which everyone knows is like Lord of the Flies under the best of circumstances.

My brother joined the Marine Corps when I was in college during the war in Iraq.  I had known about the sacrifices that powerless children make when their parents serve their country.  During those years I learned about the sacrifices that adults make when their loved ones go to war.  I learned about a different kind of helplessness, and that love can hold you hostage to the choices another person makes every bit as much as childhood does.  Being an adult is still better.

I don’t know what it is to be a Marine, but I see those invisible children who have been drafted into serving their country, and I won’t do that to my children.

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I got an interesting comment from CM in response to my post on linguistic prejudice, below:

I think you’ve left out the fact that your native dialect of English is virtually identical with Standard English, so you’re approaching this problem as an outsider. Also, we correct kids behavior all the time based on our fear that others will judge them. I bet you don’t think twice about telling him to stand up straight or stop slouching. What if there were a community of people that identified as slouchers? And they had an army and a flag? Just like there’s nothing inherently special about Standard English, why assume that there’s something inherently special in Spanish-English or Peruvian Spanish?

I think kids his age are a little young to explain the “why” of what’s going on. Maybe you should continue to correct his English and when he becomes a teenager explain why Standard English is no more special than the language he speaks at home. At the end of the day it’s going to be up to him what language he uses at work, just like it’ll be up to him how he combs his hair or what clothes he wears in public (I notice your conscience doesn’t bother you when he wears American clothes in public instead of traditional Andean village attire).

Yes, my native dialect of English is very close to Standard, but there are several changes I make to conform to “professional” English.  I avoid ending sentences with an upward lilt because it sounds uncertain (to men?)  in the workplace.  I avoid using the word “just” or exclamation points in emails or other language that downplays my position as an authority figure.  I don’t use terminology that would identify me as young for a project manager like “sweet.”  I make several conscious changes to my natural variety (young and female) to sound more “professional” (middle-aged and male).

Additionally, my brother-in-law wouldn’t naturally wear Andean garb, but he does naturally speak a variety of Spanish-influenced English.  I’m not going to force him to be more traditionally Peruvian than he is, but there is a sense in which I am standardizing his dialect in opposition to his Peruvian heritage.  I like your point about the community of slouchers.  My background in linguistics makes me sensitive to linguistic hegemony, when in truth we crush children’s eccentricities all the time in an effort to make them more acceptable to society and more likely to succeed.   This seems more benign to me when they are behaviors that are not associated with a cultural identity, but you are correct that a cultural identity is just a set of behaviors backed up by a flag.

It is true that there isn’t much utility in talking about this issue with him now, particularly since he is bored by discussing language and the languages he speaks.  I think the most important thing is for me to refrain from poisoning his brain with ideas like, “People will think he’s poor!”  Hopefully later on we can have the meta discussion about language and the beauty of variety, and in the meantime I can refrain from filling his brain with ideas about language as a marker of socioeconomic position.

At the core of this issue is the notion that I don’t think any variety of language is superior to another and that we should not have to suppress our natural variety to succeed.  Despite believing this to be right and true and knowing that change will not happen until people are willing to speak in different varieties at work, I choose not to do so.  I also choose to standardize my brother-in-law’s dialect.  Apparently I think linguistic tolerance is an excellent idea, but not one that I’m willing to sacrifice for in order to make it a reality.

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