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Chicken Scratch of my Mother Tongue - #DearAdultWorld

Chicken Scratch of my Mother Tongue

Aria Mallare (16, She/Her)

My father’s need to assimilate

Has made chicken scratch of our mother tongue

And pushed us down the throat of a new country that doesn’t understand us

When my father came to this country

English pulled the voice of his grandparents out of his throat

Forcing every syllable of his language off his lips 

To the point where when he tries to relearn his language

The words were too foreign for his mouth to welcome

His parents were afraid that even the slightest hint of an accent would make him stand out 

They worried people would ask him where he came from before saying hello

Or tell him he spoke “good English” for an immigrant

Because their thick accents were like brands stamped upon their tongues

Telling their fellow Americans of their crime:

cheating on the country they married with their first love 

Because their accents labeled them as uneducated

Even though the people who scolded them spoke one language and their tongues knew three

So they sacrificed passing on the language carried on the lips of their ancestors to their son

A family heirloom lost in time and country 

They prayed that their sacrifice would protect him

Because though they could tune the sound of his voice, they could not change the color of  his skin

English is his second and only language

My first and only language

My grandmother wants nothing more than to pass down the words

that her life has been written in to her granddaughter

But those pages have long been lost in translation 

Words swallowed like bombs 

Setting fires on her insides

My grandmother wants her family to talk at the dinner table and feel at home

My grandmother dreams that I will be able to speak to her in her language

In the language, she spoke her first words in 

In the language, she recited her wedding vows in

In the language, she sang lullabies to her baby in 

The language with words that don’t fit in my mouth

The language with a structure my tongue doesn’t understand

The language with a sound that my voice can’t create

The language like a riddle my vocal chords can’t solve

I am not the daughter of my grandmother’s mother tongue, but the adopted child of the nation who told her, “You’re in America now. Speak English.”

The child commended for having an A in English class

The child praised for using ornate vocabulary

The child complimented for having a perfect American accent

The granddaughter who knows nothing about her grandparents’ language

Not a single word

Sitting at the dinner table at family reunions 

I silently beg them to speak more 

As if their words could find their way from my relatives’ lips through my ears and to my tongue

I am deafened to the symphonies that my grandparents hear speaking on the phone with family 

It’s a melody I can hope to hum, but never sing

With lyrics like letters in a word search 

It’s a tune my tongue cannot dance to

Getting tied up by each and every sentence

When they pass me the phone, I have no words to say

I hear the words they are speaking but it sounds like alphabet soup

And the words I want to say are letters contained in the can

When silence begins to hang over us, I realize that the language I have swallowed and digested has failed me

Because the language of my motherland is not where my voice takes shelter

Because the words my aunts and uncles speak have no meaning to my ears

Because I have become a part of the people that my grandparents were worried about

Because I hear the same chicken scratch they hear in my grandparent’s language 

Because the only phrase I know is

Hindi ako nagsasalita ng Tagalog

I don’t speak Tagalog

Alicia Shao (17, She/Her)

As An Asian American girl, I have always struggled with my identity as a child of immigrants. I never fit in with western beauty standards. My eyes were smaller and more slanted than those of my white counterparts, and that is something that I have always been particularly insecure about. In this portrait, I attempted to portray this insecurity. Using a limited color palette of contrasting tones, I attempted to highlight the otherness that I felt from my more “American” peers.

Find Alicia on social media @aliciaaaart