For the past few months, I have come to the realization that I have been holding back from exploring all of the opportunities my multi-lingual identity and abilities provide me and it's been frustrating. Is it simply some personal insecurity that I'm suffering from or am I part of a collective experience that is making many of us feel this way? Perhaps it's a little bit of both.
About ten years ago, a number of cable networks were created to speak to this audience to which I belong. Mun2, MTV3 and SiTV all were addressing this growing market at the same time, but then the rug was pulled out from under them as the housing market crashed. Instead of creating significant amounts of original multi-lingual content as was the original intent, the economy forced the networks to import "more of the same" Spanish programming from Latin America that has been around for years, or they simply filled in the gaps with older English language syndicated shows. Well, there has been an important shift. SiTV re-launched as NUVO TV on July 4th and the timing couldn't be more perfect. Their slogan is "America's Nu Voice" and I, for one, really needed it!
Many of you may know that I started my own philanthropic organization called The ALUMI Media Group over the course of the last decade. We are usually working with the financially challenged urban population of Los Angeles and the great majority are immigrants or children of immigrants from Latin America. Like many of our students, I represent the first generation of my family born in this country. Both of my parents were born in Mexico and Spanish, or Castellano, was my first language.
Prior to forming my own organization, I had accumulated a good amount of experience working with other organizations that would help form a great foundation for my own endeavors. In my twenties, I toured the U.S. performing bilingual children's theatre and just prior to forming ALUMI, I worked as a teacher for the East Los Angeles Classical Theatre (ECT). While with ECT, I taught many basic principals that I would carry forward with ALUMI. One of the most important was the concept of "sharing your voice." The population I was teaching at this point was made up of recently arrived immigrants. Although the majority were Spanish speakers, there were also quite a few Asians, Africans and Eastern European. The primary purpose of this workshop was English language acquisition.
During these classes, we were instructed to only speak and teach in English and were supposed to instruct the students to do the same. It became very clear that allowing the students to also speak in their native tongue's nurtured a better learning environment. It also increased confidence, which in turn, accelerated the process of speaking in English.
For anyone learning a new language, the biggest challenge is usually getting past the shame of making mistakes. The shame and fear tend to silence us, especially when it is fueled by laughter from our fellow students. In order to get past the fear, we must understand that being heard is paramount. Even if it means at first we are heard but not understood, hence, the importance of sharing one's voice. The metaphoric and literal relevance are equally important here.
Even after learning English, these students would end up as part of a great minority in this country. Although I'm certain the numbers have increased, according to a 2005 Foreign Language Study, only 9% of U.S. citizens spoke another language besides English. Our statistics differ greatly with those of other countries around the world, including our neighbors in the Americas. It seems that the mainstream U.S. population doesn't understand the value of speaking another language. This sends out a very confusing message. It makes me feel like my voice is not important. In the wake of the recent census numbers, doesn't this seem extremely troubling? Could this be the reason I am feeling frustrated with the course of my culture and the opportunities for my future? Am I the exception in wanting to understand how to define myself in a way that aligns me ideologically, socially, and professionally with both the "mainstream" and Hispanic culture in this country? Well, I suppose there is only one way to find out. I should practice what I've taught my students and remember to share my voice!