Welcome back readers! To those of you who are new to my blogspot, my name is Natalia Mitat and I am an Oxford English graduate with a passion for exploring our language and sharing my findings with you all. Although I usually annotate difficult pieces of literature such as the beautiful Herman Melville by Moby Dick, this time I decided to change it up.
In the past month of August, I decided to visit my mothers beautiful home country of Colombia, as a way to take a break from my rapid American lifestyle. Once I arrived back home to the states, I came to several realizations not only about my identity as a whole but the details that lie behind it. I was urged to share these conclusions with my readers not necessarily to share my thoughts on a challenging piece of literature or even to persuade you to visit the wonders that the world has to offer but instead to emphasize the importance of language and how it personally shapes us-starting with me.
Most may not know this about me at first glance, keep in mind I did major in English Literature, but I was raised in a primarily Spanish speaking home as a first generation American. My mother and father both moved to the United States, from Colombia and Cuba, when they were in high school, leaving them at a disadvantage in school. Throughout the years, they picked up on basic words and phrases but never had a deep connection with the English language the same way as they did with Spanish. This influenced me growing up by motivating me to deeply explore English and connect with it in a way that my parents never did. However, I decided to test my waters and take a trip to my mother’s homeland in order to reconnect with my roots.
During my getaway in the beautiful country of Colombia I of course packed several literary works, but this time all with a connection to Spanish. With eight hours to spare, I quickly read through the famous Javier Marías, Rosa Montero, and Enrique Vila-Matas but only one author genuinely stood out to me in the sea of renown works that lay on my mini airplane lap desk-Julia Alvarez. Like me, Alvarez is a Hispanic American with a passion for not only the English language but also the Spanish one. I immersed myself in her poem Bilingual Sestina, and completely began to analyze it and connect it with my own life-a common pattern of mine.
Throughout her poem, Alvarez uses a mixture of both Spanish and English words in order to both compare and contrast these two closely tied languages together. When I first began to read the poem, I felt like the ‘blond, blue-eyed, gum chewing English’ because I lost the importance of why we truly need language as an individual. However, as I continued to read the two of us were more similar than I originally believed. Alvarez discusses that there are some English words that she can’t translate from Spanish which represents the message the poem is truly trying to convey.
This brings light to the linguistic barriers formed when a native speaker begins to adapt a different language as their own. This message is emphasized as Alvarez says in her poem, “a child again learning the nombres of things you point to in the world before English turned sol, tierra, cielo, luna to vocabulary words”. As we first begin to learn a language, the process is very much normal and we instantly connect basic objects to these words. For example, when I was young my mother explained to me that the color of the sky is blue and the sun is yellow by telling me, “el cielo es azul y el sol es amarillo”. Now every time I think about the colors or different objects we familiarize ourselves with as children, I immediately recall the Spanish word before the English one. The main reason ti that is because I learned Spanish through my family and my form of communication and English in a more formal environment through the use of flashcards and my English classes themselves.
This poem by Julia Alvarez also taught me a lesson that no English course at the ‘prestigious’ Oxford was capable of doing. I finally learned that advantages of bilingualism and the importance of language on a being as a whole.
As Alvarez wrote, “where palabras left behind for English stand dusty and awkward in neglected Spanish” I was personally able to comprehend that when we leave behind our native language for a new one, we suddenly become overwhelmed with evolving and adapting to it that we forget about our roots.
Once I began to fall in love and appreciate English, I left Spanish behind in a box that I locked away. However, with Alvarez’s linguistic ability of connecting her audience to several languages, I am able to realize the power that language has on individuals. Not only is Alvarez explaining that she has now adapted to the English language, but she discusses the comfort that is lost as she is evolving to her new way of life. She doesn’t have the same connection with English as she does with Spanish which affects her writing style and emphasis of words throughout her poem. That’s exactly why I loved this poem.
After taking the rest of my vacation to further look at Bilingual Sestina, I fell in love with the poet for bringing back that intimate feeling I once had and reminding me why language is such an important detail behind our lives. I hope that after reading my mini blog and looking further at the poem yourselves, you may begin to understand why I spend everyday of my life exploring language on this blog and sharing it with you all.
Until next time…
The Language Lover