Gloria Origgi, an Italian philosopher based in Paris, recently described the experience in Europe in “New Statesman” (June 23, 2008 ) as follows,
“A new generation has grown up, of people born more than a quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War and now moving around Europe to study and work — meeting, dating, marrying and having children with people from other European countries and doing so as a matter of course.
More and more European children are growing up multilingual. They are unlike immigrants born in one culture and having to grow up in another. They are unlike children growing up in a monolingual, monocultural family that happens to be located in a wider multicultural environment. For these children, cultural and linguistic diversity is not just a part of the society at large, it is a part of themselves, a novel kind of identity. Multilingualism is becoming an existential condition in Europe, good news for a continent in which national identities have been so powerful and have caused so much tragedy and pain in the past.
I believe that European multilingualism will help produce a new generation of children whose tolerance of diverse cultures will be built form within, not learned as a social norm.
I can’t help thinking that being multilingual is the best and cheapest antidote to cultural intolerance, as well as a way of going beyond the empty label of multiculturalism by experiencing a plural culture from within. And of course, this is not just a European issue.”
Reading this article, I can’t help thinking of my people, Koreans who were born in China, but in Korean families and communities, and now live in America. This multilingual and multicultural background gives us more readiness to tolerate, understand and accept other cultures. Meanwhile, it gradually turns our culture into a combo of Korean, Chinese, and American cultures and brings our identity into a blur. In many cases, we find ourselves need a lot of words to answer that simplest question, “where’re you from?”
Just like one of my students from Europe, she was born in Germany with father from Belgium, went to elementary and secondary schools in Sweden, and now she is studying in USA. She can speak all the languages of these countries well, and even now we can’t tell whether she is a German or Swedish. Every time she needs a long speech to explain it, but it doesn’t bring much clarity to her identity.
My people have been debating heatedly about our identity, concerning whether we are Chinese, or Korean. Now maybe it’s time for us to think this issue in a European way, who cares about identity?
We just know that girl as Annie who knows countless languages and have an understanding mind toward every single classmate in my multicultural class, and we admire it.
(My students from Korea, Japan, China, India, Sweden, Germany, Vietnam)
I know exactly how you feel, I’m the same kind of identity as you are. When I got to the new school, I had to explain in a way of speech, lots of people don’t get it, they don’t understand how come I’m Korean and Chinese, then I would give them an ABC kid example that they can understand.
I actually like multi-identity, which gives me the ability to speak more languages and make more friends. But I always have a balance among the cultures that I share, which I think every multilingual should have, that way, you do have a specific identity and several minor identities.
Thank you for this interesting comment on my article on The New Statesman. Of course the question is not just European, and the condition of “multi-identity” is going to become the more and more trivial everywhere. I like the expression “multi-identity”. I think it is important to develop a new vocabulary, a new idiom to speak of this condition. Without it, we will always have to face the same questions: “Where are you from?”, “Which is your mother tongue?” without being able to give an appropriate answer.
It’s really exciting to have this comments from Gloria Origgi, the author of the article which I quoted. Growing up in a multicultural and multilingual environment, and now teaching English Writing to multicultural classes, multilingualism and multiculturalism is always one of the hot spots for me. A clever and cute girl, Wizardwithmagic, has left her story and her newly-coined word “multi-identity” to us, which even aroused my keen interest in this issue. I hope I can have deeper talks with Gloria, and as many friends as possible, over it. Thank you again, Wizerdwithmagic and Gloria.