Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Allegro Moderato)






















Christmas has always posed a major problem for the bilingual in me. Until ten years ago most of the phrases I use in English now related to this particular December festivity were unknown to me even in my native Spanish.

Christmas in Cuba was always a hush-hush subject. The reasons were plain for everyone to see. Religion was taken out of the equation shortly after the incumbent government took control of the country. But as an ex-colony of the Spanish empire the main celebration before 1959 was always Christmas Eve or Noche Buena as we call it in our mother tongue. A big supper at 12 midnight marked the birth of one of the most controversial figures ever.

In my house my late Grandma did maintain the Christmas Eve big supper tradition and despite my cousin's links to the Youth Communist League and my late auntie's membership of the Communist Party's a shindig was held every 24th December with most of my relatives coming from far away in the countryside to eat the roast pork laid on the table.

When I arrived in Britain one of the first tasks I had to face was how to learn the new words that involved the Christmas festivities and translate them into Spanish for my offspring. No easy feat this, as many of these terms were not used in Cuba at all since they were clearly rooted in Castillian Spanish.

The gamble has paid off, though, Im glad to say, as my own children recognise that sometimes I'm lost for the meaning of a certain word in Spanish and we all strive to look up the more apposite translation in the dictionary.

In 2007, however, our Christmas celebration reached its zenith. The surprise arrived after devouring the tasty 'guanajo' (turkey) that Wife had cooked that day.

Wife had arranged a special 'Desert Island Discs' with Children, Mother-in-Law and Mother-in-Law's Boyf. We were to pick three tracks that had made a special impact on us in our childhood, younger years and adulthood. Of course, because Children have not been out of nappies for that long yet their choice was limited. However, as I mentioned before the songs they chose showed me how important the union of two cultures under the banner of respect and acceptance was. Amongst the tunes Son selected was Los Prisioneros' 'Estrechez de Corazon', featured already on this blog whereas Daughter went Brazilian and chose Tribalistas' 'Passe Em Casa', also included amongst my favourite Autumn Songs.

At some point during the velada (soiree) I could not help thinking what a marvellous phenomenon multiculturalism was. Here we were: Wife, born and bred in Britain, but of British and Gibraltarian ancestry, Mother-in-Law, born and brought up in Blighty but with some Irish blood in her veins and a whole career playing flamenco music behind her (her playing the guitar whilst accompanying Wife's Father was one of the songs we enjoyed that evening). Me, Cuban-born, of Chinese, African and Spanish ascendance and Son and Daughter with all this mix running through their young bodies.

And on the stereo amongst other types of music, rhythms from Spain and Latin America reminding us that we were just tiny particles in the immensity of this global multilingual universe.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Copyright 2008

32 comments:

  1. Me haces llorar, que lindo post amigo. Bendiciones a ti y tu linda familia. Haci que tienes de Chino? Sabes, te tengo mas afecto sabiendo eso!!!

    Yoli de desendensia
    Espanola, Francesa y Arabe

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  2. Like spices in a tasty dish, blending is delightful. My husband and I are both from the US, but I am of Scottish-French heritage, originally Protestant now Jewish, and my husband is Jewish of Ashnekazi (Eastern European) descent. I joke that I converted to be a Ladino Jew (better food!).

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  3. Amazing isn't it, the chemistry of culture?! We've been blessed to live a life woven with such amazing diversity! Merry Christmas.

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  4. you sent tingles of joy and good spirit through my arms reading this. what a blessing that multiculturalism is. i am absolutely fascinated by this post. i wish you and wife and your sweet children a wonderful Holiday.

    i loved this most: ..."important the union of two cultures under the banner of respect and acceptance was"

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  5. You're part Chinese? So am I! My father was Chinese, born and raised in Java. My mother is half Dutch and half German. I love all of my heritage and feel privileged to be able to claim them all. Great post! Merry Christmas! Zalig Kerstmis!

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  6. Thanks to you all, and Merry Christmas to you, too.

    Greetings from London.

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  7. Felicidades Cuban !! A ti y tus queridos....

    you've got such a rich cultural heritage...

    que os paseis una nochebuena llena de paz y amor y claro...bueno comida!

    un abrazo

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  8. Gracias, merci bien, mon chateau, likewise.

