Friday 19th January 2018,


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Calls for US-based African Immigrants to speak dialects to kids

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“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture …”

Historically, the formal educational journey of an American novelist, Ray Bradbury did not exceed high school, but his work of art continues to influence the lives of many, African immigrants are no exception. Ray mentioned in his masterpiece, “Fahrenheit 451,” “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Based on Ray’s analogy, it can be deduced that cultural drawback seems to be affecting the lives of scores of African immigrants living in the US.

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The reneging efforts on the part of these so-called American dreamers not to speak their native dialects fits the comparison of refusing to read. “Refusing to communicate with family members in your mother-tongue is a way of destroying your cultural value,” says a Liberian immigrant.

Similarly, there are others who knowingly refuse to respond to native speakers in dialects for fear of being labeled as uncivilized. To the contrary, some conservative vernacular gurus don’t allow what they refer to as foreign language in their homes. Opening doors to some of these homes mean switching from everyday language to native dialects.

This act of replacing one’s mother-tongue with foreign languages came to light recently in Dallas, Texas, when ethnic Mandingoes from across the US converged on the city to commemorate their federal organization’s national convention.

During “Traditional hours,” there were those who spoke in plain Mandingo, and most of the responses came back in academic English. Despite efforts by few elders to keep the discussion in the Mandingo dialect, young community leaders spoke both fluent and broken Liberian English. It is not clear whether their messages resonated with listeners, but there were applauds from the audience who were predominantly Mandingoes.

In the midst of the same audience, a Liberian immigrant who said she is a victim of not teaching her kids how to speak their native dialect recounted her experience. Beatrice Kromah of Philadelphia, a member of the Miabo ethnic group from Grand Gedeh County in Liberia, recounted that her US-born son was publically humiliated by few members of her tribal group.

Beatrice had taken her 24-year-old son, Youssouf Kromah to reunite with his aunts and uncles, but the meeting took a sour turn for the mother and son when some members of the Miabo Association met Beatrice and Youssouf with swift criticism. “And as soon as they saw him, they all started to argue, this man na going to vote, da Mandingo boy here.”

Having realized the aftermath of what had happened to the young immigrant mother and son, the Miabo Association immediately extended apologies to the Kromah family.

Knowing the value of practicing his culture, Youssouf later encouraged his mom to take him to the next Mandingo convention. It is not clear if he attended the last Felmausa convention in Dallas, Texas, but his mother hinted that her son will first learn to speak Mandingo before making it to such gathering.

In a related development, Beatrice is calling on diaspora Mandingoes to invest in teaching their kids how to speak their dialect. According to her, in order to cultivate the civility of one’s culture, members of that community must first understand the importance of their heritage. “Make your children to come to your programs, give them gifts to encourage them.”

She is also lauding grandmothers across the US for their efforts in speaking dialects to kids at home. She told them through this news outlet to keep up the courage, stressing that their efforts in keeping “Our” culture are well noted. She made these comments when she addressed Mandingoes at Grand Hotel in Dallas, Texas.

Her call for Mandingoes to invest in orienting kids to their cultural heritage serves as a hint. It reflects that regardless of one’s geographic location, it is important to value who you are. A Mandingo adage puts it straight forward, “It does not matter how long a tree stays in a river, that tree will never transform into an alligator.” This means, staying in the diasporas should not hold anyone back from practicing culture.

Beatrice’s call to her tribe’s former rival is an indication that Liberians in the diasporas have begun thinking outside of the box. Working together as people of the same nation under a unique umbrella to promote unity is now the hallmark of the day. Based on Beatrice’s experience, it is evidently clear that tampering with one’s native language has the propensity to hold back certain important cultural values.

Whether Bradbury’s idea, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them” will continue as a drawback for African immigrants living in the US or elsewhere, is something to be seen, but Beatrice has already sounded the alarm for immigrants to wake up from their self-induced coma.

Courtesy to Roots To Glory Tours

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