My Language is Me

When I think of the phrase “I am my language”, to me it means I am a product of those who I surround myself with and those who understand me. The language I speak connects me to different groups of people and because I was raised in the setting of those people a good amount of my identity is based on that language. I can recall a time when my Brooklyn slang language made me feel out of place and also when, for most of my life, my family speaking Haitian Creole made me feel embarrassed. 

 I went to high school in a different area than I was raised in and even though it was in the same state, the language changed. Slang words weren’t used as often and when I used them people were confused and had to ask me what I meant. If they were used, it almost sort of felt like appropriation because it was either using the wrong way or used as a way to show that they can speak my language. Perhaps their intentions were to make me feel comfortable but I could tell that the language wasn’t a part of them so it felt false. When I did meet someone who spoke that same Brooklyn language I immediately felt connected and we both had a mutual respect for each other. Even though we didn’t have to be best friends we knew that we were supposed to stick together. The slang I speak of was not acceptable in a school environment. For me that was difficult because my language wasn’t something I could turn on and off just yet.  While living in an environment where my language wasn’t everyone else’s  language, I had to learn how to code switch and know when to use my language and when not to. Although slang isn’t an official language, it is still something that connects people. 

 A quote from Anzaldúas writing that stuck out to me was, “Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself” (page 74). It immediately brought me back to a place when I was embarrassed to be Haitian.  I grew up in a predominantly Caribbean neighborhood. All my school teachers, classmates, neighbors, etc. were Caribbean. Haiti is a third world country and in being prideful in their own countries people looked down (and still do) on Haiti. The stigma was that if you were Haitian, you were poor, weren’t pretty and beneath everyone. Going into middle school I did not tell anyone that I was Haitian. One day my family came in for an award show and they began to speak Haitian Creole. From then on my classmates knew that I was Haitian and it turned into an ongoing joke. I purposely tried to distance myself from talking about being Haitian and also talking to other Haitian kids because I didn’t want to be grouped together with them. It was very tiring to try to change something about myself that I couldn’t. Eventually I learned that not being proud of my heritage was also not being proud of myself and who I am.  Now I take pride in being Haitian because I am proof that the stigma is not real and that Haiti is more than a third world country.  There is a beautiful culture and beautiful People that deserve respect and deserve to be proud of their country and language.

A phrase  that makes me feel close to my Heritage is “Sak Pase”. Sak Pase is basically Haitian Creole for “what’s up”.  Whether someone knows the language or not, sak pase is a common phrase used when talking about Haitian people or acknowledging somebody that is Haitian. This phrase makes me feel good because when I tell someone I’m Haitian and they say Sak Pase it makes me feel like they’re not looking down on the language and they appreciate my heritage. Also when used by another Haitian it makes me feel like we are family. We can be from  totally different places and Sak Pase is an acknowledgement that we share something and to me that is very beautiful.