Language is a soul of the nation. If people lose their language, they risk losing their national identity, connection with national traditions and cultural roots. However, is it a statement that cannot be argued? If to follow the idea of this statement, than every person who moves to a different country and speaks different language becomes a different person and changes nationality.
There are many points of view on this problem and all of them merit attention. The first one is Richard Rodriguez’s who argues that people lose their national identity when they begin speaking another language and that they alienate from their historical roots.
Another author is Marjorie Agosin who provides the idea that learning a second language provides the opportunity to understand another culture, as well as better understand the beauty and uniqueness of the native language. Agosin also emphasizes that it is very important to keep oneself close to native culture and that one should not renounce his or her cultural heritage. We are our memories, beliefs and feelings, and language is a unique means that helps us save our identity.
The two authors are Spanish speakers who live in the United States and had to learn new language to become members of a new society. They write about their hard experience of living in the United States and communication with different culture. However, they provide different points of view on this process and, even the situations in which they appeared are common, the outcomes are different and authors share their experiences and points of view with the audience in different ways.
The author of the book Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez Richard Rodriguez writes that new language helped him improve his life and become a member of a new society and new intellectual community. He refers to himself as to a person who passed the way from a child who had to face a new culture and felt himself disadvantaged because he was from a low-class people and did not know the language well.
Moreover, he was under the constant watchful eye of his family during the very first year of his education in the United States. Rodriguez adds that education caused a definite separation with his Spanish culture and provided the opportunities to become a middle class American and respectable person today.
The book of the author provides the background and analysis of the history of his education and helps understand how he became a person he is today. Rodriguez became a new man, with new habits and another vision of life. However, this “way” was not “a bed of roses” and had its consequences. As a result of his “adoption” of a new language and new culture, later he found it difficult to communicate with his family and he lost connection with his native culture and that “bridge” that kept him in touch with his family.
He says that his story is ‘‘a story of the scholarship boy who returns home one summer to discover the bewildering silence, facing his parents. This is my story. An American story’’ (Rodriguez 5). He tells the story of his life and a story of a “socially disadvantaged child” (Rodriguez 1) who turned into a “real American” by means of his education and speaking an English language instead of his native Spanish language.
But the cost of his “new life” was that he has lost the Spanish-speaking world of his childhood, his culture and his family. This journey from a child to a grown-up individual with a new identity was painful.
The author provides the idea that for bilingual people, there is a problem of choice between “family language” and “social language” and that becoming part of a new society is impossible without losing native culture and native language. He was a scholarship boy who had to live in two opposite worlds, the world of his native culture and the world of a new intellectual society (English speaking).
He wanted to achieve a success. In order to achieve his goals, he had to focus on schoolwork and cut himself off what he had been before (a Spanish speaking guy who had strong connections with his family). Education and English books were the foundation for the development of a new personality. They changed him and his outlook on life out of all recognitions. He was encouraged to speak English to achieve academic success, but when he returned to his family after graduation, he felt himself culturally separated.
The author calls himself a “comic victim of two cultures” (Rodriguez 5). He provides the idea that the individual has to choose between two extremes: “Spanish” and “English”, “native” and “foreign”, “inside” and “outside” words. Thus, the experience of the author is quite negative and his book presents “essays impersonating an autobiography; six chapters of sad, fugue like repetition” (Rodriguez 7).
He argues that assimilation is possible and it is important, as national identity is important for every person. But it is impossible to avoid consequences of this assimilation. On the one hand, a person broadens his/her intellectual horizon and becomes a well rounded individual, on the other hand, one may become a completely different person and it may be very difficult “to find place” in a new society, as well as remain a part of the native culture.
The cost of such assimilation is the rupture with national roots and impossibility to become an inseparable part of the other culture. A person remains on the border of two worlds which influence each other and create controversies in one’s life which are hard to overcome. Bilingual people will always feel alienation with two cultures which makes it difficult to be a “single” individuality, but makes a person to have a double identity.
As opposed to Rodriguez, Marjorie Agosin tells us how she managed to save her language and culture, moreover, English language helped her understand the beauty of Spanish. She writes that it was very difficult for her to adapt to new culture and new language environment:
“But here in the United States, where I have lived since I was a young girl, the solitude of exile makes me feel that so little is mine that not even the sky has the same constellations. The trees and the fauna the same names or sounds or the rubbish the same smell. How does one recover the familiar? How does one name the unfamiliar? How can one be another or live in a foreign language? These are the dilemmas of one who writes in Spanish and lives in translation” (Agosin 201).
With these words, she explains how the one who speaks a different language and shares different cultural values feels in the other cultural society.
Moreover, she provides that thinking in Spanish, she had to translate her thoughts and emotions into English and that it was really hard to express her feelings and the way she saw the better world with the help of the language that was not her native. It is a common problem for all writers who try to write in the language of the social community that is different from a native social community, as people see and perceive the world in different ways.
This is the same idea that was provided by Rodriguez, but Agosin found a decision to the problem. In the moment of solitude, when she belonged to herself, she read and wrote in Spanish that helped her “recover fragrances, spoken rhythms, and the passion of my own identity” (Agosin 203). Rodriguez adopted a new language as a new identity and Agosin saw English as one more means to express her Spanish identity.
Moreover, speaking English and living in different society, she did dot refuse her “cultural heritage”: “Finally, for the first time since I had left Chile. I felt I didn’t have to explain myself. My poem, expressed in another language, spoke for itself … and for me” (Agonis 204). With this statement, the author provides a solution for those who try to save their cultural identity in a foreign world, they should not forget their language and read and write it.
Thus, we can see that both authors write about the same problem, as they had similar experience in assimilation with new culture. However, the results of their experiences are different. Rodriguez lost his identity because he lost his language trying to be a part of the intellectual society with different cultural values, but Agosin managed to save her heritage, as she was able to combine speaking two languages and exploring both cultures.
Examining the works by two authors, we can see the importance of a native language, and can come to a conclusion that language is really a soul of the nation and one should not loose his/her national roots that will be helpful when assimilating with a different nation.
Agosin, Marjorie. “Always Living in Spanish: Recovering the Familiar, Through Language.”Multilingual USA: 201-206. Print.
Rodriguez, Richard. “Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez.” New York: Random House Publishing Group. 1983. Print.