NPR: “Code Switch” blog

from NPR – code switch: frontiers of race, culture and ethnicity

There are so many posts on this blog that I absolutely love, mostly because of how much I can relate to them. But I think the one post that most directly portrays what growing up code-switching was like for me is “Mom Says: Learn Chinese”

It was only at restaurants, malls or school events that I ever heard my mother use English. My mom spoke to my brother and me exclusively in Mandarin since we were born, even though we were born in suburban St. Louis. My dad switched between English and Chinese with ease, but the memories of my artist-turned-diplomat mom and the early lessons she taught me — be it how to mix paints or bathe my cocker spaniel, or the importance of generosity — they all exist in Chinese.

Growing up, dropping into Mandarin with Mom was so normal that nothing stands out about it in my mind. What became notable as I got older was her halting relationship with English. N’s are a real trip-up for her; she likes to pronounce the letter N like “un” rather than “en,” so I could tell she had to repeat or explain herself any time she needed to spell her name to make appointments. When we went to the mall together as a child, I noticed the makeup counter ladies didn’t engage my mom like they did the other moms, and I wondered if she was getting left out of other mom-related groups, too.


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