    Greetings from London.

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  9. "...tiny particles in the immensity of this global multilingual universe."

    Isn't this the truth? Beautifully put.

    Merry Christmas!

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  10. Merry Christmas dear friend!

    (this post is priceless)

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  11. Thanks, diva and don eu.

    Greetings from London.

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  12. Nice Santa picture, but now you’re reminding me that we failed to find holly this year. Putting a sprig on our hung paintings is more of an English custom than an American one. I found it fascinating hearing about Cuban Christmas traditions.

    It’s interesting how even the same holiday could have so many unique expressions. Your family sounds as multi-cultural as mine. It keeps life interesting. Merry Christmas to you too!

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  13. Your family sounds like a wonderful and amazing mixture of worlds, and I always enjoy the stories you share about Cuba.

    What a lovely melting pot you have created.

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  14. Thank you for visiting my page. Merry Christmas to you also and please feel free to adopt the "Christmas Eve Gift" tradition. It is great fun!

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  15. Merry, Merry Christmas to you and yours, Mr. Cuban.

    Thanks for the giggles over your "portal" comment. ;^)

    Fond holiday kisses,

    Willow

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  16. Thank you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

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  17. Aqui el que no tiene de Congo tiene de Carabalí... Yo, lamentablemente, no se de donde vienen mis ancestros lejanos más allá de mis abuelos.
    Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo.
    Saludos,
    Al Godar

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  18. I Like to come to your blog not with regularity but with consistency since...maybe a year ago.
    Although I don't need any interchange to keep the deep joy that the reading -and hearing- of your posts evoque in me, this time I want to say: gracias por mostrarnos que se puede ser ecuánimemente amoroso en tanta diversidad.
    Abrazo fuerte

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  19. 'todo mezclado' mi hermano, orgulloso de cargar con sangre de todas partes.
    Feliz Navidad!!!
    tony.

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  20. Gracias, asere, Al y Don Beto.

    Saludos desde Londres.

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  21. Noche buena was the one celebration my parents kept sacred. From the puerco asa'o--the whole roasted piglet--to the buñuelos--which my mom made from scratch even though she wouldn't normally be caught dead making anything from scratch. And when abuela came from Cuba she always made guineas en casuela. This year our noche buena here in Seattle consisted of guanajo too! Joyeux Noël!

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  22. If I am figuring it right, Christmas is over now for you. However, I still have a few minutes left and I did want to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas.

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  23. I am not late because in here is Christmas avery day.
    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!!!

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  24. Thanks everyone, Merry Christmas (belatedly) to all of you, too.

    Greetings from London.

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  25. indeed. lovely post. hope your day was joyous! :-)

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  26. Thanks, fly, it was very nice indeed.

    Greetings from London.

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  27. Viva la multicultura!!!!!

    É un post molto interessante per me. E coincide tutto con quello che mi ha detto ieri Aguaya qui a Colonia.
    Racconti, come questo post sono anche preziosi, perche´ sono racconti che sono stati vissuti. Uno che li legge o li ascolta, si puo´ fare un quadro migliore di cio´ che succede a Cuba. E´ diverso che quando lo si legge da un giornalista. Raccontato da chi l'ha vissuto e´ piu´ intenso!

    Ritornando sulla multicultura!
    Siamo noi, il popolo normale che la rendiamo possibile, e che la rendiamo viva, come bisogno di ciascun essere umano, bisogno di fratellanza, e di capire chi a prima vista ci sembra diverso da noi.
    Per capire alla fine che in fondo siamo tutti uguali. Senza differenza di origine, nazione, o colore di pelle.

    Un bellissimo post Cuban! E molto prezioso con un chiaro messaggio importante!!

    I miei piu´ cordiali saluti,

    Salva

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  28. Muchas gracias, salva.

    Saludos desde Londres.

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  29. I love this memoir. So very intersting. I hope you ahd a very jolly English Christmas!

    Cuban, wishing you a very happy New year, my friend.

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  30. Thnak you very much, Mmmm. Likewise. I will pop over in a minute.

    Greetings from London.

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