Soon after moving to Canada, we went to the local library to sign up as members. What language do you speak at home, asked the lady librarian.
English, I said.
She looked at us oddly. The others exchanged glances. I could feel the heat rising in my face but I stood my ground, filled out the relevant information and left with the latest best-sellers.
But I admit to ruffled feathers. I came home and grumbled that just because we didn’t look like mainstream Canadians didn’t mean we didn’t speak English.
I grew up speaking Hindi at home, and learned Marathi at school as my parents lived in Mumbai. My husband is Maharashtrian who learned Hindi at school. And because he spent several years in Chennai, he has also become fairly fluent in Tamil.
However, like many South Asians, our main language of communication at home has become English. Our kids spoke Marathi at home, but when they began school, they switched almost completely to English. As they grew older, they lost almost all Marathi – retaining some Hindi thanks to Hindi movies! When it became annoying to repeat things s-l-o-w-l-y in Marathi and wait for the penny to drop, my husband and I also began to rely on English. I wish it wasn’t the case, I wish they spoke our languages. My parents and in-laws all speak English fluently but never fail to point out all that our kids are missing out on by not knowing their languages. But sometimes, convenience just trumps tradition. And when my husband and I want to have a quick, private discussion, being able to converse in a language the kids don’t follow actually seems like a good thing!
Had I come across my first racist Canadian, I wondered.
Days and months passed and we became regulars at the library. There never was any hint of unfriendliness and I pushed the incident to the back of my mind.
On one visit I noticed they also kept Hindi movies and excitedly picked up a couple of DVDs.
“I could never have imagined I’d find this old movie in a public library in Toronto!” I said to the librarian.
“We have a few,” she smiled. “A wider selection of books and movies in Mandarin, though. We base the selection on the languages spoken by members. The more the members of a specific ethnic community, the more we try to have items in their language.”
I processed the information all the way home.
Then, on my next visit, I asked if I could change the language spoken at home to Hindi and Marathi. I am now looking forward to finding popular magazines and maybe even some books in Hindi and Marathi at my local Toronto Public Library.
– VAVITA NADKARNI
• What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada.Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at canadaboundimmigrant@ rogers.com.