Competing personas of a trilingual

Retrato de Ramón Goméz de la Serna Puig. Diego Rivera (1915)

Here in the Swedish Highlands I speak Swedish to those few I speak to. Don’t get me wrong, there is the occasional Spanish speaker to whom one is lucky to exchange a few inborn lingo with in that tongue of yore. For the most part the operative language in my daily affairs tends to be Swedish. For all intent and purposes this has its advantages and disadvantages. It also explains why I thirst to speak my native languages, English and Spanish. Since I don’t get many opportunities to speak them I yearn for them. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do use the languages at work, that is how I earn my bread and butter. Yet one thing is to use the language for teaching purposes and another to speak it to talk to people. I mean talk, uninterrupted by silly things such as meta-linguistic awareness. Uninhibited talk about what has happened or what is going on in a language that requires no stopping and thinking about its grammar nor which elicits foreignness 24/7. I want to feel “me” or whatever is left of that “me”.

Allow me to expound.

You see, whenever I speak Swedish, as in any other language, one has to adjust to all sorts of manners and ways of being for many a pragmatic reason which tend to be inherent in the language at hand, customs and practices, unwritten rules, the whole lot. This tends to alter the very fabric of any identity, specially if one is trying to achieve native status. Granted, I probably don’t have the energy to achieve said feat in lieu of my bitching but be that as it may, one cannot escape nor avoid the required niceties one is obliged to fulfill as one speaks the target language, mostly to accommodate the native listener. All for the sole purpose of creating an illusion of communicating as painless as possible and to accommodate the old adagio that when in Rome blah, blah. This tends to jar the nerves and exacts a toll in the person who practices multilingualism.

Growing up bilingual I was always afraid to let my “real” self come out, specially in the USA but on occasions in México as well. I was always afraid of the intruding accents in my speech which would reveal who I really was, in this case a Mexican or an Anglo-Americanized Mexican which would show that I wasn’t who I said I was. Respite where I could really find myself has always been my xicanismo. This is home identity wise. Neither Mexicans or Americans buy this but my fellow Xicano brethren do. They recognize the difficulties of having to pass off as one of the “real” deals because one tends to be hard to be believed in as either as Mexican or American. At times, being having to bear the brunt of being possessed by one group or the other claiming me as one of their own as if I in my plight ventured to suggest I was in need of repossessing or something. Allegiance and all that monolingual identity stuff that comes along with nationalism and its oneness of purity BS. Which brings a host of other points of contention for the bilingual ens since these sorts of nationalistic jingoism have a nasty habit of every now and then putting the crux of national identity dead square on bilingual’s shoulders. We must decide and more often than not we resort to let our emotions decide in a split second. Hence the dubiety with which monolinguals eye us for: monolinguals don’t trust the national or patriotic allegiances of bilinguals. We often go for the host nation. So while as a common bilingual growing up in Aztlan gave dialect and national identity headaches in my persona as a being in Sweden the matter goes beyond said issues.

Now I am confronted with another sort of unwanted language implementation affecting my persona: Swedish demands of its speaker to live up to high expectations of truth and honesty. Brutal honesty expecting to say it like it is no matter what the consequences. This is a key aspect of Swedish in its manner of communicating that failing to include this attitude in social conventions will brand one very easy and fast as an unreliable person to deal with, specially if you live in a very small town like mine. This has a tendency to clash with my other languages which are privy to favour all sorts of avoidance strategies for several pragmatical reasons and practically propense to beat around the bush. This leaves me feeling rather odd in many ways because I feel that there is a competing way of essence in constant flux with the essences of being a Spanish speaker and being an English speaker vis-à-vis Swedish. It’s not that Spanish or English speakers are dishonest but rather that the aforementioned speakers are more on the defensive when it comes to emotional values such as honesty and truthfulness, one guards itself more in other words rather dodging situations that would requiere direct truth and honesty. Hence, Swedish leaving me feeling like I am being a hypocrite when I am being more honest than Benjamin Franklin’s policy. And I know why it turns out that way: it makes me feel a goody two shoe. In English nobody likes a goody two shoe, mind you and in Spanish the truth is more questioned than a fat lie. It makes me feel that am not being myself when in reality I haven’t been more open about myself and my surroundings then I have ever have. I can formulate it as a clash of different values leaving a residue as I segue from one language to the other. It must be a residue from the other languages because I have no other explanation with which the uneasiness arises.  Not only does that happen with my everyday learning of the Swedish language of course, I also experience language interference at a greater rate than I would than when I only had to think about my bilingualism. But this doesn’t go beyond other than affecting my emotional self steem. Listeners are not that patient in Sweden and they don’t complete sentences as courtesy because it goes against their politeness code.

Now, I don’t know if it can be cast into the disadvantage slot but I suppose that in some spot it could be seen as that. I speak namely of the position many a good trilingual has to endure for the sake of learning. One has to shove aside intelligence and allow for the asinine ghosts of prejudice and intolerance to rein free. This means I get to allow myself to be misinterpreted as a fool and at worst as an idiot and at the very best as a retard no offence, off course, to the community often associated with the aforementioned word. I allow that. I loose a lot in that.  I am not terribly proud to expound on this, but it is necessary. A sacrifice of sorts if one is to learn a new language with all its dirty secrets and all. Is it a disadvantage then, to allow a slight denigration for greater gains? I suppose that as a language learner, being greedy doesn’t make me better than a Wall Street stock broker. The downward and minus aspect for the sake of the plus and upward reward.

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